open presents Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning

Open Presents Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning? The Great Debate

Should we open presents Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning? This is the great debate that lingers in our family since I was a little kid. I grew up opening presents on Christmas Eve in an elaborate process, following a family script written long ago. When we got married and started a family, that script was flipped to a tradition focused on Christmas Morning. It was not an easy adjustment for me, especially since I am not the peppiest morning person before my second cup of coffee (but who is?).

Taking a poll: when does your household open presents? Christmas Eve? Or Christmas Morning?

Even back on my first Christmas, there was a strong draw to those presents.

Open Presents Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning?

There are good reasons on both sides of this fence. It all boils down to the family traditions you grew up with, and how dedicated you are to keeping those traditions alive. Some folks are dead set on continuing what their family has always done. Others are focused on starting their own traditions.

Where do you stand on this issue?

Christmas at our house is full of fun traditions.

Opening Presents Christmas Eve

Raised in a Catholic family, we would always attend mass on Christmas morning. In order for mom to look her Christmas best and for us to get out the door with enough time to get seats in “Our Pew”, preparation for church on this morning was especially prolonged. So we opened presents on Christmas Eve., The alternative would have us getting up at 4 am on Christmas morning in order to have enough time to make that Christmas mass.

I thought that if I stared at them long enough, they might just open themselves!

We would have the traditional Sicilian homemade pasta or ravioli dinner with sausages on Christmas Eve. And then wait for mom and dad to wash the dishes,  WHICH WAS AN ETERNITY. Finally we would gather next to the tree for unwrapping.  A designated “Santa” would be appointed to pass out the presents to each person, one by one. Interminably, we would all watch every single person open every present as we rotated through the entire family. As a kid, it was god-awful to wait your turn.

The small kids were told that Santa could not possibly make all of his rounds across the globe in one night, and so he had to start early. For some special households, he would come to deliver presents on Christmas Eve afternoon while the children were napping. This way, Santa’s presents were delivered in time for unwrapping on Christmas Eve.

This would take hours and would end with very sleepy children (and adults).

Opening Presents Christmas Morning

In Triton’s family, they followed the more traditional view of opening presents on Christmas morning. They did not feel the pressure of attending a certain church service at a specific time. Getting up to open presents at the crack of o’dark early was just part of the deal.

Now with kids of our own, the process has become a simplified combination of traditions. It’s not a hodge/podge or a free-for-all, but is far less structured or elaborate. On Christmas morning, we all go downstairs to the Christmas tree (some of us with coffee IV-dripping away) and start with the stockings. Usually this keeps the kids occupied for a bit as the coffee kicks in.

“We just couldn’t wait for you to get your morning coffee, Dad!”

From there, it’s a loose organization that generally tracks each person as the are surprised and delighted by the presents they open. In between, photo opps are staged or restaged to capture feigned looks of surprise and delight that in many years will seem real.

Sometimes, just sometimes, actual looks of surprise and delight are captured candidly and in focus without multiple Instagram-worthy retakes.

People get up, grab more coffee or juice, visit the restroom, try on new clothes for size, and generally mill about. It’s not as structured as my childhood, and a whole lot more fun.

You can tell by the daylight in this picture that it’s Christmas morning.

One Gift on Christmas Eve

We’re not sure how this tradition started, but we began allowing each kid to open one present on Christmas Eve. We choose this gift in advance – they do not get to randomly choose from the pile. God forbid they chose the “big gift” that is supposed to shock and awe them for days (or hours) to come. No, we set aside a gift for this purpose as a nice way to end a happy Christmas eve.

Even now as the girls are older and Santa is a jolly memory, we keep up these traditions. The kids still put out a plate of cookies for Santa with a glass of milk. They still leave carrots for the reindeer. And I still take bites out of the cookies, drink the milk, and nibble on the carrots after they’ve gone to bed.

Some fond family traditions are just meant to endure, right?

Still in our pajamas, we ran downstairs to see what Santa had brought.

What’s your family tradition?

If you’re looking to make some new Christmas traditions in your family, here are some fun holiday suggestions:

Travel to Europe over the holidays to see the Christmas markets.

Make delicious holiday cocktails to celebrate the festivities.

Create a list of fun gift ideas and share it with family and friends.

two gin fizzes in front of Christmas Tree
A Christmas toast of Gin Fizzes in front of the Christmas tree.

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2 thoughts on “Open Presents Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning? The Great Debate

  1. Lovely! Our tradition more or less follows my childhood one–we were each allowed to open ONE gift on Christmas Eve, last thing at night when returning from whatever celebration we were attending. This is thanks to my father, who was more impatient than any of us kids and would beg my mom for just ONE. So now we do the same with our kids. Then on Christmas morning we begin with stockings, then have breakfast and get dressed. We wait for whatever family members are coming over to arrive (grandparents, uncles, etc.) and then the gift opening free-for-all begins!

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