Every family has its holiday traditions.
Today, I share with you my own, one-man tradition: Teasing my younger brother in a newspaper column.
You see, for years, my sweet, younger brother Jeff and I traded gag Christmas gifts with each other (until we were both married and our wives gently shepherded us into grown-up gift-giving).
One of my pranks has been part of our family lore for almost 30 years, built partially on the fact that I write about it at every newspaper at which I've worked.
In fact, the last time I wrote this column, back in South Dakota in 2013, my brother sent me a note: "Are you going to write about this at every newspaper you work at?"
Yes, Jeff. Yes I am.
So gather 'round, grab a seat, as I tell you about the time I tricked my brother into wrapping his own Christmas present.
It was 1991, and I was in college four hours away. Jeff was still in high school.
We had little in common at this stage of life, except music. We were both giant music fans, and we and a group of buddies spent a lot of time loitering in record stores, going to swap meets and flea markets, always listening to some music.
For Christmas that year, I picked up a cassette copy of Pearl Jam's debut album, "Ten."
Here is where the plot thickens.
I was home for winter break, and found my little bro in his bedroom wrapping presents. He is a sweet guy, always doing the best he can. But his wrapping skills were terrible, almost as bad as his handwriting. His finished products looked like the dog got into the gift wrap.
We had a mutual music friend who was also named Jeff.
“Hey, Jeff. I picked up this tape for Jeff,” I recall telling my brother. “Could you wrap it up and put a tag on it — ‘To Jeff, From J.J.’?”
“OK!” said my eager-to-please brother.
I handed him the Pearl Jam tape, and he put it in his to-do stack.
Eventually, the present came back to me. As I had hoped, it was a disaster of paper, tape and chicken-scratch writing. If they had seen it, the members of Pearl Jam probably would have taken legal action to confiscate the mess.
Christmas morning comes, and it's brother Jeff’s turn to open.
He picks up the familiar-looking present, the scribbles so hard to make out that even he doesn't grasp what's happening: “To Jeff, From J.J.”
“Oh no,” he said, giggling to himself under his breath. The giggles got louder, and so did the "Oh no's!"
He started ripping. Mom and Dad didn’t know what was happening.
And there was his present: “Ten.” As though wrapped by a 10-year-old.
Like the best comedy, there was a pause. And then he said those words that will never leave my heart:
“I wrapped my own present!”
Truly a historic brotherly moment.