It had been a tradition for as long as he could remember. Well, that goes without saying, really, since the first remembrance occurred when he was only a year and a half old. But, it was a practice that each of the Winchester men took very seriously.
While his father wasn't always around on their birthdays, and holidays came and went without much thought, Sam recognized that this solemn occasion was important to his father – which made it important to Dean – which made it important to Sam.
When the boys were young, John found amulets or charms or other basic items of protection to give them. When Dean was seven (nearly eight) John gave him a hunting knife, and when he was nine going on ten he got his very own .45. Sam, on the other hand, did not take to weapons training as easily and quickly as his brother and therefore John waited a year or two before giving the boy a knife or gun. He also felt that, until the boy could actually pronounce the anniversary (instead of simply calling it 'Mem-blance Day'), he would get nothing more lethal than a slingshot or bow and arrow.
As soon as the boys – well, Dean – were old enough to understand this tradition, they began giving their father trinkets as well. Of course, children can't buy weapons or ammunition so instead they found salt or sage for John or Dean sharpened all of his father's blades. John can still remember the year when the boys – mostly Sam – translated a very difficult passage from an old journal that John had gone nearly cross-eyed over.
When money was scarce and they couldn't afford new weapons, the Winchesters presented one another with bandages and aspirin to refill the first aid kit, oil and whetstone to keep their current weapons in top shape, or even rare pieces of knowledge (such as incantations) found in library books or online.
The first couple of years Sam was away at Stanford, he had actually forgotten (well, not forgotten, but also not thought about) 'Remembrance Day'. It wasn't until his third year – the 20th anniversary – that he realized his oversight. He thought for a moment about purchasing a gift for his father and brother, but something made him pause (something that felt an awful lot like resentment). It was at that moment that he realized that he was well and truly free of his family – though, for better or worse, he wasn't sure.
Of course, he didn't realize (nor would he ever be told) that Dean had stopped by his apartment a month earlier in the guise of a delivery man and given Jessica a beautiful Celtic charm on a gold chain. Or, that he had gone to Sam's dorm rooms the previous two years and inscribed protection symbols on the outside window sills.
So, on the first Remembrance Day that he was back traveling with Dean, Sam was a little surprised when his brother insisted on returning to one of the post office boxes that their father kept. After placing a package in John's box (is it illegal to duplicate those little keys?), Dean walked down the row a little to another and opened it. Apparently, his brother now had his own p.o. box as well.
"Oh," Dean said, and reached down in one of his pockets, "here."
Sam looked at what his brother held out for him – a little key. When Sam didn't take it, Dean sighed and shoved the tiny thing at him.
"What's this for?" he asked. This time, Dean rolled his eyes.
"It's your key," at the vacant look, he continued. "We each have one – you, me, and Dad. This is the key to yours." Sam still didn't take the key. "Don't you want to check it?"
No! Yes! Well, Sam couldn't decide which of his conflicting thoughts to follow so he took the key, looked at the number, and found the correct box. Standing in front of box 52, Sam took a deep breath. What was he feeling? Not exactly excitement – this was not really the occasion for that emotion. It was more of an anxious hopefulness – though, hopeful that there would or would not be anything in the box, he wasn't sure.
"Just open it," Dean called from his own box, having now opened the package it contained and examining something that Sam could not quite see from his angle.
Another deep breath and Sam was inserting his key and opening the post office box. Inside were four objects, shoved in front of one another. The furthest back, which Sam assumed was from his first year at Stanford, was a book of Germanic mythology. The second was a Latin manuscript that Sam would have to read and translate later. The third was a Norse protection figurine. But the last (and closest) object was what caught Sam's attention most.
At the front of the box was a dream catcher – not the silly leather strap, feather, yarn, and plastic beaded ones you see in tourist shops – but an ancient-looking work of art. Sam held it in awe – awe of the craftsmanship and of his father's ability to always know the perfect gift for him. Did Dad know about his nightmares? Honestly, Sam didn't want to ponder too hard – with a slight smile, he picked up the four objects, taking extra special care with the dream catcher.
It wasn't until each of the items were in his arms that Sam noticed the small slip of paper at the bottom of the box. Opening it along the single fold, he could see that it was a sheet of hotel stationary – though he highly doubted Dad would still be there. In John's handwriting was simply written:
In honor of Remembrance Day
11-02-83 and 11-02-05