This week I searched for my NUTs: Non-Negotiable Unalterable terms. After some deep soul-searching, I realized I only have one NUT. And it has everything to do with this quote:

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

This is the opening line of one of my favorite novels of all time, Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”. I’ve read it countless times, just like so many did before me and so many will do long after me – and each time I am fascinated by the simplicity and stunning complexity it carries. Tolstoy’s writing is undeniably beautiful and captivating.

Yet, I found it to be astonishingly untrue.

Perhaps there’s truth in the saying that all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way – I can’t possibly vouch for this, because I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m lucky to be surrounded by a happy family. I strongly believe no family is the same, so my question is: how can all happy families be alike?

My Mom and I have several traditions and Christmas Shopping is one of them. Even though it’s not even December yet, we go into the city together on a mission: score the best Christmas present for everyone in our family. As usual, my Mom had done some preparatory ground work so that we could hit fast and on point. We go into stores and find the things my Mom had her eye on and I judge whether it is the perfect gift for the person in question. Sometimes I say “yes” right away and we buy it, other times we’re not completely sure and we continue our search.

Somewhere midway our Very Important Mission, we stop for a cup of tea and a slice of cake. We sip our Earl Grey teas (every time I consider picking a more exotic tea flavor, but Early Grey keeps calling my name) and eat our very much-needed Schwarzwalder pie, with its chocolate and pink cherry layers.

Pie is desperately needed to keep going, so after our pitstop, we continue on our mission, going from store to store, discussing the potentially perfect gifts in excruciating detail. It takes time to accumulate present for everyone, but we did it. Some took a little longer (some took forever), but we now have something for everyone beneath this year’s Christmas tree. But our mission doesn’t just stop after we found everyone’s present – the second part of our mission is to pick out pretty wrapping paper, wrap everything up, add name tags to all the presents and finally store them in a safe place until Christmas.

Christmas Shopping is close to a military operation in my family, but it’s o so precious to me. Every year, my Mom and I do this together and it’s so much fun. It’s a tradition I hope will exist for many, many years to come and a tradition I hope will make my family very happy for many, many years to come.