A new tradition using Barnum's Animal Crackers

December 14, 2011 

It’s not a cookie cutter Christmas tree this year. An assortment of ornaments decorate our fresh Noble Fir — a tree that lists a little to the left.

We’re not into perfection. We’re into memories.

From out of the depths of boxes tucked away in storage, ornaments once sculpted with childish hands are emerging wrapped in nostalgia — and a little dust. There are long forgotten stars, curious elves and odd-looking candy canes. No department store could sell decorations with a smidgen of the happiness our once-little girls experienced making their own.

When every member of the family arrives there will be a special memory hanging on the tree; everything from baby-faced photo decorations to a late grandma’s snowflakes crocheted with love. But there will be one new item that hasn’t been there before, one that may have some of our nearest and dearest remembering their childhood days.

This year I’m hanging Barnum's Animal Crackers on the Christmas tree. Until I read a newspaper item, I never realized those charmingly designed boxes with string attached were created in 1902 to decorate the Christmas tree.

I always thought the red cardboard circus wagon cage, filled to the brim with animal biscuits, was a brilliant gift for parents.

During every grocery shopping trip with my two daughters, nothing saved the day like a box of Barnum’s Animal Crackers.

“Now, if you’ll be good,” I would announce the moment we entered the store, placing each of them in the grocery cart, “Mommy will buy some animal cookies for a treat.”

As I recall, the cookie aisle was strategically located about a third of the way on my planned route. Just when a little one would tire of promises, the circus showed up. Lions, tigers and bears entertained — and satisfied a sweet tooth — until we reached the register.

I imagine there were many other parents who through the years bought countless empty boxes with a grateful heart. The low sugar and low fat “biscuit” bribe was well worth the price.

Animal crackers remain popular today. And when family finds the memorable circus boxes hanging on the tree, they may be delighted to see that I’ve revived an old tradition without a ride in a grocery cart.

Even so, my grown daughters will still have to be good to open a box.

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