Dad started one of my favorite Christmas traditions sometime during the late 1940s.

An Irish-Catholic family of nine kids, we were probably poor, although I never realized that at the time. Early in December, Dad put all of our names – even his and Mom’s – in a basket and told us to draw a name and to keep that name a secret. That was the beginning of the Gift Exchange.

Then he gave each of us one dollar – yes, $1 – and we were to shop for and purchase a gift for that one person. We had such fun trying to trick someone into telling whose name he or she had drawn. We all hoped that Mom or Dad got our names, because they didn’t follow the $1 rule. I don’t remember what gifts we found for just a dollar, but in the 1940s and ’50s, there must have been plenty of choices.

The Gift Exchange continued even after we grew up, married and had children and grandchildren. One year it was decided that the gifts had to be homemade. My brother Denny made a lima-bean lamp for Mom, which still gets applause when it is spotted in one of the photo albums.

My husband and I introduced the Gift Exchange tradition to our three children and, through the years, it provided us some wonderful holiday memories.

The secretive part of the name drawing was still fun. We held our gift exchange on Christmas evening after dinner. My son Peter was a preteen when he presented me with a huge box much taller than he, wrapped with a large red bow. We still use that rocking chair he bought for me with his paper route earnings.

When the kids got older and moved away for college or work, the Gift Exchange evolved into a fairly long and enjoyable ritual. Family Meetings were added to the evening festivities– meetings where Important Announcements would be delivered, such as “We are moving to …” or my husband’s annual message of advice about health issues.

One year we started making annual goals, which were written in colorful holiday journals. The following year’s meeting would start with the reading of the previous year’s goals, which were hilariously critiqued and irreverently evaluated. Peter’s favorite was “My goal is for inner peace.”

In later years we toasted Dad with Bailey’s Irish Cream or his favorite Crown Royal.

Years pass, life goes on. Some traditions are dropped as new ones are added.

Thanks, Dad, for starting the Gift Exchange way back in the 1940s. Each December when I unpack those Family Meeting journals from the Christmas boxes, I realize that they are cherished treasures of our family history.

We all still laugh at Peter’s repeated annual goal to “continue to seek inner peace.” Upon reflection, we could all use some of that, couldn’t we?