when should we open presents Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning

Open Presents Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning? The Great Debate

When should we open presents – Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning? I grew up opening presents on Christmas Eve in an elaborate process, following a family script written long ago. When I 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.

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, since the alternative would have us getting up at 4 am on Christmas morning in order to have that prep time.

Open! Open! Open!

We would have the traditional Sicilian homemade pasta or ravioli dinner with sausages, WAIT FOR MOM TO WASH THE DISHES WHICH WAS AN ETERNITY, and then gather next to the tree for unwrapping. We would appoint a “Santa” that would pass out the presents to each person, one by one, and 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.

This would take hours.

Opening Presents Christmas Morning

Now with kids of our own, the process has become simplified – not a free-for-all, but far less structured. 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 as they open them. 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.

What’s your family tradition?

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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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