When should Santa Claus Come to Town?
December 19, 2008 3:28 PM   Subscribe

When does your family open Christmas presents from each other?

My husband and I have only been married a few years, and haven't yet been able to find a good time to open Christmas presents from each other.

My husband's family celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve, so we travel to spend all of Christmas Eve with them (decorating the tree, Christmas dinner, etc.) and then leave to travel to my family's Christmas on Christmas Day (again, all of the traditional Christmas things). Since we both typically have to work the days following Christmas Day, we have been celebrating "our" Christmas the following weekend, but it feels cheap and anti-climatic after having returned to work, and spent all of the Holidays with family.

My husband suggested opening presents on Christmas Eve morning, but that feels like cheating. (Santa still visits both our parents houses.) And we could stay up late and open presents after getting back from my parents house on Christmas Day, but that doesn't seem like a good idea right before returning to work.

What does your family do? If it isn't Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, how do you keep it feeling "Christmas-y?"
posted by Point n Click to Society & Culture (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My family always saved one present per person for January 6th (Epiphany, or the day that the Magi canonically arrived at the manger). It was typically the best or second-best present, too. After we'd gotten to play with our new stuff for a little while, the decorations came down, and Christmas was over.

When our jobs kept us away from each other one Christmas, my ex and I simply redesignated them as New Year's presents and opened them once the hangover from New Year's Eve had worn off (Rose Bowl halftime, as I recall).
posted by Etrigan at 3:38 PM on December 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Can you just do it as a nice end to your day when you get back home on Christmas? Start a tradition of spending the 26th together by taking off of working?

I have no tradition anymore since my parents split-up and I'm still trying to figure out just how to visit everyone correctly but that's what I would do in your situation.
posted by zephyr_words at 3:40 PM on December 19, 2008

Christmas Eve before everything else is what we've been doing. Sort of our quiet time together before the rush of visiting everybody else.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 3:45 PM on December 19, 2008

Agree in advance to buy small enough presents that you don't mind lugging them to open in front of everyone? That's usually half the fun, anyway. People want to see!

Naturally these should probably be family-friendly presents.
posted by rokusan at 3:46 PM on December 19, 2008

I think it's really important to carve out time for yourselves on the holiday. Whether that means taking the afternoon off to be together and have a picnic in front of the tree and open presents before leaving for the crazy family-ness, or leaving your parents early so that you have a proper evening together after Christmas dinner, or some other solution that makes the most sense for the two of you.

Seeing family is important - absolutely! - but it's also important to remember that this is one of those times that you can be renewing your connection to one another, as well... you're family to each other now, and you need to prioritize that in there somewhere, even at the cost of a few hours of time with one or both of your families.

Just my $.02.
posted by twiki at 3:47 PM on December 19, 2008

I agree with Twiki. Though, personally, I would find the idea of waking up with hubby and opening gifts and cooking a yummy breakfast and lounging around together in pajamas to be kind of awesome.
posted by amanda at 3:57 PM on December 19, 2008

How about solstice?
posted by chez shoes at 4:10 PM on December 19, 2008

We usually spend Christmas with one family or the other. When we travel to do so, we lug the presents with us. As much as I love both families dearly, I look forward to the time when we just spend Christmas with ourselves and visit the families at other times throughout the year. Last year, I tried to convince my wife that it was a good idea to not take our kids' presents to their grandparents' house, but to instead just take pictures of them and tell them the presents were waiting for them at home. That suggestion did not go over well.
posted by The World Famous at 4:10 PM on December 19, 2008

Christmas in my family typically has absolutely nothing to do with the day itself. My sibling is a police officer and usually has to work holidays and I have often been off on fieldwork regardless of the holidays. Thusly we celebrate as close to the holiday as we can manage being all together. One time, we celebrated a previous Christmas in March because I was overseas for six months. Even had a tree. Worked just fine.

Pick a time, whenever, that works for you both. That's really all that matters, you know. The day itself is just a date on a calender.
posted by elendil71 at 4:16 PM on December 19, 2008

We have no children in the house which makes a difference. We travel to in-laws on Christmas Eve, leave early, come home, have a few drinks, and slowwwwwly open presents. Much kissing and fond touching ensues. Heigh Ho to bed!
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:18 PM on December 19, 2008

My husband and I are in exactly the same situation as you. Luckily, our families are in town, so we don't have to travel much. We open our gifts to each other on Christmas Eve, after we get home/after the inlaws leave. It's fun to stay up late in front of the fire. My second preference would be to open them before festivities with my family on Christmas morning...we'd probably do coffee and presents in bed before getting dressed.
posted by ms.v. at 4:22 PM on December 19, 2008

We celebrate Christmas with my family on Christmas Eve, my husband's family on Christmas afternoon and keep Christmas morning just for us. Which is great since everyone is fairly nearby, but let us never speak of the first Christmas of our marriage, when we were traveling ON Christmas Day.

Anyway, I agree with the others -- you need to carve out a bit of time just for the two of you. I don't see why Christmas Eve morning wouldn't work. It just might feel weird the first year. Plus, hey, early presents.
posted by sugarfish at 4:37 PM on December 19, 2008

My family, which is large and extended, does a kind of rota where each family group (there are five) gives to another family group for Christmas. My mother also shops for Christmas all year round, and we've only recently gotten her away from giving gifts in such profusion that actual furniture units were used. Like "here's your couch, and here's your sister's, and here's your other sister's...".

Here's how the gift-opening goes:
  • Presents from distant friends (e.g. people we used to know in Hawaii) are opened on the night of 12/24, after dinner and before Midnight Mass.
  • All other presents are opened on the morning of Christmas Day, in the following order:
    1. Presents from family members.
    2. Presents from our honorary Aunt, who is usually with us.
    3. Presents from whomever in the family "gave" to our family this year".
    4. Presents from "Santa" (meaning my parents).
    5. Stockings.
My wife's family, who are much more restrained and normal than my family, opens one gift on Christmas Eve, and the other on Christmas Day.
posted by scrump at 4:39 PM on December 19, 2008

Longer term, might you arrange to spend alternate Christmases with just one family or the other? This works pretty well in my experience (the other can get Thanksgiving, or a summer visit, or something), and leaves you either Christmas Eve or Day to each other.

It is true that some time alone together is good too, but Christmas craziness is always best with a big group, I think. I believe a lot of couples use a solo romantic New Year's Eve to recover from the group madness of the Christmas season.
posted by rokusan at 4:41 PM on December 19, 2008

When the kids (me and my siblings) were little, we used to open one present on Christmas Eve - usually, from Dad. The rest would be opened Christmas morning. That doesn't help you, though.

However, my sister and her husband are in the same boat. On Christmas Eve, they go to her husband's family's house, and do their gift exchanging with that family. On Christmas morning, they do their presents to one another. Then, they come to our house for a mid afternoon meal and then they exchange gifts with my family. Sometimes, they save one present for when they get home that night.
posted by firei at 4:42 PM on December 19, 2008

We open some of presents to each other with his parents (christmas eve), and some with mine (christmas day). I don't feel like we need to be alone to open them. I imagine this will change when we have our own kids, in which case it will be christams day when we open santa.
posted by dpx.mfx at 4:44 PM on December 19, 2008

Extended family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins) all gathered at someone's house Christmas Eve and exchanged gifts.

Christmas morning was all about the immediate family, Mom, Dad, sibs.
posted by browse at 4:48 PM on December 19, 2008

My family has always been a Christmas Eve family. How late does your husband's family's celebration run to? If you don't go to Midnight Mass, or anything like that, I'd imagine that having the presents with you before you go to bed--where ever you happen to be sleeping--and opening them late at night together in whatever bedroom you're sharing can be a nice intimate moment after the craziness of family gift unwrapping.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:52 PM on December 19, 2008

As a child, I got to open one and only one present on the 24th.

Later my parents separated and divorced, and the pattern of one parent's place on Xmas eve, followed by my transferal to the other's on the day of became the standard.

Now that we are all adults and living in three widely separated cities, improvisational scheduling is the rule of thumb: my mom gave me most of my presents when I was in town at her place two weeks ago; my dad's and mine to one another are both en route and may or may not arrive by the 25th, and I am giving my mother's gifts on the day itself.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:04 PM on December 19, 2008

we do Christmas Eve, late at night. Christmas is always crazy with family stuff for us, though neither of us really care much about the holiday itself. So it's nice to have a few quiet hours of normalcy, just for us...the last few years, we've spent the evening watching Bad Santa, eating takeout, and opening presents in front of the fire - our own little offbeat tradition in the midst of all the hoopla.
posted by peachfuzz at 5:58 PM on December 19, 2008

I think it's really important to carve out time for yourselves on the holiday.

This, a thousand times over.

And if you hope to carve out time for yourselves, it's easier to start now, instead of waiting a dozen years and then fighting the long-time habit of spending all the time with your various extended families.

But that's not what you asked, so here I am answering the question you asked: When do you open presents, and how do you keep it feeling Christmas-y?

After spending our first Christmas together scrambling from one family home to another, my partner and I decided it was important to spend a portion of our Christmas-time --- an evening, a morning, it doesn't matter --- alone together, and to reserve our presents to each other for that time.

We haven't been militant about when it happens, just that it happens. Last year, my family was all out of town Christmas Day and his family celebrated on the 24th, so we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with them, then headed home to be alone. This year, it's the other way 'round, so we're spending Christmas Eve together alone, and opening our presents then, and heading out for family time Christmas morning.

How do you keep it feeling "Christmas-y"?

My partner and I have started our own traditions, separate from our family's traditions. For us, this means sitting on the living room floor around the coffee table with the lights dimmed, eating our traditional Christmas fondue, drinking beer or wine, and slowly opening presents and smooching. Sometimes we do this Christmas Eve, sometimes on Christmas Night, but I think that whenever we do it, that it is our tradition would make it feel Christmas-y to us.

I'm sure that, in time, we'll institute a Traditional Christmas Breakfast, and then that will feel traditional, too.

So, I think that's the answer: be bold enough to claim some time together during this busy season, and build some private traditions of your own. Once the traditions are in place, anytime you declare to be Christmas is Christmas.

If you decide to stake a claim on your own little Christmas during the actual calendar Christmas, you might do what I did this year: while our large extended families were both making complicated scheduling decisions, we simply annouced that we were completely free either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but not both, and that we were accepting the invitation from whichever side of the family issued it first. Both families accepted this with good grace.
posted by Elsa at 6:07 PM on December 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

nthing what everyone else here has said about finding time to make a holiday tradition that belongs just to you.

For us: We visit my mom on Christmas Eve -- I cook dinner at her house then we open presents and have dinner. She is very active in her church, so we typically leave about 8pm when she needs to get ready for her church duties that night.

Then we drive home.

Christmas morning we get up and putter around a bit -- or used to (more about this in a minute). Then we drive to his parent's house and spend the day there with his parents and three siblings. We arrive around noon, do presents first, and then eat dinner around 3-4pm, followed by family games and home by 7-8pm.

At that point, we host an event that has come to be known as "Chosen Family Christmas", which is a present opening extravaganza with us and four other couples, featuring stockings, presents, and rather too much wine. This is when my husband and I open our presents from each other.

Our son was born two and a half years ago, and I'm glad that we started ages ago making it clear to each grandparent-house that we also needed time for our own family traditions. That is making it much easier to carve out time on Christmas morning for our son.
posted by anastasiav at 7:03 PM on December 19, 2008

My husband and I don't do gifts for eachother, instead we usually travel starting on Christmas day to a holiday on our own (my birthday is Boxing Day, which complicates the whole holiday thing). So this year we held a lunch for the family last weekend, and did gifts then. We'll go to his mother's on Christmas morning for lunch (my family is on the other side of the country) and fly to our holiday in the afternoon.
posted by wingless_angel at 8:48 PM on December 19, 2008

I'm not too happy with our current arrangement, which is that we give each other whatever is bulky or awkward in advance of travel. Then we fly cross-country and give each other one or two things at Family A's gift unwrapping on Christmas Day proper. Then a couple days later we give each other one or two things at Family B's gift unwrapping. I feel like we never get to enjoy Christmas together (I may not be Christian, darnit, but it's my second-favorite holiday after Halloween and I hate missing out celebrating on it with my favorite person). So after reading this thread, I'm thinking that next year we need to put up our tree and start decorating right after Thanksgiving (so that there's enough time to enjoy it), do a few other holiday things (charity, Dickens Fair, etc.), and do our own gift exchange, perhaps with fondue as above (sounds delightful!) or a small "chosen family" party (also delightful!) on or near Solstice. Arbitrary, since we're no more pagan than Christian? Sure, but it's a date you can point to on the calendar, it's part of the history of why we celebrate this time of year, and it gives an anchor to a new tradition. I think it'll feel a little funny at first, but I'm hoping it'll stick.
posted by wintersweet at 10:10 PM on December 19, 2008

In years past... Christmas Eve, shortly after mom finally resorted to wrapping things in paper grocery bags because she was sick of us asking if she'd finished yet. This year I doubt my family will be doing much of anything as my dad cheated on my mom so they are getting a divorce and have to move out of Canada for Christmas and none of siblings are in the same state (and one is in Antarctica).

Apologies. I'm a tad bit bitter.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 11:25 PM on December 19, 2008

I guess I could have answered your question better. A couple times when we were younger we had to open presents much earlier or later than Christmas or Christmas Eve. To keep it feeling Christmasy it helps to have flannel PJ's, hot coco or cinnamon rolls, and play carols on the radio. Also, loll around in teh wrapping paper a bit when you are done opening everything.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 11:29 PM on December 19, 2008

At least one smaller gift at each family gathering so we can participate in their fun. Then the big one(s) after all of that is done, usually the day after Christmas.
posted by Ookseer at 11:56 PM on December 19, 2008

One option is to do Christmas gifts to each other that will only fit in stockings, and do your stockings in bed before everyone else gets up. You only need like 15 minutes. Stocking presents do not have to mean cheap or boring presents, either: note that car keys, iPhones and Magic Wallets all fit in a stocking :)
posted by DarlingBri at 5:45 AM on December 20, 2008

Nthing "pick a time that's yours." Epiphany can be nice, as mentioned above, or you can make a rule that the morning/afternoon/evening/teatime of whatever day is yours.

My husband's family is about 5 hours away and mine is about 2.5. Here's what we do:

For Thanksgiving, we stay home and celebrate with our own local friends.

His sister's birthday is in mid-December, so we go to his family on the weekend closest to it and do all the gift exchange for that side of the family.

We will go to my family on the most convenient time, depending on when the holiday falls and what time off we have. Often it's the weekend before Christmas Day. We then do our presents at Christmas.

My own family traditionally opened presents on Christmas Eve, at night after church. Even if we "move" Christmas to the weekend before, we will still traditionally do the presents at night.
posted by oblique red at 2:58 PM on December 22, 2008

I know I'm really late chiming in on this one, sorry about that.

My husband and I have been together for 5 years now and my kids are all grown and have their own SO so this year was a little different.

For Thanksgiving, we had a big private family dinner with us, the kids and their mates the Tuesday before. That left the kids to be able to go to either their grandmother's or the home of their SO. It was their choice though which one they went to and we went to my inlaws.

For Christmas, We threw a big Christmas party for our friends and gave them all their gifts on Dec 13th. We had the private family dinner on Dec 23rd. We opened all our gifts after dinner and sat and watched Christmas Vacation together. We went to my inlaws, the kids went too, for Christmas eve breakfast and did the gift thing there. That left the rest of the day and Christmas day for our kids to celebrate with their partners and their dad's family without putting any stress on them to be with us. I have to add that they all managed to come by and visit with us on Christmas day without being asked to. I have awesome children!

The whole point I was trying to make is just take it easy. It shouldn't be stressful to enjoy your family and your spouse. You can find a way to make it all work out and everyone be happy.
posted by Jules22871 at 2:24 PM on January 4, 2009

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