When do you open presents?

When I was a kid, after much negotiation with our parents, we were allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve and the rest of our presents on Christmas day.

As an adult, I don’t have to wait.  I open them as they come.  In fact, I used this amazing three tier rack which was this year’s Christmas present to me from my MIL to hold rolls, cornbread, and zucchini bread at Thanksgiving this year because she does her Christmas shopping early.  Similarly, I told DH I wanted a better reading lamp situation and he got me this amazing floor lamp that does everything I wanted and doesn’t even require a hole in the wall or a headboard for the bed (my favorite part:  the way the light switch lights up when I fumble for it in the dark).  I have been appreciating it for weeks now.  I have also been enjoying downloading my shiny new kindle book presents as they come– I will read them through our holiday travel.

#2 is different– she likes surprises and opens everything on Christmas morning.  I know this because she always thanks me via IM on Christmas.  (See also:  her birthday.)

Of course, what one does as an adult doesn’t necessarily translate into what one forces on one’s children.  Part of the magic of being an adult is that you no longer have to do what your parents tell you to do, but before then you mostly have to.  So that means since the kids have gotten old enough to understand Christmas, we’ve generally been saving their Christmas presents for them to open on Christmas morning.  Given our in-laws’ generosity, this can get overwhelming.

This year we’ve got complicated travel plans.  On the 23rd, we’re taking the kids to the city where they will stay at my sister’s with my parents.  Then we will join them on the 24th.  Then on the 25th, we’re getting on a plane to visit DH’s family.  I asked my mom if she wanted to see the kids open their presents from her (she’s already sent them via the magic of Amazon) or if we should open them before heading into the city.  She said whatever was easiest, noting that we shouldn’t have to drive presents all over the place or leave them at my sister’s.  So we’ll be doing some of the unwrapping on the 23rd.  DC1 will be able to pick out which new books to take with hir while traveling, something that will make life easier for everyone.  Then there will be more presents on the 25th since my in-laws have decided to ship the kids’ presents to their place rather than ours (which itself brings the logistical hassle of getting stuff back home).

This past Saturday I let DC1 open the present from my mom that I knew was a Rubix Cube because zie had gotten so good at the computer version that I thought maybe it was time for a real one.  Zie has been spending every non-chore moment this weekend messing up and solving and messing up and solving again.  (In fact, it’s likely that the ~$10 Rubix cube would crowd out time spent on the ~$250 handheld Nintendo thing that my MIL is getting hir if zie opened them the same day!)

On the one hand, I feel like spreading things out allows each gift to be appreciated and to give me maximal pleasure.  On the other hand, it does take away a little bit of the magic of Christmas.  But we do always do the stockings (full of candy!) on Christmas even if some of the other presents get pushed earlier.  And maybe the magic of Christmas should be less about gifts and more about family, I dunno.

And of course, poor DC1 gets showered with even more presents just a few days later given hir holiday birthday.  This year we’re traveling on hir birthday so we’ll probably celebrate with cake the day before with the in-laws and maybe with my sister on the day.  We’ll see.  We will leave hir birthday presents from us* and from my parents to be unwrapped when we conclude our travels.

*My sister claims this violin tuner is really a gift to ourselves…she’s not wrong.

When do you open gifts– as soon as you get them, or do you wait until the celebrated event (be it a religious holiday or your birthday)?  Has it changed as you’ve gotten older?  If applicable, do you enforce the same rules on your children? 

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26 Responses to “When do you open presents?”

  1. Solitary Diner Says:

    I love surprises, so I definitely wait until the day.

  2. crazy grad mama Says:

    For Christmas, I default to saving gifts for the day of the celebration, because I like the fun of opening gifts together as a family. Usually we have multiple iterations of the celebration, depending on who’s visiting who when, e.g., this year we’ll do Christmas morning with my husband’s family, and then do “Christmas” over New Years with my family.

    I don’t have the same kind of warm fuzzy feelings about my birthday (and don’t typically have any kind of party for it), so I open my birthday gifts as they arrive. But we make Little Boy wait for his birthday to open his presents, to make it feel like more of a special event.

  3. Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

    When I was little, we always had to wait till Christmas Day. The tension rose and rose, and often the presents were a bit of a let-down. It might have been better to have a one-present-a-day policy for a few days before, to increase appreciation of any particular item (and ease the disappointment of getting new socks, since there would still be the next day to look forward to).

    My husband’s family gets together on Christmas Eve for the big all-family celebration, and cross-family gifts are exchanged then (i.e., Sir John to his sister and sister’s children, Grandma to grandchildren). Mostly the adults have stopped exchanging presents, except if particularly moved, but Christmas Eve is also the time for the Present Game (details here, if you’re not familiar with it: http://www.partygameideas.com/christmas-games/card_gift_grab_2.php). This is fun, and there is always a trading period when it’s over so that Uncle Don can swap the kiddie bath gel for the ten-year-old’s whisky. I usually wind up with something that goes straight into the give-away box, but once in awhile I score a good mug or mini-flashlight. Individual families then have their own celebrations on Christmas Day, giving their within-family presents. Sir John and I exchange presents then, though I usually have a good idea of at least one item because of having seen the box delivered! I do better at hiding his. This year I’m going to do stockings for us—this is something I do only intermittently, but this year needs some extra cheer because of some weird stuff playing out in his family. He’s very fond of little gadgets, so I think if I just go to the hardware store and poke around their impulse-buy-at-checkout stuff, I’ll probably be able to fill a stocking with things he’ll enjoy opening.

    It is difficult to think of things one would like for Christmas (or birthdays) when adult with enough money that most wants can be satisfied immediately. Sir John’s family always works from lists, to avoid disappointment (his father was VERY bad at dealing with children’s disappointment), so around September or so I consciously start deferring things I might get for myself and instead put them on my Christmas list.

    For me the magic, such as it is, is more about decorations and lights—the way things look—which for many years we haven’t done (too many cats, too many opportunities for breakage and injury). I like seeing a lit-up tree, or fairy lights on the mantel, and I love the smell of a real fir tree combined with baking smells. But those mostly now come from other people’s houses. I did put our Christmas cards on the mantel this year, though, because at worst they’ll get chewed on, and it’s nice to see them.

    • chacha1 Says:

      We have two big bookcases in the living room with rope light lying along the tops. DH puts holiday cards up there. Back when we had a cat who could get up to the tops of the bookcases, she occasionally knocked a card over. :-)

  4. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Today’s action item, if you’re in a city with a unity vigil, you can go to that: http://www.hamiltonelectors.com/events

    But I’m not, so instead I’m taking today to go to my senators’ and congressmperson’s web page ( http://myreps.datamade.us/ ) and giving them my junk email so I can sign up for their email newsletters to keep abreast of town-halls and so on.

  5. chacha1 Says:

    We do our stockings on Christmas morning (and rarely do anything too big to fit in a stocking!), so anything in the stocking waits for that day. But anything that DOES happen to arrive before (or after) is fair game.

  6. Leigh Says:

    For birthdays in our household, we open them up early in the morning before any of us go to work. Much better than waiting until after dinner like my parents always did! Our first Christmas dating, we split the holidays to our separate families and so we exchanged gifts around the 12th when the last of them had been bought. My husband and I didn’t exchange gifts this year though. My parents got me an iPad this year and rather than being happy I like it, they’re quite annoyed I opened it as soon as it came.

  7. J Liedl Says:

    I grew up opening presents on Christmas Eve and then unpacking stockings on Christmas Day. Now we open our presents Christmas Day because, well, we mostly spend Christmas with his family and do things more on that schedule. It works well. I’m pretty good at waiting and would stack up all the wrapped presents underneath the tree for weeks ahead if it weren’t for the cats who think that wrapping paper is something for shredding!

  8. Rosa Says:

    We always did Christmas morning when I was a kid. My husband’s family does Christmas Eve.

    The gift pile from his family is so overwhelming, we don’t actually do other presents unless there’s something kiddo really really really wants that nobody is going to buy him. The last few years, there’s always been something on my list that I really, really wanted that nobody in his family will buy so my delightful husband gets up early (we’re sharing a hotel or a futon in someones’s basment with the child, so that’s not that hard) and takes the child away and fetches me a coffee and the thing I really really wanted that nobody bought for me.

    The other grandparents send things and we open them when they arrive. We’re not hauling them to husband’s ancestral homeland to add them to the giant pile of presents there. So child has a new videogame today!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Are you my sister? But you can’t be because she’s not married. Are you me?

      DH and I spent some time this weekend discussing the pros and cons of bringing luggage space vs. spending time at his hometown’s rural post office (vs. leaving things at his parents’…).

  9. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I think we used to only open gifts on Christmas morning when I was a kid, and then my family stopped doing Christmas at all so PiC and I have been figuring out our own traditions. It’s boring to most, but I best like buying stocks for our gift as a symbol of our commitment to becoming financially independent and as a concrete step towards that goal. We do a small pair of gifts for JuggerBaby each year. It’s been a book and pajamas the last two years but ze has a rapidly filling bookshelf (zir grand-aunt saves zir many used books through the year) so I might change to pajamas and a donation to Project Night Night or something like that.

  10. Ana Says:

    Growing up we always opened everything Christmas morning. These days we play it by ear…depending on work and travel schedules. My husband and MIL have this thing where they CANNOT WAIT until the birthday or holiday to give gifts they bought, so even though I kind of like the anticipation or waiting, I’ve had to open birthday presents early and I think we are opening christmas gifts tonight (?) (we are traveling on Saturday, but I would’ve waited until Friday but he wants to the kids to play with their gifts before we go)

  11. Katherine Says:

    We always wait until Christmas morning. Even if you know what the gift is, you still wait to unwrap it. The only exception is if you are exchanging gifts with someone you won’t see on Christmas day and they want you to open it in front of them.

    The ritual when I was a kid was that Santa leaves your stocking on the foot of your bad and you can unpack it and play with /eat the things in it while you wait for the adults to wake up and be ready to go downstairs. (We all had matching handmade reindeer stockings, and everyone brings stocking stuffers for everyone else – including for adults. On Christmas Eve, we take turns sneaking back to the stairs where the stockings are hung to put in our stocking stuffers.) We ALL (grandma, parents, aunt and uncle, cousins) went downstairs TOGETHER at the same time, because Santa left unwrapped gifts under the tree and the adults wanted to see the kids’ reactions. Then we would eat eggs benedict for Christmas breakfast, and then “do the tree.”

    “Doing the Tree” involves the youngest literate person “playing Santa” – distributing the wrapped gifts to their recipients until everyone has a few in front of them. Then we would go around the room and each open one gift at a time, in turn, and everyone exclaims over how wonderful it is. Then usually there were still more gifts under the tree, so the process would repeat.

    This highly ritualized ceremony and the presence of a mountain of presents mystifies my husband. I have really fond memories of it, even though now I don’t love the deadweight loss involved in the mountains of presents. This is the first year we’re not going to be traveling for Christmas with my grandma, so our celebration this year will be more low-key, but we will still do presents on Christmas morning.

    I feel really strongly that birthday presents should be opened at breakfast on your birthday. My husband also finds this ridiculous.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That was also our stocking ritual growing up (and our stocking ritual for our kids). My sister and I didn’t have fancy stockings though, and only santa stuffs the stockings and just for the kids. But my in-laws gave me one to match DH’s as a Christmas present the first year we were married.

      Instead of the doing the tree thing that I’m used to, my in-laws have an enormous free for all. There’s so much stuff that if we did it one at a time we’d be there for days, but it is a lot more frenetic than what I’m used to!

  12. Jay Says:

    I am Jewish. Hubs grew up Christian and is now Jewish. Kid has a January b’day and is the only grandchild on my side. When she was little, we started opening presents on the first night of Chanukah and opened them every night until her birthday. It was absurd. She’s now 16. This year, her combined Chanukah and b’day present was a new bed, purchased in October. She’ll get some cash and gift cards from other family and that will be that. I kinda miss the days of stacks of presents…and mostly don’t.

  13. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Speaking of opening presents early, Thank You #2 for Breaking Cat News (which I really really really wanted), Love Lies and Spies, and the Women Inventors book!


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