Growing up I was always jealous of families that opened gifts on Christmas Eve. My brother-in-law, for instance, was able to pick out one gift to open before bed. As I recall, there were no rules. You could shake. You could squeeze. And yes, you could even pick the biggest box from under the tree. But I had to content myself with sitting around the tree as a family, singing Christmas carols together and shaking the gifts to guess the contents (a scene my husband describes as a ‘Norman Rockwell Christmas’). In short – I had a pretty good life. But I did like to gripe about not being allowed even one present on Christmas Eve.
Though I adored Christmas as a child, and have nothing but fond memories of the experience, one of my favourite realizations as a newlywed was that we had the chance to start our own traditions. Many of them bear a distinct resemblance to traditions from my childhood but with a twist. For example, I grew up with homemade pizza on homemade crust for Christmas Eve supper; now we make donair pizzas on store-bought Naan bread.
But one of my favourite traditions is opening a gift on Christmas Eve. We’ve managed to escape the potential letdown of getting your “big” present before the excitement of Christmas Day. In fact, the kids are giddy with excitement even though they know exactly what they’re getting – a new ornament.
We started this tradition without realizing it. Our first Christmas after getting engaged, I traveled to spend the holiday with John and his family. He was away working when I arrived and had left a welcome package for me, complete with a small Christmas ornament. In honour of our upcoming nuptials, I had purchased him a silver “F” at a local pharmacy. Though we never purposefully set out to do so (or at least I don’t recall a discussion on this topic) we just kept on exchanging ornaments.
And when kids arrived, they joined in the fun.
Some years we put a lot of thought into the ornament. When we visited Australia together I bought an ornament of two koalas in a gumnut tree; the year Abby learned to skate she got a glass figure skater. Last year John got a blown glass sushi roll, another year a surfer mouse (I looked through a dozen at a local store to find the one that looked the happiest – please tell me other people do this too with dolls/ornaments/stuffed animals!?).
Other years, it might not have a sentimental backstory (the house below, Abby’s ornament last year, just looked really sweet and inviting to me – a miniature fairytale Christmas setting).
Years ago my best friend from university got married and one of her wedding gifts was a special box filled with Christmas ornaments. Her grandmother had purchased an ornament for every year she had been alive (completely under the radar, I believe) and presented this as a curated source of ornaments for her first Christmas as a newlywed! I can’t imagine having the patience to maintain a collection like this in secret for several decades (and what happens if grandkids don’t get married? Surely, eventually, you have to give them the ornaments?!).
The math of this tradition is quite daunting. Assuming both children stay home until they are 20, in addition to our already full tree, we are poised to add another 50+ ornaments.
But we’ll make room. We’ll get rid of the old tattered ones, or even the glossy ones that have no character. And someday I’m sure my heart will break – like a few of the ornaments already have – when a box of ornaments leaves my house to go adorn another tree.
But I hope they’ll be happy in their new homes, starting their own traditions, and have nothing but (mostly) happy memories of Christmases past.
Do you have any Christmas Eve gift traditions? Do you collect a new ornament to commemorate special events like a new job or family vacation?