How to make each gift count at Christmas
December 18, 2013 10:20 AM   Subscribe

My kids get so many holiday gifts these days that on Christmas day many of the new items are just tossed aside and only the shiniest given attention. I’m wondering if it would make more sense to stagger the unwrapping rather than let them open everything at the same time. I realize the unwrapping frenzy is part of the fun, but clearly receiving many gifts at once minimizes the value of the individual gifts. I don't come from a tradition of Christmas-time excess so I don't really know what this feels like to a kid. Scaling down is probably not an option, unfortunately.
posted by Dragonness to Society & Culture (51 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
My sister-in-law's mother is German, so her family grew up with the tradition that each person could pick one small gift to open on Christmas Eve - and then you waited until Christmas Day for everything else. This is something she and my brother do with their own family now, and no one seems to be upset by it at all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:26 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I feel your pain. No matter how much I request that the grandparents only send one gift per kid, they just go nuts and send multiples. My kids are 4 and 6 and the same thing happens, they get too much stuff, don't appreciate it, and its more clutter around the house!

I remember as a kid having a couple of gifts held back until later in the day (hidden so they were a surprise) and really appreciating them more, because the morning gift frenzy was over so fast. So I personally think its a good idea.

With my kids we have held back a couple and turned them into New Years gifts. Happy New Year! This has worked well for us.
posted by Joh at 10:27 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I was growing up, and even now, we always had someone "play Santa" and hand people gifts one at a time to unwrap and admire.
posted by muddgirl at 10:27 AM on December 18, 2013 [19 favorites]

How about after a week, they can choose which ones they keep and which ones they don't really want, and then donate the gently used / unused ones to a local children's hospital or homeless shelter with kids? I do some homeless feeds and I see the amazement on the kids' faces when they come to the feeds to give out gifts. Worthwhile for all parties involved.
posted by HeyAllie at 10:28 AM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

As a person who celebrates Channukah, as a kid we enjoyed getting one thing per night to open and play with.

There was that time when we petitioned to have a "Christmas-like" haul, and my folks covered the living room in gifts, and that was pretty great, but mostly for the novelty.

Were I you, I'd stagger things out from Christmas Eve through 3 Kings Day (Epiphany). Or meld a lot of holidays together, some for Christmas, some for Channukah, some for Kwaanza, some for yule, and discuss the different hoidays and how they're celebrated.

There is so much to celebrate in December, I think staggering out the gifts would make it even more special!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:29 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I remember my parents always doing something like this with my younger brothers when I was growing up, especially since one of them has a December birthday. Everything got opened in the unwrapping frenzy, but some gifts were put aside for later and not played with or taken out of the box for some time.

My parents probably did the same with me when I was younger, since I can't even remember them doing that, I doubt I even noticed. All in all, I think it really depends on the age of the kid. A preschooler isn't going to notice very much if some toys are put aside.

My boyfriend's German family gives gifts every Sunday leading up to Christmas. That's another way you could spread it out.
posted by inertia at 10:30 AM on December 18, 2013

When I was a kid we got three "Santa Claus" presents. Period. We also got pajamas from our parents, a stocking with like one or two small toys (matchbox cars, a my little pony, new crayons, something like that), and whatever the grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. wanted to do.

Scaling down is absolutely an option. Every year I would whine to my parents about how so and so down the street got X number of presents, and three is stupid, and why can't I have blah, and they would respond with, "Baby Jesus got three presents, so three presents is good enough for you." Period. You are the parents. You decide how much crap to buy them.

We also had a game for the Christmas Morning Unwrappening, which we still play as adults.

Everyone had to go one at a time. In age order, including any adult relatives who were there. The suspense was palpable. It at least made Christmas Morning into an experience to share rather than just five minutes of frantic materialism.
posted by Sara C. at 10:31 AM on December 18, 2013 [17 favorites]

Although I am not Jewish, nor celebrate Hanukkah, I am hoping to use some of these ideas to build gift giving over the holidays around as my kiddo gets bigger. Perhaps, as you approach Christmas, you could spread some of the gifts out over a theme like this (maybe leading up to Epiphany?). This article really appealed to me because it promotes more of an awareness of the value of non-material gifts and the value of giving to others, which seem especially important at the holidays.
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 10:31 AM on December 18, 2013

We open gifts in rounds (youngest to oldest, each opening one gift, then repeat until everyone's gifts are opened), which slows down the process a bit and gives more time for appreciation. My immediate family opens gifts on Christmas Eve; stockings happen on Christmas morning; one or two additional gifts are opened during the big family get-together on Christmas Day.
posted by rebekah at 10:32 AM on December 18, 2013 [8 favorites]

Like muddgirl our family opens one gift at a time in age order with one "santa" handing out gifts to each person. Yeah Christmas morning takes a while but let's be honest, what else are you doing?
posted by magnetsphere at 10:33 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

my family also does what rebekah and magnetsphere suggest.
posted by desjardins at 10:34 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

My parents were similarly reluctant to scale down, but their ultimate solution was the decrease the number of gifts, but not the overall expense. So instead of getting like six relatively cheap gifts, I would get 2-3 bigger/shinier/more awesome gifts. This eliminated the issue of some gifts being neglected in favor of fancier ones.

We also avoid the unwrapping frenzy by making sure only one or two people are unwrapping at any one time. We try to go slowly to make sure we really appreciate each present, and take turns.

Spreading gifts out over one day (instead of all in the morning) might be a solution, but spreading them out over several days seems unpleasant and like it would take away much of the magic of seeing the gifts under the tree on Christmas morning.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 10:37 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, my family also takes turns opening individual gifts on Christmas morning. It's a nice, leisurely morning with everyone in their PJs, we eat pie and cheese and drink coffee and eggnog, and it takes a couple hours. It's much nicer that way, I think.

To replicate the 'instant bonanza of goodies' feeling, though, the kids have stockings with candy and a couple small gifts, which they are allowed to open as soon as they wake up. Everything else waits until we're all there together.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:38 AM on December 18, 2013 [9 favorites]

In addition to one at a time gift distribution, another good idea is to have different gift times spread over the course of the day.

On Christmas Eve we got one present, which of course was always the pajamas.

Santa presents stayed unwrapped and could be played with prior to our parents waking up.

After Christmas morning breakfast it was time for age-order gift unwrapping, followed by stockings.

If we were going to our grandparents' house for Christmas dinner, they would typically keep our presents there (and sometimes presents from aunts and uncles, too) and we would do more unwrapping there.
posted by Sara C. at 10:39 AM on December 18, 2013

We're doing one present from Santa... Santa's presents are unwrapped and simply left under the tree.

Then we're doing 4 presents for the LO: we're sort of following the "something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read" philosophy, but loosely.

The stocking will be food treats, no toys.

I get what you're saying about not being able to scale back on quantity though. I like the idea of doing one present on Christmas Eve (maybe a present from a friend or the gparents, since those have obviously been sent early). Or maybe a few early presents on Sunday night. You just have to think about how the precedent is being set for future years.

When I was a kid and the whole family gathered at the grandparents house, there were some years where we did the frenzy, and some where we did the one-at-a-time. The frenzy was fun from the perspective of a kid, but if you're going for a bigger lesson in appreciating other people's feelings and fortunes, I think one-at-a-time is the way to go.
posted by vignettist at 10:40 AM on December 18, 2013

I have a five year old, and in hindsight I would buy her only one gift since she got so many other gifts from family and friends. I didn't start doing this until she was 4 because I felt like I needed to be the main gift giver, but this is really just nonsense on my part. So many gifts and then more really does minimize the experience. She'll be fine.
posted by waving at 10:40 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Keep the first three gifts, donate everything else. Kids get to choose, that day.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:41 AM on December 18, 2013

We always did a couple of gifts the night before (traditionally, new pajamas and a book or maybe a computer game - something that could keep you occupied and quiet in your room if you woke up at the crack of dawn the next day.)

Stockings first thing in the morning while the grown-ups mainline coffee, then a couple rounds of presents. (One gift for each person, everyone opens at the same time, typically.) Then leisurely breakfast and playing with toys. Then more rounds of presents. Then break for more playing / reading. Lunch. More presents. Lots of time to enjoy things between rounds. Biggest/shiniest presents saved for the very end, which built anticipation and also ensured we weren't so dazzled by early gifts that we ignored the later ones.

This was always the routine, so it didn't feel like unfairly dragging-out the process, or anything. I do recall that when we were on the young side, my mom had to be careful about having the same number of rounds for the kids (which sometimes meant bundling a few books together into a single package, for example), so you wouldn't end up with most people done with presents, and then one kid gleefully tearing into a stack of five more boxes. Obviously, as we got older, that became less of a concern. (For me, at least. Maybe my sister is still jealously counting boxes.)

There was definitely Christmas excess, due to my mom's overcompensation for my very young years where we were very poor and presents were not an option. I think spacing it out was a really good thing, left us lots of time to appreciate and play with things before tossing them aside for the next present.
posted by Stacey at 10:43 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

We always opened one present on Christmas Eve, then in the morning did it in rounds, with "Santa" handing presents out one person at a time while everyone watched. On Christmases when there were 20-plus people and many gifts it took forever! But I still remember not only what I got but also what all my cousins got. The first Christmas with my husband's family I was absolutely horrified. All the kids ran in and attacked the presents in a flurry of torn wrapping paper and literally five minutes later it was all over. So depressing.
posted by HotToddy at 10:43 AM on December 18, 2013 [8 favorites]

Absolutely stagger. The all-at-once frenzy is simply too much for little eyes and brains to take in.

Have a Christmas Eve present, some Christmas morning presents, and some Christmas Night presents. Even leave one until Three Kings Day if they can stand the suspense.

But when you do your main opening, taking turns is essential. That way, everyone gets a chance to ooh and ah. Everyone gets a chance to say, "Thank you," "You're welcome," and "Merry Christmas." There's less chance of little presents getting lost in the sea of torn paper. It prolongs the pleasure and the togetherness.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:54 AM on December 18, 2013 [11 favorites]

As a kid, we took turns jumping up to hand out a pile of gifts to others to open. My wife's family, however, sat patiently besides a pile of presents and watched as each person in turn (oldest to youngest) opened every one of their gifts and admired each one. The first time I did this with them I died inside a little, because I couldn't wait and because I didn't want the attention on me (I mean, what if it's a terrible gift?). I am used to it now but…oy.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:54 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Like others here my family did one present on Christmas Eve (generally at my grandparents' house), then presents in rounds Christmas morning - one for me, one for brother, open, pose for photo, wait until brother opened, posed for photo, clean up paper, then next round of gifts. Then our parents opened gifts in the same manner, and we had to wait until that was all done to do our stockings or play with our gifts. After everyone opened gifts, we'd do the stockings, which was usually candy/chocolate, a toothbrush, and scratch off lottery tickets. We would usually get 1 big shared/family present (ping pong table, new tv, etc), 1-2 games/toys each, socks/underwear/necessities, a few books, and not much else. Then they'd put us to work before Christmas dinner -- my brother shoveling the driveway and me helping my mom with the turkey/ham (and thus we couldn't play with the gifts right away).

Scaling down is probably not an option, unfortunately.
You realize that you're actually Santa, right? You can choose how many gifts to buy your kids. If they get a lot from other people, then great! Less expense for you! If all they pay attention to is the big shiny gift, then only get them the big shiny gift (you can be crafty with wrapping to make it take longer -- e.g., with a PS4, wrap the controller separate from the power cord, separate from the console, separate from a game).
posted by melissasaurus at 11:00 AM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

As others have mentioned, we take turns opening one present at a time.

We also spread gift opening over about a week last year, because the kids were young & easily overwhelmed. So they opened a few gifts Christmas morning, then we stopped to have breakfast & play with new toys. A few more gifts after lunch, etc. They didn't mind waiting several extra days to open the last of the packages because they were so focused on playing with each new toy as it came along.
posted by belladonna at 11:10 AM on December 18, 2013

In my family, Christmas was a kind-of-sort-of two day affair.

On the Christmas Eve lunch and dinner tables, we would find presents under our plates. Not even crappy presents! Presents we would like to play with! Then, that night, we made Christmas cookies.

Christmas breakfast was the same, with a present under our cereal bowl. After breakfast, we'd wait for the grandparents, and play games outside—snow or no snow. Or hang out and play with our new toys.

When Grandma and Grandpa arrived, we'd all sit around the tree and play a game called "Elves."

It goes like this:

Each child is an elf, and takes their turn to retrieve a present from under the tree, read aloud who its for, and hand it over to its recipient. (No peeking, cherry picking, or cheating! Just pick one!)

The next Elf wasn't allowed to pick the next present until the previous gift was opened, and fawned over.

Neither were toys allowed to be played with until every single gift was open. There were rounds of yelling, "No playing!!!!" in a cheerful way.

Then each kid had a mountain of toys, batteries, and socks to play with, once every single gift and card was opened and savored.

This really made gift giving important in my family. It got to the point that I was just as excited to see Grandma open her present, as it was to get mine. Because we both got attention (Ooh! Aah!) and I got wonderful hugs from Grandma.
posted by ulfberht at 11:13 AM on December 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

My husband's family has a tradition that we're choosing to carry on called "Three Wise Men" where the three days before Christmas everyone gets to open one gift per day and then the rest on Christmas. They also include reading a story about the birth of Jesus and a little snack, is a fun tradition. We've only been buying each other three gifts and doing stockings Christmas morning and we plan on continuing that with ToddlerJungle as she gets older. We try to focus less on gifts and more on spending time so we encourage the gift of an outing with family or if they're feeling like giving more then we point them towards her 529 plan.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 11:15 AM on December 18, 2013

Coming from a Jewish household, I think the idea of opening presents over the course of several nights worked well for us and could translate to Christmas. For the presents we'd get on Christmas day (some of my cousins are half-Catholic and we would all get something), we would take turns opening them gradually over the course of the day.

(I hope this isn't too off-topic, but I while I do appreciate being generous to less fortunate children, especially around the holidays, I don't think it's right to make young kids donate some of their presents as some have suggested upthread. They won't really understand what's going on and will just feel like something's being taken away from them. Better to take them with you to pick out some toys for Operation Santa or something like that, I think.)
posted by mlle valentine at 11:19 AM on December 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

When I was a kid, we did Christmas slowly--over three or four hours, each person opening a single gift, then someone else, and then someone else... There were a lot of breaks for more tea/more toast/pictures/etc.

Now that I've my own child, we do it even more slowly, over three or four days. We started doing it like this when she was quite young and easily overwhelmed, but stick with it now because it makes things enjoyable. Partner and I are both from families that Do Gifts, so we usually break it down as one day for gifts from one family, one day for gifts from another, one day for gifts from each other, and one day for gifts from Santa. Santa gifts are spread out over a few hours--stocking first, and then usually fortification (tea and breakfast, whatever that may be), and then a slow unwrapping an examining of things.

It's probably not easy to transition to this with older kids, but doing it over several days would at least mean that there are days of enjoyment, not just a frantic hour of tearing into things.
posted by MeghanC at 11:19 AM on December 18, 2013

My family did the family presents on Christmas Eve evening. So gifts to each other were done, everyone stopped what they were doing and watched the person unwrapping, presents where commented on, admired and thanks etc said before moving on to the next person. This way each present was acknowledged and thanks given. Nibbleys and drinks are out, Christmas carols are playing and candles burning it's rather lovely and my favourite part of Christmas.

Christmas morning was a crazed wrapping paper everywhere event as we unwrapped "Santas" presents. There were usually only a few presents each though as we had gotten most of them the night before. This is usually where we got our "big" presents so there were only usually one or 2.
posted by wwax at 11:24 AM on December 18, 2013

Our family always took turns, too, with Mom or Dad distributing the presents. In addition to slowing things down, this allowed them to give us the best presents last.

At some point my mom stopped putting name tags on presents, and didn't let us know whose was whose until Christmas morning. She thinks this is a fun tradition (or she just got a kick out of how much it annoyed me when I was a teenager). It'll drive your kids batty if they're pre-Christmas gift-shakers, but they won't be able to rip through them immediately if they don't know which ones are for them.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:29 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

My parents had a few tricks to slow down the chaos:
1) Kids who wake up early, must go and wake up the other kids. Only when you have the whole crew together can the kids go downstairs, and handle their Santa stocking. Nothing else. When we'd finished entertaining ourselves with the stocking contents, wake up mom & dad - usually this gave my parents an extra half/full hour of sleep.

2)My hippie commie family has a strict paper recycling policy: we would like to reuse the Christmas paper next year, and the years to come. Seriously, we have paper from the late 70s that is STILL making the rounds (albeit getting smaller and smaller). No ripping/tearing/disrespectful handling is permitted during gift opening. You have to open your present carefully to preserve the paper!!! Everyone is armed with steak knives for present opening.
Usually a couple of people will take turns finding 1-2 presents from under the tree, and pass them along to the recipients, eg. I will go find the gift that I chose for my brother, and present it to him.
We both open our presents carefully... and do the ooh-ahh-and thankyou thing.
Smaller people who can't handle knives/opening paper often get their gifts in reusable bags and tissue paper.
After present opening, all of the paper involved is refolded/ribbons wound up. We had to either do it then, or do it after lunch while watching a movie, but either way, we had to clean up the paper properly... trim off any snagged edges, etc. Gave my parents the opportunity to go back to bed for a nap if they needed it haha :)

3) My parents were always really good at fostering conversation about the presents between kids, etc... "Why did you choose that for your sister?", "Where did you find it?", "How long did it take to find it?", "Ooh that matches, x-y-z outfit/toy, that's cool!"... really got some appreciative discussion going. There has always been a requirement to verbalize your thanks/appreciation for any gift received in my family.

[I find I get frustrated when people shred into gifts and quickly toss them aside - partner's siblings' children are permitted to do that as soon as the gift comes in the mail. Really sends the message that a) our gift isn't worth putting under the xmas tree and waiting for, and b) these kids are obviously getting wayyyy too much stuff - we should really dial back our efforts, because it is costing us a lot on a tight student budget to give thoughtful presents that don't appear to be valued by either the children or parents.]
posted by NorthernAutumn at 11:45 AM on December 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

When I was a little kid, we were allowed to pick out one gift to open before Vespers on Christmas Eve, then everybody would take turns unwrapping after Vespers. Christmas morning was solely for stockings (and maybe a piece of candy or two) before church, followed by a big breakfast.
posted by Soliloquy at 11:52 AM on December 18, 2013

Oh yeah, and as kids we weren't even allowed to go into the living room until everyone was awake and ready for presents. Like NorthernAutumn's family, but one level stricter. Plus you have to say thank you after you open each present.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:07 PM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Ha, my mom also left labels off presents, or labeled them with a code, to prevent us from pre-sorting all the gifts into easily-ripped-through piles.
posted by muddgirl at 12:18 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

How old are the kids? Teens and pre-teens can wait and let everyone have a turn, but I don't think it hurts little kids to have a spree of tearing open paper and ribbons and wallowing in the thrill of the new.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:23 PM on December 18, 2013

It's news to me that there are people who don't take turns opening presents.
posted by ckape at 1:30 PM on December 18, 2013 [9 favorites]

oh yeah, you definitely have to take turns opening presents!

when we did the whole big extended family thing, i think we opened in age order, with me starting, going up through the cousins and then the aunts and uncles, then to grandpa, and then back to me, etc.

when it was just me and my parents, we went around in a circle, but of course i always had more presents than they did. so then it was just me opening presents. and there was usually a short break to toss wrapping paper at the cat and watch her play with it.

and i usually got to open one on xmas eve.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 2:26 PM on December 18, 2013

Now I'm scared of marrying someone from a family that insists on the present-feeding-frenzy style of Christmases! That's even worse than the guy I dated who was allergic to pine trees and had to have plastic Christmas trees, which I honestly wasn't sure I could live with for the rest of my life.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:28 PM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

I honestly don't remember what we did when I was a little kid - but we had some natural spacing-out-of-gifts because my immediate family would open all our own stuff early on Christmas morning, then get in a car and drive to Cape Cod where the whole clan would gather at either my aunt's or my grandparents' houses and we'd have the grand family unwrapping there. Some years I even think we did our immediate family in Connecticut, then a second stage at the grandparents', then a third stage at my aunt's.

As the kids got older we started doing something where my Dad separated everything out into piles for each of us, and we all sat, each one of us picking up one of the presents from our pile and we'd all each open that one at the same time....then we'd move on to the second one at the same time....then the third....etc.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:32 PM on December 18, 2013

We got tons of presents, but most were school supplies like pencil cases and pens, clothing, chocolates, other things that were needed. That way you get to open tons of presents and not have a ton of clutter.
posted by meepmeow at 4:29 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

In my family growing up, not only did we take turns with everyone watching one person open a present, but we didn't go on to the next person until we'd had a chance to fully share/play with the present. All clothes must be modeled immediately, CDs played, toys tried out. (Games and movies were the exception, but were tried on Christmas day.) As an adult I find this approach way too much attention (and very difficult when the times when you dislike a present) but it definitely draws out the unwrapping frenzy -- it never took under three hours and we didn't have a lot of money to spend on it. (We also opened our stockings together and slowly, trying to go at the same pace as everyone else, so that we pulled out our identical toys and candy at the same time.)

Now that I'm an adult I prefer an in-between approach. Essentially, multiple people can unwrap at once, but before you unwrap a present, you must find/make eye contact with your gift-giver. That way, you get to see each present you've given be unwrapped, but you don't have everyone staring at you for every single present. And there's always time to show off anything you like and play with toys before unwrapping more.

We also unwrap some presents on Christmas Eve and some on Christmas morning. And if you really have so many presents that even that is overwhelming, feel free to unwrap presents on as many of the twelve days of Christmas as you like. (I feel you that getting relatives to send fewer presents probably isn't going to happen, but do try to frequently pass on their clothing sizes, book tastes, or let them know what art or school supplies need topping up, so that some of that energy can be redirected. I've found that to be pretty effective for my daughter.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 5:27 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

We did the obsessive recycling thing that NorthernAutumn's family did so that took some time up. The one downside to the "someone plays santa and hands out gifts" routine, which we did as well, is that it becomes really obvious if someone got more presents than someone else. This is not a big deal if kids get more presents than parents which people sort of expect, but in our family it was weird if one kid got more presents than another kid. As we got older it was easier to sort of see "Oh she got one big present and I got a few smaller presents" (both in size or in relative value maybe) but as little kids it was more of a thing. Other outlines

- we each got to pick one present to open the night before (with veto power from mom/dad in case that was a special present for some reason)
- stocking stuff could be opened in the morning before mom and dad were up, otherwise everyone needed to wait til folks were awake and people had had some food
- we saved wrapping paper and mom kept a list on a clipboard of who should be thanked for what
- all the presents from "the cats" were more practical sort of goofy stuff like school supplies or underwear. This was so you didn't have to write them thank you notes because they can't read anyway
- we also did a lot of "oh hey go try that on/listen to it" stuff that Margalo Epps refers to

Present opening took a good long time after which we had a big meal (mom and grandma would prep it while we'd play with new stuff and dad would take a nap or work on projects with grandad) and the rest of the day was more open.
posted by jessamyn at 7:27 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

My mom always ensured that my bro and I had the exact same number of presents... that sounds a bit neurotic but it kept the peace.
posted by muddgirl at 7:32 PM on December 18, 2013

My family also did the one-present-at-a-time thing, but a variation we had is that the role of "Santa" rotated. It would start off with somebody (didn't really matter who) picking up a present at random from below the tree and handing it to whoever it was for. After the recipient had opened it and showed it for everyone to admire, it was their turn to be Santa and pick the next present to give to somebody. Lather, rinse, repeat. It took a while, but we'd eaten breakfast and everybody had coffee or tea and tasty snacks, so what's the problem? (After all the presents had been opened and fresh coffee or tea had been made, a happy silence would usually descend as everybody started reading the books they'd been given.)

Presents couldn't be opened until everybody was awake, but stockings could be if at least one other person was there.
posted by Lexica at 7:37 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would suggest doing something that nobody wants to do: as soon as the gifts are unwrapped, but before they are able to play with them, make them write thank-you letters right away for each gift. Yes, RIGHT AWAY.

It should be dated, "Christmas Day, 2013" and read "Dear Aunt Sponge, I have just unwrapped your wonderful Young Poisoner's Chemistry Set and I can't wait to use it! I have many test subjects in mind, especially Big Moose from gym class. I am looking forward to a year of keeping my lunch money for lunch! I can't thank you enough! With love, Kid xoxo"

To facilitate the exercise, have writing paper, pens, envelopes and stamps already laid out on the table. When they whine and complain, tell them that Aunt Sponge went out of her way to do a nice thing for them and they are sodding well going to express their gratitude for it, no excuses. And to think of how happy Aunt Sponge will be to receive their messages of gratitude, how proud she will be to have such especially polite and kind nieces and nephews, and how motivated she will probably be to send gifts again next year as a result.

Think this is unrealistic? Not fun? Oh well. The School of Funspoilonics says to either cut back or stagger the gift-unwrapping throughout the day, so... do what you have to do.
posted by tel3path at 3:28 AM on December 19, 2013

We did the obsessive recycling thing that NorthernAutumn's family did so that took some time up.

We did that at Grandma Rose's, because she was that way with everything (oh, the stories I could tell). But that was one present each, and usually the day after Christmas. It was made more difficult by the fact that Grandma Rose used something on the order of two rolls of tape per package, so you practically needed a scalpel and forceps to get in. Although she's long gone (and Dad got her in the divorce, so we didn't hear from her for years before her death), "Merry Christmas, Rose!" is still good-natured shorthand between my sister and I for, "Jeez, you sure used a lot of tape on this one!"

Each year, she and Mom would pass the Pleasure-Knit Undies box back and forth. It was one of those fancy, old-timey department store gift boxes, and Mom saved and re-used it when Rose wrapped her present in it one year, and so on. Sic transit gloriae mundi and all that, but I do wish it had been in Mom's custody that year so she'd still have it now.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:58 AM on December 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Now I'm scared of marrying someone from a family that insists on the present-feeding-frenzy style of Christmases! That's even worse than the guy I dated who was allergic to pine trees and had to have plastic Christmas trees, which I honestly wasn't sure I could live with for the rest of my life.

showbiz_liz, I can promise you, if you are used to the gift-frenzy approach, winding up with a partner whose family takes turnings opening gifts is equally mind-melting and maddening. (Oh my god it takes forever! Everyone has to look at you! And there are rules! RULES!)

My family exchanges gifts all at once, even during Chanukah with 30 people. But it's a frenzy of giving gifts, as well as opening them.
posted by inertia at 11:12 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

My Nana would hand out the presents.
Actually, she'll sit by the tree passing all presents to the kids, who'd courier the presents to each recipient.
It wasn't quite one at a time, too many people, but there was enough time to open a present, admire it, go thank the person who gave it to you, etc, before getting another.

Nana would often hand gifts to the giver, if they were the kid, so they could go hand it to the recipient themselves. As a kid, it's actually pretty exciting to be the giver, and get to see the present you wrapped, be unwrapped, and hope they like the thing you chose/made, etc.
posted by Elysum at 5:51 PM on December 19, 2013

Actually, my families Christmas routine was pretty inspired, really.

Present opening was before lunch, but it was ok, because...

All the kids got a pillowslip at the end of the bed (rather than stocking!) from Father Christmas. So, first thing in the morning, there were some small presents and treats in the pillowslip to play with.
The beauty of it, from the adult perspective was, you weren't allowed to leave your bedroom until 'woken up' by the adults.
There was generally a small packet of chippies, an orange, and something like raisins or a muesli bar in there, which you could kind of eat for breakfast, if you'd woken up at o'dark o'clock
There were also toys that the kids could run around outside and play with until lunch present-opening, usually a book, etc.
Sometimes quite large presents, like bikes and things, were from Father Christmas, because I guess the family had pitched in together to get them.

We again, had to go into our rooms for an hour or two in the afternoon, for the only nap of the year (or play with your toys in your own room time), because all the leftovers and extras from the family lunch, would be taken to the extended-extended family gathering at dinner, so it was a long day.
posted by Elysum at 7:19 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Gift opening is my favorite family tradition.

We simply open them one at a time, spacing them appropriately (kids get more gifts, so kids probably open 2-3 for every adult gift) until they are gone. Takes a loooong time - hours (big family) really - but we settle in with tea and take breaks for walks and all admire each other's gifts. We always take time to look at what it is, hear the back cover of the book, try on the new PJs, whatever it is. It makes the entire family's gifts meaningful, not just the ones I open. We have tons of sub-traditions too: if someone's taking a long time, or not moving on to opening their gift, you just chant "Rachel's opening! Rachel's opening!" in a very particular way until everybody notices. Or, as someone opens a very average-sized gift, someone else occasionally shouts "It's a new car!" We also wrap up some pretty great gag gifts every year. I'm sure none of that is particularly original, but it feels very meaningful. It's a big time commitment, but it's how it's always been for me and I don't think I could ever do it differently.
posted by R a c h e l at 8:24 PM on December 19, 2013

We have tons of sub-traditions too

Us, too. We'd immediately put at least one pair of any received underpants on our heads, and any new socks over our ears like floppy dog ears. We'd try to outdo each other with kicky hat styles for the underpants. Foil-wrapped chocolate coins from the stockings went on our eyes.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:39 PM on December 19, 2013

Thank you all for the ideas and fun stories, and sorry for not marking everyone's as best answer, I did enjoy them all. Now to brace myself for next week!
posted by Dragonness at 9:47 PM on December 19, 2013

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