Gifts from Santa - Wrapped or Unwrapped?
December 7, 2006 9:04 AM   Subscribe

When you were a child, did the gifts you got from Santa arrive wrapped or unwrapped?

As we set forth to celebrate the first Christmas with our son, we've run into an unexpected cultural divide. You see, when I was small, Santa always brought me three gifts (no more, no less) and they were unwrapped and unboxed and completely set up, waiting for me under the tree.

At my partner's house, Santa always left a random number of presents, and they were carefully wrapped in paper that was different from any of the other paper on the other gifts. Large items, like a bike or a dollhouse, might arrive unwrapped, but even those things had a bow and a tag on them.

I maintain that Santa doesn't have the time or resources to wrap everything, plus the wrapping would get all tattered in the sleigh. He maintains that Santa can do whatever he wants, and unwrapping gifts is part of the fun of Christmas.

Popular culture isn't any help -- many cartoons, etc. show Santa physically leaving unwrapped toys being left under the tree or in stockings (see The Island of Lost Toys, etc.) but others (ie: A Christmas Story) clearly show children unwrapping gifts from Santa.

Is this a regional thing? (Our families come from two different parts of the country.) Or just random decisions made in each household? I'm trying to sway him over to the "unwrapped" side of the fence, but he says my family tradition is weird and that most children get wrapped gifts from Santa. What did your family do?
posted by anastasiav to Society & Culture (111 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Wrapped and we wrap'em for the kids (boy, this is going to bite us when they get old enough to start searching internet archives... ;-)
posted by jkaczor at 9:06 AM on December 7, 2006

I was born and raised in Tampa, FL, and my gifts from Santa were always wrapped. "Santa" didn't bother to wrap the presents in paper that was different from any other gifts. It seems his elves were wrapping all the family presents.
posted by AlliKat75 at 9:08 AM on December 7, 2006

Grew up in Detroit. Every present from anyone, including Santa, was always wrapped. The only exception were gifts that were too big to wrap, like bicycles, etc.
posted by The Deej at 9:08 AM on December 7, 2006

unwrapped, no set number of santa gifts. (being of santa age in minnesota in the mid- to late-70s with parents from north carolina and oklahoma.)
posted by jimw at 9:09 AM on December 7, 2006

oops, i meant wrapped. (sorry.)
posted by jimw at 9:09 AM on December 7, 2006

unwrapped - massachusetts during the 70's. Everyone I knew in my family did the same thing.
posted by tom_g at 9:12 AM on December 7, 2006

smaller ones were wrapped, big ones unwrapped but usually with bow.
also ALWAYS in diffrent paper.
posted by ShawnString at 9:12 AM on December 7, 2006

I Grew up in Florida. My presents appeared on xmas morning both wrapped and unwrapped, I guess dependent on how difficult an object was to wrap or how drunk my family got on xmas eve. Speaking of which, I always loved it when we split up the festivities between both eve and day. That way the moment is always extended. My outlaws (inlaws), who are southern, draw names and open wrapped gifts on the spot, in order of age, while everybody watches and takes photos. It's hard for me to feign excitement sometimes, man it's nerve wracking! Oh, there are always gag-gifts, and opportunities to "steal" someone elses gift!
posted by sneakyalien at 9:14 AM on December 7, 2006

Both, strangely. California in the 80's. I never really noticed before. I think Grandma Santa wrapped some.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:14 AM on December 7, 2006

I grew up in Detroit also and Santa always wrapped our presents. Usually the paper was the same as the ones from our parents, or the ones going to Grandma's house, but if the question ever came up, my parents would say "We help Santa out because he's so busy. He drops them off and we wrap them." (Sometimes the gift tags were the giveaways too, when I was about 6 or 7 I could recognize my mom's handwriting)
The kicker was one year my little sister caught my parents wrapping presents on Christmas Eve after we went to bed. This was before she found out about Santa and after I already knew, so I provided backup to my parents being Santa's little helpers.
posted by slyboots421 at 9:17 AM on December 7, 2006

Also, only Mom, not Santa, give socks or clothes or other not-as-fun gifts.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:17 AM on December 7, 2006

Gifts from Santa were always wrapped unless they were really big. I never questioned the logistics of the wrapping, that seems minor compared to some of the other things Santa can do.
posted by meta87 at 9:18 AM on December 7, 2006

Always wrapped (like others, unless bike/drum set/giant teddy bear), never different paper (I got the "We wrap them for him" story, too). Unwrapping is part of the fun of Christmas -- wrap as much as you can.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:23 AM on December 7, 2006

Unwrapped when I was a kid; as we got older the presents were wrapped more often than not. I totally forgot about that. I had two siblings and we each had our own pile of gifts under the tree, all unwrapped.
posted by iconomy at 9:23 AM on December 7, 2006

Regular boxes were wrapped, irregular shapes, large toys, and ride-on devices were not. Sometimes a very special toy was wrapped regardless of the degree of difficulty. Also some of those ride-on toys were not put together so well. It was almost as if Santa had a bunch of drunks working for him.
posted by Gungho at 9:24 AM on December 7, 2006

St. Louis, 1970's, always wrapped, number varied.

As an adult, present wrapping seems kind of superfluous, but as a kid, I loved getting up before my parents, and lying in front of the tree speculating feverishly about what lay within. I've always believed that getting something you really want is even better if you have to anticipate it just a little bit first.

([ripriprip] Woohoo! A Lite-Brite! Cool!)
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:28 AM on December 7, 2006

I'm in Portland, Oregon. Santa brought ONE present for each child, it was unwrapped, put together, batteries included, etc. Ready to play with, basically. It was usually the "big" present. He also stuffed the stockings.
posted by peep at 9:29 AM on December 7, 2006

1990's, wrapped. While of that age, we never really had to many "From: Mom" gifts, just "From: Santa" gifts, so there was no big issue about the same wrapping paper.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:30 AM on December 7, 2006

Anything that has to be put together, we put together (drunkenly, usually) late on Christmas Eve. Smaller things get wrapped.
posted by padraigin at 9:31 AM on December 7, 2006


Santa left a pillowcase full of unwrapped toys in our rooms (A brilliant solution, btw, to the problem of over-eager children waking you up at 5am Christmas Morning and one I fully intend to replicate with my kids).

However, Santa also left a few wrapped gifts under the tree (I suspect that these were things that didn't fit in the pillowcase, but I've never actually asked my parents about that).

British family living in the northeast, so my experiences might not be typical.
posted by madajb at 9:32 AM on December 7, 2006

California in the 80s. Santa gifts were never wrapped, only ones from my parents. Even after we wised up, Santa gifts were never wrapped. It's how we knew what the good stuff was.
posted by kendrak at 9:34 AM on December 7, 2006

California, eighties, wrapped in different paper unless they were too big. Also, I agree: unwrapping is part of the fun--a large part of the fun. You must rip, too: no delicately undoing the tape.
posted by dame at 9:34 AM on December 7, 2006

Also, another key was gifts were not already divided into piles, so you had to go through them and hand them to whoever's name was on the tag. That way you make sure everyone takes turns and doesn't just ignore family in the orgy of stuff. So another reason to wrap.
posted by dame at 9:39 AM on December 7, 2006

Suburban DC area, 70's and 80's.

All but the most misshapen presents wrapped & tagged. Unwrapped presents usually at least had some type of bow.

Number of presents varied. Generally tended toward several "small" presents - a few books, cassette tapes, jewellery - and one or 2 "big" presents - usually something of the electronic variety.

What's the fun of Christmas if you can't be suprised?
posted by contessa at 9:39 AM on December 7, 2006

Suburban DC again, 80s. Santa wrapped our presents with different paper, which I found at age 9, after already being pretty skeptical about the whole deal. He also had different handwriting, and ate all the cookies. I love my parents for that. They're Indian, too, so it's all the sweeter that they had to learn some foreign tradition in order to perpetrate such a deception.
posted by sweetkid at 9:44 AM on December 7, 2006

Wrapped, except for stocking stuffers (you DID have stuffed stockings, right?); VT/MA.

To this day, my mom wraps every present perfectly with no tape at all. Usually, the paper she uses is recycled from some other year's presents.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:45 AM on December 7, 2006

Santa brought ONE present for each child, it was unwrapped, put together, batteries included, etc. Ready to play with, basically. It was usually the "big" present. He also stuffed the stockings.

Same here, DC in the 1960s (but both parents from Kansas). The big gift was plainly labeled (in one of my parents' handwriting) "To Xxx, From Santa."
posted by Rash at 9:48 AM on December 7, 2006

Response by poster: you DID have stuffed stockings, right?

Yes, I did. My partner also did, and even had wrapped gifts in his stocking! (boy was I surprised our first christmas together to pull a wrapped present out of my stocking!)

with no tape at all

You should film her and post it to the internets. I'd love to know how she does this....
posted by anastasiav at 9:48 AM on December 7, 2006

Usually wrapped, unless size was an issue. Variable number especially because relatives sometimes sent gifts from "Santa." I think sometimes different paper was used.
posted by Good Brain at 9:48 AM on December 7, 2006

Unwrapped in Massachusetts in the 70s/80s. It made it seem more magical to see all of the gifts just sitting there. But I was an only child, so there didn't need to be tags on the gifts - I knew they were for me.

Gifts from my parents were wrapped, I think. Given that they were Santa, I don't think there were many from them.
posted by jdl at 9:48 AM on December 7, 2006

Suburban Balto/Annapolis. '70s and '80s. Wrapped and tagged, no set number, but 3 is about right. Under the tree in a big pile, not separate piles.

Usually in different paper, though this declined as I got older. But there was definitely a differentiation between From: Mom and Dad and From: Santa. Usually the "Santa" gifts were the wishlist gifts on the border of "mom will never go for that."
posted by desuetude at 9:51 AM on December 7, 2006

Wrapped and tagged. No set number. Different paper.

After all, Santa understands that it is really fun to tear apart wrapping paper.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 9:57 AM on December 7, 2006

I'd love to know how she does this....

Well, she uses ribbon to hold it together. With a knot that actually comes undone when you pull on it. the presents she gets are all taped, of course, since none of us have her skillz. We yell at criticize her if she tries to open them without ripping the paper. She still manages to have an endless supply of old paper.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:05 AM on December 7, 2006

Everything fully assembled and wrapped, 60s & 70s, east coast from South Carolina to Vermont and back again. No set number, tagged, in a pile under the tree so you have to hunt. In the same paper. And I've always done it exactly the same way for my kids.

That said, there's an age thing here. When the kids are babies & toddlers, they don't understand wrapping paper so I would either leave the present unwrapped with maybe a bow on it or drape a sheet of wrapping paper over the toy. They start getting really wrapped presents at 3 or 4.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:07 AM on December 7, 2006

Saginaw MI 80s and 90s. Santa's presents were always wrapped in paper different than my parent's paper. The handwriting was different too (turns out it was my grandpa's).

One time, Santa even found us up at our cabin in the UP and brought me an NES! It was wrapped, and we plugged it into the tiny black and white tv we had up there. I was so excited!

Santa rocked.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:08 AM on December 7, 2006

Madison, Wisconsin, 80s - today.

Wrapped, always, even the big stuff. Bikes, computers, dollhouses, don't generally get assembled, we'd just unwrap the big box they came in. This may be due to the fact that in my family, the box is at least twice as fun as the actual toy.

There's no set number of presents BUT, there are always equal numbers of presents for the kids (even if that means wrapping each sock seperately). This is due to how we run Christmas morning: There are three 'kids' (though my youngest sister just turned 18, we still do this) and two parents. Each kid takes a turn wearing the special Santa hat and passing out ONE gift to each family member (big, obviously awesome presents are saved for last). Then, going youngest to oldest, we each take a turn reading the tag outloud to acknowledge the gift giver, then feverishly unwrapping and delighting in whatever we got. It takes for-ev-er and is awesome, and everyone is properly thanked. My family also likes to tag presents from celebrities or other relevent personalities (for instance getting a season of Law&Order from Dick Wolf), which is always fun and a good way to guess what the gift is before actually opening it.

Stockings are always filled by Santa, with candy and little gifts (always wrapped, and tagged!).

Cookies and milk are always consumed in part, as are the carrots we leave for the reindeer.
posted by inging at 10:09 AM on December 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Great thread! When I was a kid, some were wrapped, some (bigger things like bikes, doll house) were unwrapped, sometimes with a bow, no set number of gifts. Some things were all set up, like games or doll furniture, ready for play.

Some of the wrapped ones said "from Santa" and some said "from Mom and Dad", and Mom told us Santa asked her to wrap them for him. We accepted that, since he's such a busy fellow and all. The unwrapped things were assumed to be from Santa. No stockings - we were in FL and had no fireplace.

My own kids are 1 and 4 now - we talk about Santa but will not play it up and try to convince them that Santa is real. I personally wrap everything. I love wrapping presents for some reason.
posted by forensicphd at 10:11 AM on December 7, 2006

Chicago • 70s & 80s

Unwrapped. I don't recall a particular number, but three sounds about right. It was always the biggest, best toys, assembled and ready to play with. Santa also filled our stockings.

(My cousins, who lived an hour from us, got wrapped presents from Santa, and we never really "got" this, but chose not to think about it too hard.)
posted by clh at 10:14 AM on December 7, 2006

Most of our Santa gifts were wrapped, in paper different from the rest of our gifts (though often remarkably the same as those going to my other relatives) with a tag "From: Santa". The only exceptions were things that required time to assemble, like the big Barbie camper. I think after my father spent all night putting the stickers on it he could barely bring himself to slap a bow on the top. I don't think there were a set number of gifts.

We left cookies and eggnog and carrots and those were always gone. Santa was also the one who filled our stockings (Santa loved socks and batteries) and we were allowed to go down and open those first before my parents got out of bed.
posted by marylynn at 10:18 AM on December 7, 2006

Mississippi - '70s up to today.

Santa's presents were waiting for my older sister and me in the living room, sectioned off, and labeled by our stockings which were taken down from the mantle and full of little candies and toys during the night. So, wrapped, but no labels on them.

Gifts from mom/dad and family or friends were under the tree and wrapped, BUT had labels on them.

Wife's family - Santa wrapped presents, but somehow mom's handwritten labels were on them. But all the presents were under the tree, not separated like my family did.

(Don't get me started about sneaking around the house looking for presents and hoping Mom hadn't wrapped them yet. Jackpot!)
posted by fijiwriter at 10:20 AM on December 7, 2006

Central & Western NY, late 70's & early 80's -- all presents wrapped, different paper for parents/Santa, plus my parents split up the tag-writing duties so that Santa wouldn't have the same handwriting as Mom. Now that I have a niece & nephew, my parents have conscripted me to be their xmas-eve assembler and Santa proxy.
posted by sonofslim at 10:24 AM on December 7, 2006

Unwrapped, random number, assembled, and set up. Set up, as in the toys were arranged as if they were in a display in a toy store window, mine in one part of the living room and my brother's in another part.

It was great. We had presents from family to satisfy the unwrapping urge. It was so exciting to walk into the living room and see the display from Santa. Your eyes couldn't take in everything at once.

This makes it sound like we got oodles of presents. We didn't, but the way they were set up was just exciting.
posted by Mavri at 10:25 AM on December 7, 2006

I grew up in the South. Presents from family were wrapped. Santa presents were unwrapped, and often set up already.
posted by JanetLand at 10:27 AM on December 7, 2006

New Jersey. 80s.
  • Wrapped, different wrapping paper for each child, each child's presents on a different easy chair or couch.
  • Thin ribbon (the kind you curl) pinned from the stocking on the fireplace to the appropriate easy chair or couch, just in case things weren't clear enough.
  • No presents from Mom or Dad that morning, just Santa. They only gave us one present, new pajamas on the night of Christmas eve.
  • Lists to Santa were written on Thanksgiving night and left on the dining room table for the elves.

posted by condour75 at 10:36 AM on December 7, 2006

Santa and my parents had the same wrapping paper, oddly enough. Suburbs outside Detroit, 1970s.
posted by selfmedicating at 10:36 AM on December 7, 2006

Southern Pennsylvania, 80s to today -

Presents were always, always wrapped and left in a confused jumble under the tree. All presents were from Santa; there were none marked as being from Mom and Dad. Also, all presents appeared overnight on Christmas Eve, none of this piled under the tree for days business. In fact, even now that my brother and I are both in college, we still insist that Santa leave the presents under the tree while we are sleeping (although now, that means our parents put them under the tree in the morning while we are sleeping rather than after we go to bed). It would just ruin the magic of Christmas morning to not have the miraculous discovery.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 10:37 AM on December 7, 2006

Wrapped. (Massachusetts.)

Unwrapped sounds like less fun. Granted, at the time, it felt like torture sitting next to a pile of mysterious presents that I wasn't allowed to open until my parents had made coffee — but in retrospect, it was exciting and a lot of fun.
posted by cribcage at 10:38 AM on December 7, 2006

ooh yeah, I forgot - everything is wrapped in the same paper - and our kids did ask last year why...

"We outsourced the wrapping to Santa's Elves"

Canada here, eh! My daughter is 8 and very borderline on the whole 'Santa' thing - I think this her last year of belief :-(
posted by jkaczor at 10:39 AM on December 7, 2006

Stocking stuff was unwrapped, presents under the tree were wrapped. (I grew up in Iowa in the 70s-80s, but the Washington DC-based side of the family did it the same way.)

I don't remember there being a rhyme or reason to the wrapping paper that was used, but I imagine that when the child is old enough to notice this detail, he/she is old enough to know about Santa's "helpers".
posted by parilous at 10:41 AM on December 7, 2006

Middle and Western Canada. Presents were always wrapped, even the big stuff would have a blanket or something taped around it even if it was wildly obvious what it was. Stocking things were wrapped too with the exception of the mandrian orange which was the only thing besides one stocking present we were permitted to open before breakfast.
posted by Mitheral at 10:44 AM on December 7, 2006

I grew up all over the country (Coastie brat, father also Coastie brat, mother raised in suburban D.C. area), in the 80s and 90s.

Santa was responsible for stockings and one BIG present. Sometimes it would be a set of related things or whatever plus its accessories.

Presents from Santa were never wrapped, and were almost always set up and ready to go. As far as the "surpise" element, our tradition was to wait until everyone was awake, then go into the living room together with our eyes closed. Then we would open our eyes together, get excited over our big presents and "open" our stockings while our parents made breakfast.

Any and all family presents, which were always wrapped with tags in a big jumble under the tree, absolutely had to wait until after eating and cleaning up from breakfast. We also took turns finding a present in the pile and carrying it over to the recipient. We opened presents one at a time. This was agonizing as a little kid, but as I got older I liked it because it made Christmas last all day and made watching people open the presents you gave them lots of fun.

My fellow, on the other hand, comes from a crazy wrapping clan (from Massachusetts). EVERY SINGLE ITEM in my stocking from his mom is wrapped and almost every present big or otherwise is "From Santa" and beatifully wrapped. His family Christmases involve everyone opening their presents all at once in a giant frenzy. This is understandably bizzare to me, but I am getting used to it (slowly).
posted by nelleish at 10:47 AM on December 7, 2006

Unwrapped. Some of the magic of Christmas was lost for me when new, unwrapped presents stopped appearing under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning (at around age 17).
posted by donajo at 10:53 AM on December 7, 2006

Central Pennsylvania, late 80s-today. I've never even heard of unwrapped Santa presents, ever.

Santa paper was distinct from all other paper, and each child's gifts had its own wrapping paper. Stocking stuff unwrapped, but that was mostly candy. No tags - my pile on the right, sister's on the left.

I also maintain that a big part of the joy of Christmas morning is the unwrapping and assembly. Opening and setting things up ourselves took hours, usually, and that was how we spent the morning. Then we would let the cats and dogs loose in the giant pile of torn wrapping paper. Total joyful Christmas-y chaos.

It seems to me like it would be disappointing to be able to take a quick peek and instantly know what all of your presents are. Unwrapping them prolongs the suspense, and the magic.
posted by miagaille at 10:56 AM on December 7, 2006

Santa filled the stockings; all the presents were from regular people.
posted by RobotHero at 10:58 AM on December 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Michigan, 80s, wrapped unless bike.
posted by k8t at 11:01 AM on December 7, 2006

So Santa doesn't have time to wrap presents beforehand, but he does have the time to unbox and set up presents Christmas morning? ;)

I grew up in the 80s in SoCal. Presents from Santa were always wrapped, unless they were too big/unusually sized.
posted by sbuffy at 11:04 AM on December 7, 2006

Texas.. 70s/80s

Unrapped. Our stocking were taken down to mark which side of the tree was whose. Not that it wasn't clear. 6 years age difference between me and my sis. The gifts in the stockings were not wrapped either.

We had to go wake up mom and dad and then they would make us close our eyes and would lead us down the hallway to the living room.
posted by nimsey lou at 11:04 AM on December 7, 2006

I would like to say that this post makes me really happy for some reason.

Random number, never clothing, always wrapped with different paper, in a stack under the tree that said "from santa", separate from the stack that said "love mom and dad", which sometimes included clothing. Santa filled the stockings.

Actually, my mom filled my stocking until I was married. Last year was my frist year without a stocking. It was very strange, and I can't convince my husband to start doing it, and my mom insists it isn't her job anymore!
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:06 AM on December 7, 2006

Texas, 80's (my brother as well so the whole decade's covered) – Santa's presents were not wrapped. Wrapped presents from mom and dad under the tree a week or two beforehand for me to shake and agonize over.
posted by furiousthought at 11:12 AM on December 7, 2006

New Mexico, 70's/80's. Some were wrapped with tags. Some were unwrapped and without tags. Mom never used the same paper as Santa. Our "special" gift from Santa was the one that was unwrapped. It was always the biggest gift and was very clearly identifiable as to which of the three kids received it. So, the year my sister received a "Baby Come Back", my brother received a Star Wars toy and I received a stuffed T-Rex, it was obvious who got what toy. Somehow, we never fought over the unwrapped, unmarked toys.
posted by onhazier at 11:17 AM on December 7, 2006

Wrapped with special Santa paper, bows, ribbons, and gift tags, including the tiny stocking items. He left a random number of gifts and never forgot to take a big bite out of the cookie.

I'm an only child from NW Indiana.
posted by defreckled at 11:18 AM on December 7, 2006

California in the early 90s. All presents were wrapped. When I was a kid, all presents were from Santa. When I stopped believing in Santa, some presents were from him, or Rudolf, or Mrs. Claus.
posted by muddgirl at 11:21 AM on December 7, 2006

Connecticut 1980's The stockings were filled with unwrapped candy and small toys from Santa. Other gifts from Santa were wrapped in Santa wrapping paper with a From:Santa tag. Santa never, ever gave boring gifts like shirts and socks.

As for the big gifts, I think my parents always made sure that the best gift came from them. The dollhouse, bike, jewelry and video game systems were from my parents, not Santa. Santa was the toy guy.

I got a great idea from a article this year. Before wrapping the toys, take them out of all the infernal packaging and twist ties. Then put batteries in and wrap. Saves all the effort of trying to get things set-up while an impatient child bounces around next to you.
posted by saffry at 11:26 AM on December 7, 2006

Always wrapped (or in gift bags if the item is bulky or hard to wrap). Nowadays, family members typically wrap all their gifts at the same time, so you can tell who gave the gift by the wrapping paper; couldn't tell you how it was growing up. The parents usually give us kids one "big" present and a few lesser presents each year.

Strangely enough, my parents still insist (more jokingly now) that each "big" present is from Santa. I'm in my mid-20s.
posted by kdar at 11:29 AM on December 7, 2006

All over the place, 1950s-early '60s. Wrapped. I was going to agree with your partner that your family tradition is weird, but I see lots of people share it. Still seems weird, though. What's the fun in presents you don't have to unwrap? "Let's see, there's a train set, two toys, a book, and a sweater. Cool. OK, let's have breakfast." Gotta have the guessing and tearing and ripping! And dame's right, the presents have to be in a disorganized pile; in my family, some handed them out one by one so each present could get admired by everyone. Yeah, it took a while (and eventually degenerated into more of a free-for-all), but it heightened the suspense and familiness.
posted by languagehat at 11:33 AM on December 7, 2006

Lists to Santa were written on Thanksgiving night and left on the dining room table for the elves

Oh, yeah, the lists!

We always wrote ours and taped them (unfolded, facing out) to the living room window on the fifth, and we'd put our shoes outside for St. Nick's Day. The elves would come take our lists to Santa, while at the same time filling our shoes with candy. My stepdad always got coal, which we found wildly hilarious. Mom would say it was because he was a smoker, and smoking is bad.

Now that I don't live at home (but I still live within twenty minutes of home), I wake up on St. Nick's Day to find a chocolate advent calendar propped up on my porch.
posted by inging at 11:36 AM on December 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

My dad was in the Navy so we moved around a lot, Maryland, Hawaii, Germany, etc. but Santa always left his presents for my brother and myself unwrapped underneath the tree.
posted by govtdrone at 11:43 AM on December 7, 2006

In our home, it varied from year to year, and sometimes from gift to gift on any given Christmas. My parents said that the elves didn't always have time to wrap everything.
posted by wryly at 11:43 AM on December 7, 2006

I don't remember if mine were wrapped or unwrapped. My vote is for unwrapped though - makes the gifts from family that much more special. And when you're competing against a globe-trotting fat man with flying reindeer you need whatever edge you can get.

The stockings were unwrapped candies, small toys.

Don't do like my dad did the year he decided to wrap Santa's presents - don't wrap them in the local newspaper. Kids are sharp. And if you do, at least make it the comics. My indicator that Santa didn't exist was the year I got a gift wrapped in the local obituaries. To his credit, the gift was exactly what I wanted.
posted by sephira at 11:44 AM on December 7, 2006

80's, parents are from the deep south. Santa presents were unwrapped, no set number. In retrospect these were usually the presents that would have been a pain to wrap (a big stuffed animal, a Barbie dream house, etc.). Things were never set up, but I attribute that to my parents' laziness and/or sleepiness.

I think Santa wrapping is weird - I guess my family looks at wrapping from a decorative standpoint, where you put them under the tree and enjoy looking at the colorful boxes for all of December. Santa presents don't show up until Christmas morning, so why bother going to the trouble to wrap them if they aren't going to be on display long enough to enjoy them? I loved tearing into gifts from my parents, but there is something really magical about running downstairs and seeing a pile of gifts all for you! /spoiled only child.
posted by gatorae at 11:46 AM on December 7, 2006

Unwrapped in Philadelphia in the 1970s. Also--Santa put up the Christmas tree and decorated it. But at some point, I think, my sisters and I complained about the set-up and it switched to wrapped presents and the whole family decorating the tree on Christmas Eve.
posted by jrossi4r at 11:48 AM on December 7, 2006

Great post -- it's Christmas morning on AskMe.

Iowa, '70s: Gifts from the family were always wrapped, and appeared under the tree as the weeks went by. We opened these on Christmas Eve.

Santa's presents appeared on Christmas morning, always unwrapped, and arranged like a display window in the living room, with my stuff on one side and my sister's on the other.

There are pictures of me posed next to the display, like a "Price is Right" model.
posted by CMichaelCook at 11:51 AM on December 7, 2006

Always wrapped, usually with a cryptic clue on the tag. Montreal and New York.
posted by tangerine at 11:59 AM on December 7, 2006

Gifts from Santa in Dallas, Texas were always unwrapped.

There weren't any set number either.

A lot of times it was one "big" one for maybe my brother and I (still remember that glorious day getting the NES) and something for my sister, other times a couple for each of us.

Great question by the way.
posted by mrhaydel at 12:17 PM on December 7, 2006

NE England, 80's: Wrapped, of course, just like any from my parents, for whom "Santa" was a synonym. I would usually leave a pillow case hanging on my chest of drawers which would just happen to be filled by morning.

If my parents ever pushed the full-blown-magical-thinking aspect of Santa, I was too young to remember it.

On a purely practical side, I'd recommend going with wrapping; wondering what's inside a wrapped gift, and actually unwrapping it, was a lot of fun for me and I'm sure a lot of others. References to a magical fat guy.. not so much.
posted by Freaky at 12:20 PM on December 7, 2006

Wrapped, unless too big. Toys/bikes/tents were always assembled.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 12:22 PM on December 7, 2006

Unwrapped, until the year my sisters and I got up REALLY early to see if Santa had arrived. The next year, all the gifts were wrapped, a tradition that has continued to the present day.
posted by cass at 12:25 PM on December 7, 2006

My house - always wrapped and under the tree, at least until we were old enough to know there was no Santa. The key difference I noticed as a child was that at my house, Santa gifts came tagged 'To: Jacqui From: Santa' while at my Aunt's house, they were tagged 'To: Suzanne' with no 'From'. Or maybe I have that backwards. In any case, my first suspicions on the Santa front came from discrepancies between the Santa experience at my house and at my Aunt's house. If you have nearby relatives you're likely to visit before the present opening is finished on Christmas mornings, theirs is the only tradition you really want to try to match.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:27 PM on December 7, 2006

Wrapped, in Ohio. Well, actually, in bags - all "Santa" presents go in the bag, which is tied up and has ribbons and is labeled as being from Santa. Things in the bag are not individually wrapped [which makes Christmas Eve less work for Santa, I suppose], but the recipient still has the fun of being surprised by what they've gotten. Presents to/from family members are always wrapped. Things in stockings are not wrapped. No set number of gifts, though everyone's Santa gifts and stockings are more or less equal in value. There is a strict order, to maximize suspense and excitement: stockings [simultaneously], gifts between family members [one by one, so that everyone can appreciate the gift], and last Santa gifts [again more or less one at a time.] Though no one in my family [and only a few of the youngest cousins in the extended family] is young enough to believe in Santa, we all still do it this way. [Except at the house of one of my divorced parents, where everything is wrapped.]

As a kid, I loved waking up early, sneaking downstairs to peer at the bags & boxes & stockings with my siblings, wondering what was in them. The anticipation and the surprise was a big part of the day. We didn't overdo the Santa stuff - no lists, no elves, etc., and certainly nothing as in depth as debating whether wrapped items would get tattered in the sleigh. We figured Santa could do more or less whatever he wanted, and looked forward to Christmas morning. So yes, your tradition seems odd to me - and it seems like it would be a lot shorter, and less fun!
posted by ubersturm at 12:31 PM on December 7, 2006

My family is from Chicago (although I grew up in LA). Santa gifts were unwrapped, under the tree and out of any plastic packaging (or else elves didn't make 'em. Deh.).

It was typically one, larger than usual or more expensive gift, trending towards more traditional stuff like dolls and dollhouses. (The scam was up by the time "Santa" brought my Atari 1040 STe.)

Oh, when we went to my Grandmother's house for Christmas, Santa arrived with a big bag of toys, wrapped and made us open the one big gift in front of them. He'd take a cocktail (glug) from my grandma and when it was done, he'd wave goodbye and walk out the front door. We never saw those darn reindeer once. If you have a kindhearted Jewish neighbor with nothing better to do that night like my Grandma did, it drags out the belief a lot longer.

(I thought nothing of the discrepancy, as Santa was there in the flesh, vs. leaving them under the tree.)
posted by Gucky at 12:34 PM on December 7, 2006

Upstate NY, '80s. Nothing unwrapped. Santa's gifts were sometimes in different paper, and Santa almost never gave clothes. Gifts from parents and gifts from Santa were split about evenly. Santa usually gave the exciting big-deal presents. Santa also filled stockings, which always had a clementine or tangerine in the toe and some kind of Xmas candy, along with a small gift or two (as we got older, gift cards, but even they were in envelopes).

Big gifts were always wrapped, and part of Xmas was assembling everything. I think the only exception may have been bikes, but even then I do remember bikes being put together in front of us.

I find the idea of unwrapped gifts very strange, I have to say, and to me it wouldn't be as fun. The heap of wrapped presents under the tree is part of the Xmas magic, and they are always in a jumbled pile so you have to go through them together, and you haven't gotten all your gifts until you're done unwrapping everything together.
posted by Melinika at 12:59 PM on December 7, 2006

wrapped, in different paper, which was no small feat for my mom. i was a very nerdy child and i would inventory our wrapping paper. there was no set limit of gifts, and my mom would have one of her guy friends at work make the tags out.
posted by kerning at 1:00 PM on December 7, 2006

When we were very young, there would be a selection of presents that were unwrapped, set up and ready to play right away. But there were others that were wrapped for opening later. This was because at 3 am, my brother and I would be at mom and dad's bedside gently poking and whispering, "Is it time?!" Round about 5 am, they would give in and tell us we could go in there. And we'd go in and play with the unwrapped stuff and have a ball. About 7ish, when our giggles would no longer allow them to sleep, they'd stumble in and get the coffee going and then we'd sit down and have unwrapping time. So the unwrapped stuff was really just to keep us busy and give them some time to sleep.
posted by kookoobirdz at 1:02 PM on December 7, 2006

Wrapped, always wrapped. Gifts were labeled from "Mom", "Dad", "Mom & Dad", our cats, our dog, Santa, elves, whatever my parents came up with. I'm in my early 20s and my parents are still labeling gifts as "From Santa" or "From the cats" or what have you.
posted by schroedinger at 1:04 PM on December 7, 2006

Virginia, early 80's, always unwrapped, presents varied in number.

My wife (same location and timeframe) had it the same way.
posted by MrToad at 1:36 PM on December 7, 2006

NC, 80's. Unwrapped, usually just one big thing, frequently whatever would have been hardest to wrap, then several other wrapped, frequently more practical gifts from Mom and Dad and/or the cats. I still get wrapped presents from the cats.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:37 PM on December 7, 2006

Southern California, 70s/80s. We always had both, but I think it broke down like a lot of other people have mentioned: smaller gifts were always wrapped, bigger usually not, but with a tag or bow or something on them.
posted by sbrollins at 1:47 PM on December 7, 2006

Man, I feel sorry for all the people with lazy parents.
posted by dame at 1:53 PM on December 7, 2006

Status: wrapped
Era: 70s, 80s
Location: Tacoma, Wa - USA
Paper Uniqueness Ratio per Gift: 1:3
Number: varied.
Geographic, Chronological, and Cultural difference between parents: minimal.
posted by safetyfork at 2:10 PM on December 7, 2006

OH, late 80's. Presents from Santa were always wrapped, including the big ones which may have a blanket or something thrown over them. Parents didn't give gifts (except for PJs the night before, or a small trinket after midnight mass), they all came from Santa and appeared in the nights. One year after we moved to AZ, my parents tried putting all the presents in giant festive bags addressed to each of my sisters and me (I believe no one believed at that point) but there was a big stink, so I took over wrapping all the presents in the family until I moved out.

On Xmas morn, my sisters and I would get our stockings from the fireplace and take them into our parents room to look through (and to make sure my parents were awake). Then we had to painfully wait for breakfast to be made and eaten before we would even dream of opening tree presents. Presents were opened one by one, youngest to oldest. Usually someone was in charge of delegating the presents. My dad would have a trashbag by him for the torn wrapping paper, and usually we would wear the bows on our head or on our PJs after we unwrapped something. Unequal number of presents, but of equal value.
posted by lizjohn at 2:21 PM on December 7, 2006

I grew up in Florida. My mother is Canadian, my father American. Santa's gifts were always wrapped, and in different paper than the others. There were always more Santa gifts than from Mommy and Daddy gifts. Mom and Dad gifts were clothes, shoes, underwear, maybe jewelry, or books.

I like to wrap my kids Santa gifts in Santa paper. I buy about 4 different kinds. I sign the tags differently--with metallic or red fine marker and with all caps handwriting. Kids are smart, they know your handwriting!

Merry Christmas.
posted by LoriFLA at 2:24 PM on December 7, 2006

I don't know how young I was, but up until that point, all of my gifts were unwrapped. Then, one Christmas, I ask my parents, "Why aren't my presents wrapped like the ones the kids on TV get?"

From then on, the giftwrapping was very extravagant. Including putting things in odd shaped boxes so I couldn't figure out what it was, and if something rattled, they'd put packing peanuts around it, in the box, so I couldn't hear it.

Oh, this was in the 80's in Oklahoma.
posted by drleary at 2:26 PM on December 7, 2006

Unwrapped, but usually had a ribbon and/or a bow.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 2:29 PM on December 7, 2006

posted by konolia at 2:45 PM on December 7, 2006

Illinois, 60s-70s. Everything wrapped in the same assortment of paper, with gift tags saying "from Santa" in my mom's handwriting. I don't think any of the stocking stuffers were wrapped.
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:47 PM on December 7, 2006

Suburban DC, '80s: wrapped. Big presents were either hidden unwrapped or put inside garbage bags with a bow.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:02 PM on December 7, 2006

Wrapped except for one (maybe two, but usually only one) item that was left unwrapped so I could play with it until my parents got out of bed.
posted by litlnemo at 3:06 PM on December 7, 2006

Mostly unwrapped; usually, a couple gifts (maybe a board game and a stuffed animal) set out beside our stuffed stockings, then maybe a wrapped gift or two under the tree (if there was something bulky that wouldn't fit in a stocking). The big thing from Santa, though, was definitely the stockings; generally, we had one full-stuffed stocking (our usual stockings, which had been hanging on the mantle) and one pantyhose leg stuffed full of goodies. Even when we didn't believe any more--well, OK, I'm 28 and this will be my first Christmas away from Mom's, and to be honest with you, I'd be fine with no presents at all--I can buy the things I really want--but I will miss that stocking full of little goodies I wouldn't buy myself and little treats I wouldn't allow myself any other time.

I know of other families in which all the kids' presents are from Santa, though; if I married into one of those, I'd wrap everything that wasn't a stocking-stuff. I guess that to me, Santa stuffs stockings, and parents give presents.
posted by Cricket at 3:15 PM on December 7, 2006

Never wrapped, all small, all in the stocking at the end of our bed.
posted by sarahw at 3:55 PM on December 7, 2006

Wrapped, different paper - usually with Santa's on it. Also, the stockings were full of candy and fresh fruit.
posted by MrZero at 5:53 PM on December 7, 2006

New Jersey in the 70's. They started as unwrapped, and stayed that way until at least age 7 or so, then switched to wrapped. I don't know why. It may have been when I found out about Santa. Mom's gift tags still say "From:Santa" on them, though, and I'm 38 now.

To me, the key is how old your child is. If they are old enough to have fun pulling off paper, wrap them. If you'll be doing the unwrapping because they're too young, don't bother.
posted by booksherpa at 6:14 PM on December 7, 2006

Wrapped, different paper, with tags written by my father's non-dominant hand (we were clever kids).
posted by thecaddy at 6:15 PM on December 7, 2006

Unwrapped, 1970s, Twin Cities of Minnesota.

Non-Santa gifts were wrapped, and we hung stockings, but rarely did my parents put things in them...they were pretty much for show.

I never missed the unwrapping because it was so dazzling to see the Santa gifts sitting there like that. Plus once when I was four I got a little stove and would be silly to even stick a bow on that.
posted by GaelFC at 7:24 PM on December 7, 2006

Sydney - 90's-00's.

"Santa" has always delivered our presents unwrapped in generally over-sized stockings. I have never received a wrapped gift on Christmas morning, and significant gifts were always mixed with the stocking stuffers. It was always more fun that way. I'm one of 4, so I suppose the stockings saved Santa a great deal of time. Even now that we're all in our mid-late teens Santa never fails to deliver a great stocking on Christmas morning.
posted by cholly at 8:00 PM on December 7, 2006

70s/80s. Army kid.

Santa gifts were wrapped in a different paper. (And he thoughtfully left the rest of the roll hidden somewhere in the house so we could use it next year.) Random (but fairly large) number of small wrapped presents scattered under the tree, mixed with family gifts. (Big gifts were always from mom & dad.)

On Christmas morn we could dump our stockings (orange & apple, candy, a small toy like a mini-lego set) & play with that until mom & dad woke. We could also go downstairs & stare at the tree & see that the carrots & cookies we had left were now gone. And read the letter from Santa (which not only was in different handwriting from our parents', but also different from the letters that the Tooth Fairy & Easter Bunny left).

Gifts were opened one at a time, with the kids hunting under the tree for a gift for the next person in the circle. You NEVER went out of order & skipped someone, until at the very end (when my parents ran out of gifts, but we kids still had some).

My favorite part of Christmas, though, was Santa's footprints! The last 6 or 8 steps he took before going up the chimney were marked with green felt footprints edged in silver glitter. And then as the day went on, they would mysteriously "melt" & vanish.
posted by belladonna at 8:19 PM on December 7, 2006

50's - Yes, the fifties.
Rural CA, Depression era Southern parents

Gifts from Santa were not wrapped. Gifts from parents, siblings and relatives were wrapped. With gifts exchanged between four brothers, three sisters, Mom, Dad and the aunts there was a mountainous pile of wrapping paper by the time they were all opened. Years of a good harvest meant a "Big Christmas", poor harvest meant a "Little Christmas".

On Christmas Eve we were allowed to open one gift, but it had to be small enough to fit into the ceramic sleigh that was part of every year's Christmas decorations; about 2"X3"X5".
posted by X4ster at 9:43 PM on December 7, 2006

Alabama/Tennessee (mostly, priest's kid) - late 70's/early 80's

Wrapped, except for large items like bikes. We too had different paper for Santa's stuff. Come to think of it, the fat guy must be pretty vain because I recall the Santa gifts always had pictures of him on the wrapping!
posted by Pollomacho at 11:26 PM on December 7, 2006

Always, always unwrapped. My brother and I each had a separate pile.

The only thing I ever remember being wrapped is when I got a puppy and my brother got a kitten and those were just in fancy boxes.

From the south. 80's child.
posted by slim at 8:42 AM on December 8, 2006

NYC/Maryland, child of the 80s/90s.

Everything was wrapped, of a quantity directly proportional to how much (or how little) money we had that year. I honestly can't tell you much about the paper, whether it matched anything else or what. When I was younger, they were addressed from Santa, until I was old enough to know the big secret. I don't even think we had stockings.

My daughter has been old enough for a few years now to really get into Christmas, and my hubby and I have blended our traditions for how the presents are done:

They're all wrapped, of an indeterminant number (at least three, though), scattered under the tree with everyone elses. We always use two, three, four different kinds of wrapping paper for everyone, so it looks a bit random and jumbled. Each present under the tree - as long as it came from within the house - is not only addressed as "From: Santa" but all the other traditional holiday characters!

Rudolph, Mrs. Clause, Frosty the Snowman, Jack Frost.. you get the idea.

We also do stockings now, and its Hubby who stuffs them at night, even after I go to bed, with candies he knows everyone loves, and the smaller "minor" presents that he wraps himself as well.
posted by Adelwolf at 10:39 AM on December 8, 2006

Santa was too busy to wrap. This was my mother's family tradition from a military family with 9 kids. Santa left a pile for each kid with your stuffed stocking on top to signify which was which. If you woke up before parents, you were allowed to take your stocking back into your bedroom but not touch anything else. Some years the piles were skimpy, some bigger, but always equal in size between the three of us.
Once the stockings were eviscerated, it was time for the santa pile. Only after breakfast was it time for general gift opening. Smallest kid who could read would hand out the presents. In general, kids would open each as they got it, while parents would wait until kids were done.
Now that we are all grown, it's slightly modified. Handing out is done by multiple people until everyone has a stack. Then eveyone opens and shows off all at once. Except my Grandfather who waits until he's the only one with anything left, and then takes center stage to open each gift slowly.
posted by buildmyworld at 1:54 PM on December 8, 2006

Southern California - '60s and '70s: one present from Santa and it was wrapped (unless it was too awkward). I don't remember if different paper was used.

Santa filled our stockings as well. When we woke up, much earlier than the adults and older kids, we were allowed to get our stockings and take them back to our bedroom. That kept us quiet for another hour or so.
posted by deborah at 6:22 PM on December 8, 2006

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