How do you hand out the Christmas gifts?

St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas

On Christmas morning, when I was a boy, if my memory is accurate, my three brothers and I would wait for permission to burst from our rooms and rush to the Christmas tree and rip open our presents all at once. Pretty soon there’d be a mess of gifts (four boys with a few gifts each) spread around the living room, some candy, some toys, some books, some clothes. Then we’d pick the one we liked best and play with it, sometimes together, sometimes alone. It was a pretty high energy hectic time.

I also remember that strange Christmas feeling of disappointment. Probably too much hope was placed in the potential of the gifts to bring us happiness, so while we usually liked them they couldn’t deliver. Isn’t that life?

But I think another reason we, or at least I, often felt that disappointment was, to speak metaphorically, because we ate them too fast. We do it differentlywith our children.

Since David was born in 1986, we have drawn out our Christmas celebrations a lot more. Especially on Christmas morning. The night before Karen and I fill the kids stockings with an orange, a magazine, and a bunch of candy and maybe a little toy or something like that. They can dig into that as soon as they wake up.

Then we all gather for a big Christmas breakfast, with cinammon buns, grapefruits, eggs (I like mine soft-boiled), maybe some cereal, bacon, and a spot of tea and fruit juice. After breakfast, we read the Christmas story together. THEN we go to the tree and open our gifts. Like this:

Andrew, the youngest, goes to the tree and picks up a gift more or less randomly. He gives it to Karen, who is seated in her majesty on a high and lofty throne, which usually will be a dining room chair brought into the living room. She reads the name on the gift and that person receives it from her. We haven’t successfully introduced the tradition of grovelling before her, but it’s an appealing idea.

That person opens his gift, we all ooh and aah and he passes it around. Then it is placed in his pile and Andrew picks up another one.

As you can imagine, this takes rather a while, sometimes filling the whole morning. But it tastes so good. Everything is savored and appreciated. Everything is noticed and attended to. Instead of a mad passionate dash, it is more of a savored rational pleasure – the kind that can be sustained and truly enjoyed.

I, of course, still put too much weight on gifts, expecting each of them to usher in a new world order and complete satisfaction in my soul. So Christmas still depresses me. But that’s just my problem. At least I haven’t passed that problem on to my kids!

I’d love to hear from you about how you do Christmas gifts. Who is the center of attention? How do you distribute them? Any cool little quirks? Share the joy!


4 Responses

  1. Growing up we took turn opening presents, one for me, one for Blake, one for Mom, one for Dad, all of this being done on video so we could send a copy to each set of grandparents.

    Until recently we have only had one child in our family, so that made Christmas morning pretty easy. But now that there are 3 kids, things have gotten more complicated. The two younger kids are young enough that they don’t have a clue what is going on except that they get to rip paper off boxes and inside is something really cool and fun to play with. We let the kids open their stockings when they woke up, but they had to wait for us to start in on the presents. We managed to keep up the taking turns tradition with some difficulty. I’m looking forward to next year when I am hoping 2 of the 3 kids will know what Christmas is.

  2. For us, it’s less about the handing out of the gifts, and more about the burning of the wrapping paper afterwards.

    Although, recently, we’ve quit giving real gifts anyway.

    I owe you some materials. I’ll try to bring them by the new office during the break.

  3. Andrew,
    I just found your blog and I am heartily enjoying it this morning. Our present opening tradition is much like yours, one at a time, lots of oohs and ahhhs. With 5 original kids and spouses beginning to be added, this takes about 6 hours. But we each relish each thoughtful gift and the creativity and cleverness that goes into finding the perfect thing. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Though it takes so long, it makes the whole present thing much more about the sentiment and the relationships that inspired the present, rather than the material object.

  4. This Christmas, the Herricks started a new-old tradition. We went a-wassailing. Now of course the tradition is rather pagan as it involves shoeing out the evil spirits by running through the house beating pots and pans and yelling. But it also involves drinking wassail, singing old forgotten Christmas Carols and blessing one another, and all three of which need to be done more often. Anyone was invited and we completed the evening reciting poems, a piano performance and building a snowman that is almost as tall as the house.
    There were two things l loved about wassailing. One was that the whole purpose of the event was to wish blessings on the host and hostess. I love this because I am realizing in my old age how much we need God’s blessing, and how rarely we ask for it. And secondly, the evening was another event that took the celebration of Christmas away from the morning of presents, which I think usually leaves all of us with at least a hint of that empty dissatisfied feeling (and how can it not unless we are truly non-material beings?) and put the focus on communing and celebrating with the people we love most. I am already looking forward to next year’s wassailing party, though I have to admit that this is mainly because it is the one time of year I get to run yelling through the house and not get in trouble for it.

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