“Okay everyone,” My father announces to us as my brothers, sister and I sit gathered in our parent’s living room, ready to exchange presents “It’s time for the poem.”

He reaches into his front pocket and pulls out a worn and tarnished piece of paper.

“My mother wrote this when I was young,” he explains to us as he unfolds the old letter, “and my father would read it to my siblings and I, every year.”

We sit in respectful silence as he prepares to recite the poem.

And so, he reads:

It was Christmas in the poorhouse and the inmates were full of beer

In strolled the red faced keeper and he yelled across the halls

“A merry Christmas to all”…and someone hollered “Balls”.

This made the keeper angry. “You’ll get no Christmas dinner, you dirty bunch of slobs!”

Up spoke one of the inmates, his voice as brazen as brass

“We don’t want no Christmas dinner, you can stick it up your ass!”

We all laugh and he smiles proudly as he folds up the old poem and places it back in his pocket. This is a tradition we have endured since we were young children, right up to the present day. What was once a funny poem with a dirty word, that would make us snicker and giggle as children, has become a nostalgic piece of family history and as much a part of Christmas as old Saint Nick himself.

Whenever my Father reads the poem, I’m always taken back to a simpler time in my life. A time of being a young boy, watching the beautiful snowflakes gently fall outside the large storm window next to the Christmas Tree. The smell of my Mother’s homemade apple pie fills our old family home  (at this very moment, my mom is shuffling around the kitchen cutting up apples and making dough), and the sounds of the fireplace crackle and pop as we eagerly open presents and enjoy a modest Christmas in the small mountain town of Libby, Montana.

It’s a simple but powerful gift my Father has given us, with meaning that runs deeper than the average store-bought novelty item like socks or a new pair of pajama pants. He’s given us a memory which, to us, is as old in our minds as Christmas itself. Now as adults, we cherish the look of pride on his face when he reads the family poem, and smile to each other as we watch our own children snicker and giggle at the ‘dirty word’ at the end. Yes, the meaning of this tradition still holds strong in our hearts.

Just as my Grandfather did for my dad, and he has done for us, I look forward to the day I can stand around my own children at Christmas and say to them:

“Okay everyone! It’s time for the poem. This was a poem my Grandmother wrote, and my Grandpa would read it to my father, my uncles and aunts every year when they were young. My Dad would read it to us, every year since I was little, and now I will read it to you.”

And so, the tradition will live on….

Merry Christmas everyone.


-The Single Man