11 Dec

My Santa Can Beat Up Your Santa


Until I moved out of my parents’ home to California at age 22, I’d never celebrated Christmas morning anywhere but the house I grew up in. Actually, that’s not even true, as I flew back to Salt Lake for Christmas and celebrated there every year until, I think, Wombat was born (and Christmas that year–with an eleven-day-old infant–remains the only one I’ve celebrated in this house since we moved here in 2007). So that’s, what…twenty-nine Christmases in Utah, plus last year and the year before (Simon’s mom was with his sister in England), plus the year before, when we spent Christmas morning with my parents and then flew to Orange County to spend Christmas night with Simon’s mom, sister, and 9-month-old niece, and…holy crap. I’ve only spent ONE Christmas in my entire life anywhere other than at home with my mom and dad.

Hello! No wonder I’m feeling a bit angsty about not going home for Christmas this year! Missing family and friends, seeing snow, time-honored traditions, blah blah blah…obviously the real issue is that not only am I used to doing Christmas a Certain Way, I’ve actually always done it that way. I’m an old dog and you want me to do what now? A triple backward flip with my eyes closed?

We’re spending this Christmas in Southern California with Simon’s mom, her boyfriend, my sister-in-law, her husband, and their two daughters, ages five and two. It will be a full house and you will therefore find me hiding in a closet with my book and a headlamp at some point, but it will also be awesome because every one of those people is lovely and wonderful, and I’m especially looking forward to Wombat spending time with his only cousins, whom he’s seen…once? That can’t be right. But nope, ONCE. (They came for our wedding.) Plus, we’re going to Disneyland! (I hope they have closets and books there too.)

I’m trying to be zen about the chaos that will surely rein during this foray into Exxxxxtreme Family Togetherness, and so far the only path I know that leads to zen (or at least in the neighborhood of zen) is imagining in painful detail every possible thing that could go wrong. I’ll spare you the individual scenarios and accompanying Munch face and instead ask for your words of advice/encouragement/warning about one specific thing: How To Do Santa Someone Else’s Way When You’ve Only Ever Done Santa Your Way [Which Is Obviously the Best Way].

Santa never wrapped our gifts. Santa always wrapped Simon’s gifts. Santa alone packed our stockings full of goodies and left each near the pile of loot for that same person so when you entered the living room on Christmas morning you were greeted with a bright and shining smorgasbord of everything you’ve ever wanted. Meanwhile, at Simon’s house *sad music*, stockings were hung on the doorknob of each kid’s room, as a way of tiding them over before the great unwrapping commenced. (BUT THEN HOW CAN YOU CAPTURE THE MAGICAL STOCKING MOMENTS ON VIDEO, I ASK?) At our house, everyone got a stocking–kids, adults, even cats. This year, we’re all contributing to the kids’ stockings and that’s it. This last change I’m mostly happy about because, trust me, I don’t need my own stocking full of candy I won’t eat, but on the other hand, I’m worried Wombat will be suspicious if the adults get nothing at all from Santa. The Santa I know is not an ageist bum. Santa wants mama to have a new pair of slippers.

Last week I messaged my SIL to make sure they were even doing Santa (they are; phew) and, if so, how much Santa stuff their girls would get considering they’d have to fly back to England with it. (I didn’t want Wombat to get five things plus some gifts for the whole family while the cousins got only one or two.) Turns out, we’re both going the route of having a few toys for the kids show up at Gramma’s house and then some extra things waiting when we all get home, which I think is swell. And although I’m still mourning the grand display of unwrapped gifts, I’m mostly just hoping Wombat doesn’t catch on that Santa has more than one way of doing things and those ways are directly dependent on where he visits you and/or with whom you’re sharing the company of Christmas Day. Santa has his reasons! Do not question the magical methods of the man in the red suit!

So, people who have had more experience doing Christmas with more than one family: How do you do it?

Additional question because I always find people’s answers to this one fascinating: Who gives your kid(s) the Big Gift(s)? Do you get to be the hero and swoop in with that Thing Most Desired, or does Santa get all the credit? Personally, I like to let Santa be the champion here, as it adds to the magic and also reinforces the idea that parents are not just People Who Give You Whatever You Ask For. Growing up, I loved that Santa would sometimes bring me stuff I knew would never fly with my parents, and only once was I disappointed: the year I wanted a Cocker Spaniel named Sandy. Similarly, for me, Santa is the leeway that will allow Wombat and Fox to have things I don’t really want to spend my money on (like the stuffed reindeer Wombat neeeeeeeeds even though he already has 312 stuffed animals).

Oh, and one more question: It’s okay to give Fox a few things I’ve pulled out of storage that used to be Wombat’s, right? Santa’s totally down with recycling!

And a bonus question (the baby’s taking a long nap and I can’t staaaaahhhhhp!): Elf on the Shelf, Y or N? Wombat would be ALL OVER THAT SHIZ, and I worry that when he gets a bit older and hears about other kids’ elves he’ll wonder why we don’t have one, but boo hoo, too bad for him because je refuse the elf on two basic principals: (1) we don’t believe in getting good behavior out of children because they fear a consequence; you act good because that’s what you do as a decent human being, not because you don’t want the elf to snitch on you to Santa (see also: one reason religion has no wings here; can of worms! can of worms!), and (2) the elf is designed to look all old-timey and charmingly retro, and he’s billed as a time-honored tradition that has lasted throughout the ages (the full name is, in fact, “Elf on the Shelf®: A Christmas Tradition”), but THAT’S FUCKING MARKETING. Had anyone heard of the elf before about 2005, and probably even later than that? NO. So, yes, I’m boycotting the elf out of spite. Bah humbug, etc.

By    61 Comments    Posted in: Photos, Regular Entries


  • 1) We did Santa the exact way you did (gifts unwrapped, stocking as marker for whose is whose) and I love that way. Dave wasn’t married to his family’s way (which wasn’t that much different; Santa just wrapped their gifts). So we do it my way. And we’re sticklers for doing Christmas Day at OUR house (especially since Molly’s birthday is the 24th, which makes holidays extra crazy), so we get to do it our way without any fuss. But if we did travel on Christmas day, I think I’d want to stick to our way of doing things. But, if that was impractical, maybe point out that Santa makes plans with each person for their house. So Simon’s MIL has a different plan with Santa and that’s okay. Because I, too, would worry about the suspicion.

    2) I have come to HATE the elf on the shelf this year. While I was never a big fan (I don’t like the “be good only because there’s an elf watching you” idea), the realization that kids are comparing what their elves are doing (inevitably, I suppose) and the crazy intense marketing has completely turned me off. [This article explains my distaste very well: http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2012/12/youre-a-creepy-one-elf-on-the-shelf/266002/#.UMR5qUG-kiI.facebook Plus, it just seems like another thing to make children suspicious of the truth of Santa, which I’d like to postpone as long as possible. One of my friend’s children (who is 5) actually asked why the elf was always up to trouble if he was supposed to be keeping them in line. So, when Molly asks why she doesn’t have an elf, I’m going to go with a combination of two answers a) You’re a good child, so you don’t need a (narc) elf. b) Your mom has a direct line to Santa so she doesn’t need an elf to report back.

    • I love that post! I always feel a little bad publicizing my elf hatred (I don’t want people to think I think *they* shouldn’t do it), but that article pretty much sums things up for me.

      (I also know that if we had one I’d be able to twist the story to suit my needs, but I also know myself well enough to know I’d be likely to go way overboard with it and be one of those annoying people who’s all LOOK AT MAH ELF, BITCHEZ every day, and no one needs that.)

  • 1. Always wrapped, except stocking gifts. But stocking gifts were hidden in the stocking (which hung on the mantel) and were always small things like funny socks or candy, or a CD (ha!). My family was inconsistent with when things were opened and it was a debate/discussion each year depending on plans. So I’m not coming from anything like a 29-year standing unvarying tradition!

    2. Santa loves recycling. He might wear red, but he’s green in his heart!

    Bonus answer! I have never, until this right this minute, heard of the Elf on the Shelf. So… I’m going with yes, marketing! And ewww, weird. The elf watches kids so they aren’t bad? That’s not a message I’d be ok with.

    AND a question, too! In a conversation the other day I said I couldn’t remember a time when I believed in Santa. I always knew it was kind of fake. At least, this is how I remember things. My SO says I’m crazy and there was a time when I did. Which I conceded could have been when I was really little, around three or four… maybe five. But that certainly by the time I could read (age 5 or 6), I knew it was a story and certainly have zero memory of finding out Santa wasn’t real. Does this seem likely or is my grown-up mind just… wrong?

    • Maybe it depends on how hard Santa was pushed at your house? I believed well past the age I probably should have (second grade, I think? which is the year I *didn’t* get the dog, I think!) because I WANTED it to be real so bad. (I still kind of do.) Our Santa was always so generous, I didn’t want that holiday gravy train to just stop, you know? I remember finding the hidden stash of Xmas gifts that year and feeling so sad because I loved the whole Santa thing so much.

      I’ve definitely heard from people who said their kids figured it out way before that, though, so it’s definitely possible. I really hope Wombat (and Fox) hold(s) onto it for as long as they can.

  • Christmas gets more complicated as more people are added. In my house if you don’t believe in Santa you get NOTHING! Even if you’re 40-something! Santa gives us everything, presents and stockings. My husband and I get the kids nothing. When I got married I told this to my older step son (the younger one still believed). The next year we did the letter from Santa bit to the younger one but everything still came from Santa.

    Then we had kids together. For the first two Christmases it didn’t matter because my son was too young to know. For the last 5 years (we’ve had a girl since) Santa has been the man! Next year we are expecting to have to indoctrine my son to not to ruin it for my daughter. Since my step sons spend time with their mother for most of Christmas, we had to explain to the little kids that Santa leaves things at both houses for the older boys. The movie The Santa Clause explained how Santa dealth with our whacky gas fireplace. Thank goodness for Hollywood! (If you need to know how to explain the tooth fairy I have the perfect book!)

    As for how Santa is at your relatives – this is what I told my son when he came home telling me that Santa did something different at a friend’s house … Santa respects each family’s values and does things according to their family needs or rules. Santa and the Easter Bunny completely believe in the reduce-reuse-recycle philosophy (which is why we save our plastic eggs each year). So if anything is not consistent at your in-laws house just blame it on Santa and house rules. :-)

    Good luck and have a great trip!

    • I love that. House rules! It’s totally possible Wombat will never even think twice about this, but then he does have half of my DNA and is equally likely to get all logical and stuff. :)

  • This is such a confusing thing! I grew up knowing that it was done different ways – my mom’s family opened gifts on Christmas eve, stockings on Christmas morning, and my dad’s family did Christmas morning. My husband’s grandmother does Christmas eve, too, and his immediate family did Christmas morning. I don’t want to wait for my gifts, though! I was never raised to believe in Santa, but we would have gifts under the tree from Santa that we weren’t allowed to thank my mom for. Wha??? My kids are still too young to know what’s going on, but I can’t decide what our own family traditions should be at all.

    • I was lucky in that the two families I grew up with–extended family on both my mom’s and dad’s sides–also split things up. My mom’s side did Christmas Day breakfast at my grandparents’ house, and then my grandparents would make the rounds to everyone else’s houses to check out our loot. My dad’s side is the Danish side, so it was easy for us to always do Christmas Eve together–but we only opened presents from each other. No Santa until Christmas morning!

  • Growing up, Santa did a combo: wrapped smaller gifts, unwrapped bigger gifts, and filled the stocking (that were usually stuffed with little gifts and toys, and left next to the fireplace to be pawed through before getting to the big gifts). My family mostly gave smaller gifts (books, clothes, smaller toys), but would hold an occasional super special gift to be from them. Of course, in my house, my mom STILL puts some of my gifts as from Santa, so you know, we’re big on the big guy.

    However, I ALSO come from a divorced family, and as such spent many many Christmases with multiple family members, and…it was never a big deal. Maybe because we did a combo on the wrapping and stuff, but it was explained that Santa will come to wherever you’ll be, even if how he does stuff is different from at home. I never really questioned it.

    Re: the elf–I hate that thing. It’s totally marketing (I think they first came out around 2004/5), and to me it feels very much like the Pinterest life wars in Christmas form: look how much more creative/caring/involved a parent I am because I will take the time EVERY NIGHT to do these super elaborate scenes. I don’t think I would mind it as much in it’s more benign “on the shelf” incarnation (frankly, I am not above some Santa tactics for decent behavior. But then, maybe that’s just the current state of my 3 year old more than real feelings), but even that is, frankly, more work than I want to add to my life at Christmas. (please don’t make me eat my words on this in a year!)

    • Yay! Someone who did Christmas in several different homes on the reg and wasn’t totally bothered by it!

  • How about this one to throw a kid off, my sister had a child with a man who is Jehovah’s witness. It was so confusing trying to explain that her dad wasn’t sad that Santa didn’t come to his house and he didn’t want presents.

    • I never really thought about it, but using the logic of LizP’s comment above, you can use the “Santa only comes to those who believe in him” rule to explain why some kids (or adults) don’t celebrate the holidays the same way. Wombat seemed a little iffy on the idea of Chaunkah, so maybe this will work for him.

  • Shriek! I had no idea what an Elf on the Shelf was until just now. Beyond creepy. Far better ways of encouraging good behaviour, I reckon.

    This will be my second Christmas not at my parents’ and I am a bit sad about it all. And next year will be our first doing Santa (!) and hoo boy, if it isn’t already a hot topic. Himself’s parents ‘terminated’ Santa when he was six! SIX! Inferior indeed.

    • TERMINATED? I hesistate to ask. Was there some sort of industrial accident at the toy factory?

      • Would that they had been so creative! Plain, unvarnished truth all the way. I suspect I will be OD-ing on the magic and sparkle for our kid come next December as a consequence.

  • We wrap everything–including stockings. But now I realize we don’t have to (why did that never occur to me?). I like the idea of wrapping the gifts under the tree because of the suspense it lends and because it’s so pretty. It also paces things. But I’m not going to wrap stocking gifts ever again. Our stockings are placed on our chairs/the couch in the living room. Growing up, most gifts were from Santa but one or two big gifts were from my parents. I think we’ll probably do the same, but it’s not something I’ve given a ton of thought to. I’m not sure how much it really matters in the grand scheme of things. Is Simon’s family totally set on doing things the way they’ve always been done? If not, maybe you can figure out one thing you can do “your” way–putting the stockings by the tree, for example. As for your question about recycling, we’re doing that, but those gifts will be from us (Mom/Dad). We’re getting our 18m-o some essentials (spoons/forks) and one or two books and that’s it. And we don’t do the Elf on a Shelf. It’s annoying and sounds like a pain in the ass. Merry Christmas!

    • You know, I haven’t even asked about how set in stone things are at Simon’s house, but I figured that part of being a good guest there is doing things their way. I am hoping, though, that we get to do at least a few traditional English things too, since that’s what the nieces will know and love. (Paper crowns! Please let there be paper crowns!)

      To solve the wrapped-gifts-under-the-tree-look-pretty issue, here’s what my fam did: All the gifts we were giving to and from each other would go under the tree as soon as they were wrapped, so we’d have weeks to look at and shake and wonder about those. All the Santa stuff appeared unwrapped on Christmas morning, which is of course what we’d dive into as soon as we were allowed in the room. We’d open the wrapped stuff after that. My favorite part was that moment of seeing EVERYTHING and feeling like I was the luckiest kid ever; I don’t know that the same thing would happen if I had to unwrap each gift one by one. Maybe this is the year I get to find out!

      • We always had the “I’m the luckiest kid ever” feeling with all the wrapped presents, so it might not matter. Or, at least, it won’t matter to Wombat. But I’m sympathetic here. I think my family’s way of doing things is THE BEST WAY, and I’d be so bummed to have to change things to my husband’s family’s way of doing things. I’m intrigued by this idea of not wrapping all the gifts. I might have to try it out your way! It certainly would save some time (not to mention, wrapping paper and tape).

  • I find stories of different Christmas traditions and Santa legends to be FASCINATING. I don’t have kids yet, so I haven’t really dealt with it in my adult life other than the which set of parents will we be with on the holiday Day, as opposed to the Eve or day after… but in my house growing up, all of our gifts were wrapped, including stocking gifts. Gifts from Santa were mixed in under the tree with ones from my parents, but Santa presents were only wrapped in Santa paper (aka paper with Santas on it). I can’t imagine how my parents kept it straight (and although the handwriting on the card had me stumped for a few extra years, I did one day find the stash of Santa paper in the attic and.. wait a minute. haha.) I think they varied it from year to year, as far as who gave us the most coveted ones. (My mom likes to remind me how one year I cried on Christmas because I didn’t get the one thing I wanted most… because I got it from my grandparents the next day. Whoops.)

    But my very favorite Christmas morning legend is what happened at my dad’s house when he was a kid. He and his siblings believed that Santa brought presents, stockings, and the TREE. As in, my grandmother and grandfather waited until their four kids were sleeping on Christmas Eve and then (silently!) brought in a tree, decorated it, and then put all the presents out. To this day, the logistics baffle me. Where did they hide the tree? How did they keep it a secret? How did they avoid waking up all those kids? Did they sleep at ALL that night? Whaaaa?

    • THE TREE! That’s some serious dedication and secret-keeping!

  • I think this is because we’re a multiple-religion household (and I never put much into the Santa story other than to say ‘different people believe different things – what do you believe?’**) but my four year old figured out this year that Santa is a *fun* myth that is done different ways in different places. Maybe if you’re worried about Wombat being confused by the inconsistencies you can acknowledge them by sharing stories of Santa from other countries? And he may not even notice or be bothered by it anyway when there are so many other fun holiday things going on (Decorations! Lights! Music! Stories! Cousins!)
    And I totally agree about the elf on the shelf.

    **an aside, this is how I learned that he believes in heaven and that he thinks of it as ‘down,’ because people are buried in the ground, duh Mom.

    • I *totally* thought heaven was down when I was a kid. It DOES make more sense! Smart boy. ;)

  • No kids for us, and we don’t really celebrate Christmas much anymore (or as my husband’s family says “do Christmas.). But growing up, Santa’s presents were unwrapped and stockings were left by the Santa gifts. But to be honest, I don’t really remember if stockings were from Santa as well. Santa’s present(s) were the big-ticket item, but there was still at least 1 gift from M&D under the tree for each of us. Stockings could be opened before breakfast, but presents had to wait until after. We started with the youngest (me) and worked our way up. Each person opening one gift with the rest watching, which stretched it out and focused on the gift-giver a lot. My brother always had elaborate packaging and/or hunts for presents. I hated at my husband’s family when presents were tossed to people and there was an unwrapping frenzy. I begged for many years to open one present on Christmas Eve, and one year, my family said yes because my oldest brother had wrapped a bunch of wrapped little things in a box and wanted me to open it, only to be thwarted because I had asked to open only 1. But by then, I didn’t want to or was too cool for it – I probably wanted to hang out in my room staring into the darkness.

    • We unwrap one at a time while everyone watches as well. There’s a nice benefit to this: it teaches the kids how to say something nice about each gift–why they’re grateful for it. Writing thank you notes has always been easy for me, and I think that might be one reason why.

      • Yes! This is sound really close to how we do it. Opening presents one at a time from oldest to youngest is for sure The Best. I can’t imagine doing it any other way, as the whole thing would otherwise be over with in about fifteen minutes, right? Plus, I always want to make sure I see people opening what *I* got them–better to give than to receive and all that. Plus, learning to wait is GOOD for kids, and those who “can’t” wait probably need to learn that even more than others, IMO.

  • So growing up we did NOT believe in Santa so I am the most lax Santa person ever. Which means, of course, that Jacob has latched on to Santa and thinks it’s great. With no encouragement from me, whatsoever. Jacob has had one visit to Santa and that’s only because my mother (the traitor) took him. I believe that if we are to engage in presents from Santa that the big cool one comes from us and the others can come from Santa, because *I* want the credit of being awesome. Chris disagrees with me, but so far we haven’t had any issues.

    We always wrap everything, and at home we let Jacob open his pile of presents however he likes but at Chris’ parent’s house, we have to all take turns. This is complete agony for him and last year he had so many presents that he stopped wanting to open them and we had to beg him to finish. Can you tell he is the much cherished only grandson? No?

    Elf on the shelf is just a no, no, no. :)

    • Ha. I’ve been to so many birthday parties where the poor little kids have these endless piles of presents and they have to just keep OPENING and OPENING and they’re TIRED and they just want to play with the thing they just opened, but no, MORE OPENING. Poor kids. ;)

  • So I never believed in Santa growing up (I know – sad!) because my parents are Yugoslavian immigrants and 1.) Santa is not a big part of culture there, and 2.) we were raised Orthodox Christian and celebrated Christmas on January 7 and so rather than make up a big story about why Santa visited us on a different day, my parents just didn’t do it. My husband’s family, on the other hand, did Christmas in a BIG way. So we do sort of a combination of how they did it, and how we want to do it. Santa gives some of the big presents, specifically the ones requested by the child, and all of Santa’s presents are unwrapped and assembled. We are giving a couple big presents that are not specifically requested but we want to surprise with, and our presents are wrapped. Stockings are on the mantel and are filled by Santa as well, and that’s where the grown-ups get their Santa presents. Since having Luke we’ve celebrated Christmas morning in our own home and plan to keep it that way. His birthday is January 6, and the grandparents come to us for that so they get to see him during the season. The new thing we added this year is the much-reviled Elf on the Shelf, but Luke loves it — we move it around each night but don’t do anything Pinteresty with it beyond that, and he seriously thinks it’s “magic.” As far as the narc part, I’m kind of ambivalent about that. One thing we’re working on this month is potty training and the Elf is helping with positive reinforcement on that front — like, “Zipzap told Santa what a great job you’re doing using the potty like a big boy!” And seriously I will take ANY help at all at making this go easier — bribery! blackmail! whatever! I DO NOT WANT TO BE CHANGING TODDLER DIAPERS WITH A NEWBORN COMING IN A FEW MONTHS.

    Anyway, I also just read this great article on Slate about how lying about Santa (and maybe the elf fits in this category) is a good lie because it helps kids develop their imaginations, distinguish fantasy from reality, hone reasoning skills and a host of other things: http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/the_kids/2012/12/the_santa_lie_is_the_big_christmas_con_hurting_our_kids.html

    • I know Wombat would love the crap out of an Elf–and I also think I’d go Pinteresty and ANNOY EVERYONE with it–but yeah, I just can’t get over the manufactured tradition thing. I mean, when you’re talking about little kids, they’re so young that *anything’s* a tradition if you do it more than once, but ARGH. MARKETING. That said, I would exploit the hell out of the potty training angle too. Good luck!

  • Is it possible for Santa to do things differently for Wombat and the cousins? You know, because Santa does things differently for different people, but he always knows where you are at Christmas and doesn’t confuse your traditions with other peoples? Or would that make it even more confusing? I’d probably want to keep it as close to my own way as possible for the kids, no matter where we are, but I know plenty of people who alternated places they had Christmas and Santa just did it different ways at different houses and that was that, and they totally accepted it.

    We did stockings by the tree, nothing wrapped inside, stocking first, then wrapped presents. My husband had a no-wrapping Santa who now wraps everything. Very curious.

    Also, hate the Elf, want no part of it, am dreading having to tell my kid that it doesn’t matter if her friends have one, because we just don’t. Blarg.

    • It’ll be interesting to see how things shake out. The kids are all still young enough (oldest is 5) that I don’t think they’ll be too concerned about how everything is done (certainly not as concerned as yours truly), and, now that I think about it, we probably won’t even have this problem again for a while so it might end up mattering NEVER. Wombat and Fox are the only grandkids on my side, and the two girls we’re spending Christmas with this year are the only other grandkids on Simon’s side, and they live halfway around the world, which means we’ll probably get to do Christmas however we want to (i.e., MY WAY, THE BEST WAY) for most of the time. Check back to the blog in five years and I’ll tell you all about it. :)

  • I think it’s fascinating how vastly different all of our Santa/Christmas experiences can be. And I think that the fact that we all seem to have enjoyed it, and come away happy speaks loudly to the fact that your kids will love and cherish the way they did it, even if it changes from time to time.

    Santa always brought about half of the good presents to us – my mother obviously wanted some credit! But they were wrapped, for sure. And we were only allowed to open Santa presents (and stockings) before church and breakfast, the rest of them had to wait. Agony for small children, but a tradition in itself, as my mother and grandfather had been in the same spot as children :) We also did ordered unwrapping, from youngest to oldest, and then start again. I like to think it taught us to be patient, but who knows. My husband’s family is bigger and full of young children (none for us yet, and none for my siblings), and they all unwrap with no order whatsoever and MAN! that took some getting used to!

    All to say, enjoy Christmas however it comes (unless it includes an Elf ;) )

    • Good point. Everyone does it differently and it’s hard to find someone say, “Ugh. I hated how many family did Christmas.” We love what we love because it’s what we did, regardless of the specifics. Good to remember.

      And yeah, the agony of waiting is a HUGE part of the tradition too. We did Xmas Eve with my dad’s side, and we had to wait until after the dinner dishes were done before we could open presents. And my grandma didn’t have a dishwasher, so we had to handwash and dry EVERYTHING, and it took FOREVER, and it was THE WORST, and I’m thinking about it now and giggling because it was the same way every year. And then Christmas morning was even worse because we were quarantined downstairs until my parents could get up, get dressed, set up the giant video camera, turn on the music, etc. etc., while my brother and I are just DYING to get into our loot. Good times.

  • Not wrapping the gifts is blowing my mind! I’m totally surprised this is done. Gifts from Santa were wrapped in gift wrap or decorative cloth bags (introduced the year after my sister and I insisted after learning all about the recycling in school) and stocking gifts were wrapped in tissue paper. Stuff too big to wrap was hidden in the house somewhere and the hint on where to find it was wrapped. One year we had to go next door to find our new sled in the neighbor’s basement.

    To fully appreciate our bounty, mom insisted we replace everything unwrapped under the tree where it remained until the tree came down. We could play with stuff, wear the clothes etc. but they “belonged” under the tree until she decided Christmas was over several days later.

    • I’ve never heard of anyone keeping their Christmas stuff under the tree after it was unwrapped, but I totally tried to preserve my pile of stuff for as long as I could. I took it all to my room and put it in a special corner where I could admire it for days and days.

  • Christmas at my house growing up always included Santa bringing a stocking full of goodies and The Big Gift. usually the one thing that Mom and Dad were saying no to (Nintendo, PowerWheels, Air Hockey Table, etc) and it was always unwrapped and in the living room on the hearth. After going through stocking stuffers and playing with The Big Gift for like 5 mins, we’d head down to the basement den (split level house) where the Christmas tree was with the wrapped gifts from mom and dad/family. Since I have been married, we do christmas morning at my in-laws, and its VERY different, to say the least. Santa doesn’t even come anymore, since all the children are “adults” now. LAME. But its all good, because we head to my parents’ house on Christmas day and repeat the Christmas Eve traditions/Christmas morning all over again the next day – Groundhog Day style.

    My husband has sad he enjoys my family’s ways (he loves that he still gets “toys” from my parents – think remote controlled helicopters). So next year – when there is a baby in our house – I think we’ll take on the traditions I grew up with…

    • It was really nice for us to not have to do a big Christmas hoopla for a while (no kids), and even though I love having the little ones around to do all the magic stuff for, I’m also finding that things get pretty complicated, especially when you’re mixing two families in one house, and three different traditions (S and his sister, plus me, plus his sister’s husband). Whenever people get married with the intention of having kids, you always hear experts say, “Make sure you talk about how you’re going to teach religion/discipline/money values/etc.,” but what they should really say is, “Figure out how you’re going to do Christmas.”

  • When I was a kid we celebrated Christmas with another family each year in a shared vacation home in Tahoe. Our Santa also brought everything! And not only did Santa bring the tree, presents and stocking gifts but he brought them all on Christmas Eve… and we opened presents on Christmas Eve (per Czech tradition).

    After dinner every Christmas the Moms and kids would go into the “kid’s room” and read Christmas books and sing carols. Meanwhile the dads would be frantically putting up the tree, decorating it, bringing in all the wrapped presents and filling our stockings. Then they would ring some jingle bells and duck out of sight while us kids would busts from the room because we had heard the bells on Santa’s sleigh. It was magical to come down the stairs into the dimly light living room and see a completely decorated tree with piles of presents. Since we all became non-believers the tree now goes up earlier and presents are added as they are wrapped, but once we start having kids I hope to start up the magic again :)

    • I forgot to say that my husband’s family does everything on Christmas day, so it works out well for us and I have yet to miss a Christmas with my family doing it the “right” way. Oh and yeah I think the Elf is kind of creepy, and agree that everyone should be good because it is the right thing to do.

    • Okay, so I have a question: Did none of the kids think it was suspicious that the dads “disappeared” at the same time all the Christmas magic was happening? I feel like I would’ve been on to that…but then I should have been on to all kinds of things with the way we did it too, and I just wanted to believe so badly I guess it didn’t really matter.

      • You were probably a much more aware child than I was. I didn’t figure it out until I was 6 or 7 and found the stash of “Santa presents” hidden in a closet. I think it was pretty normal for the Dads to go out and smoke a cigar after dinner (possibly another Czech “tradition”) so if they were missing for 30 minutes it wasn’t a big deal. I suppose the next generation might be more clever, so we’ll have to come up with a better explanation…

        Thanks so much for hosting this fun discussion of Christmas traditions!

  • We always opened gifts on Xmas morning. We never had stockings. I didn’t even know those things existed until I attended my boyfriend’s Xmas. We always took turns opening and would have to murmur appreciative things about everyone’s gifts before we could open our next one. My brothers ruined Santa for me early on, so I never got to believe. My parents still signed Santa on their gifts, though.

    At J’s house, things were very different. Everyone had a full stocking. None of the presents appeared until after dinner on Xmas eve. The routine was, John’s dad would take the boys to dinner and his mom would wrap all the gifts and stick them under the tree. They would return and open all the gifts that night. (So strange.) Then on Xmas day, they just played with the loot all day. Also, everyone opened their gifts all at once, nobody took turns, so the whole thing last 10 mins tops.

    The first Xmas I spent with J’s side, I suggested we take turns opening gifts. They were hesitant, but decided to give it a try. Now it’s how it’s always done. (Makes so much more sense to me!) Also, to honor his tradition, we open one gift the night before (one not from Santa) and the rest the next morning.

    We do the elf on a shelf and it’s awesome. They hunt for it every morning and squeal with delight when they find it. We use it to keep them in line and it works great. (Oldest actually said to me this morning, “Is there anything I can help you with, Mama?” She’s four.) I don’t care that it’s not an age-old tradition. I lived overseas for most of my youth. My mom made up new “traditions” every year, because she found the norm boring. One year we had the 12 days of Christmas, during which we opened one gift every day. We were actually sick of the whole thing by day 8. Another year she “wrapped” all the gifts in grocery store plastic bags, because she was sick of wrapping.

    We learned to go with the flow. We now have our own traditions and are happy to add/eliminate any part we see fit.

    • I love that you convinced a family to take turns opening gifts! (It is, after all, The Best Way.)

      We always got a handful of gifts on Christmas Eve because that’s when we saw my dad’s side of the family, but in addition to that, we always got to open one special present from my mom and dad: new pajamas! My parents *still* give me new pajamas on Christmas Eve (and Simon gets some too), so that’s one thing, come hell or high water, I will be doing with my boys this year (and forever), even if it means I have to bring them into the closet with me and let them open those gifts by the light of my headlamp.

  • Do not let yourself be pressured into the Elf! I don’t care if my kids might like it, I’m the one who’s going to have to keep up with it and Mama is not down with that (some people like to do it and I have no problem with that! Alas, I am lazy). We’ve got lots of other little traditions to keep the kids in the Christmas spirit, so I don’t worry too much about having the Elf. As for different Santa traditions, I celebrated the big day with my parents (though every other year we would go to my grandparents until I was 11) the first 28 years of my life. After that, having babies complicated matters and I’ve been in my home for Christmas 6 out of the last 7 years, where we generally follow my family’s Santa tradition: all presents from us are from ‘Santa’ and all presents are wrapped and opened Christmas morning (this includes presents from relatives and stockings, which are left hanging on the fireplace). My husband’s family, on the other hand, opens gifts Christmas Eve (presents were wrapped), and didn’t have stockings or a very large, ornament laden tree (it was usually small, with a very uniform ornament scheme. Our tree is not like that at all). I think most presents were from ‘Santa’, but I’m not totally sure. Anyway, it felt wrong to me but, like you, I am totally biased when it comes to this stuff :) .

  • I have lived 700 miles away from my family for the past nine years. This means I have spent eight of the last nine years celebrating Christmas with my husband’s family. I flew back to Chicago by myself to celebrate Christmas with my family the first year I moved, before my hubby and I were married. We can’t travel there together over the holidays because his job requires him to be here this time of year, so I’ve elected to be with him at Christmas ever since we’ve been married.

    Anyway, my family had our own (superior!) Christmas traditions. On Christmas Even, my dad always read aloud “The Night Before Christmas” from a super-old book that had been my great-grandparents. Next, we were allowed to open one present from my parents. They got to pick the gifts–they were usually things we got to enjoy that night, like games or books. (Yes, I was the kid who got super excited over books. I once asked for a book about JFK when I was in fourth grade. NERD!)

    On Christmas morning, stockings were completely stuffed with cool little gadgets and candy and opened first. This built the excitement because we just knew the presents would keep getting better and better! Next, my siblings and I were allowed to open all our presents. All the gifts were wrapped–but the ones from Santa were wrapped in different wrapping paper than the presents from my parents, of course! Santa brought the Big Gifts when we were little, but once we stopped believing in him they all just came from my parents.

    Spending the first Christmas with my husband and his family was definitely a big change. Everyone sits around and watches as one person at a time opens all their presents–the youngest person goes first, then the next youngest, etc. This means it takes like three hours to open presents–I don’t mind everyone taking their turns, but they reeaallllly draw it out. After everyone opens their presents–forever and a day later–we all get to open our stockings (which are filled with things like apples and socks). Talk about an anticlimactic ending to Christmas morning…insert *sad music* here. They do have one tradition I like though–all the grown-ups sip on mimosas while presents are opened!

    And to answer your extra questions: I think Santa is definitely down with recycling! And Elf on the Shelf? I HATE, HATE, HATE that creepy thing. I also don’t agree with getting good behavior out of children because they fear a consequence. The first person I knew using the Elf on the Shelf is a friend of a friend, and her kids are extremely bratty (this opinion is shared by many, many people). Guess what? She uses that damn thing to threaten her kids into submission one month out of the year. The other months of the year, her kids go back to being bratty, and she can’t figure out why–maybe because she has never thought them how to act good because that’s what you do as a decent human being. No stupid elf is ever going to teach that!

  • Like elizabetht said, these traditions and legends are fascinating! I have been coming back to this post to read the comments and figure out if there’s anything I have been ‘missing’ all these years.

    My husband and I don’t have kids yet, but since our families are located in the same city, we are able to see everyone at Christmas. Growing up, Santa wrapped our stuff in ‘santa paper’ and had different handwriting. I swear, when I do have kids, my mother will be recruited for the gift tags. Amazing! My husband’s Santa gifts were NOT wrapped which meant he and his sis had to stay out of the living room till their parents were awake. That would have KILLED me as a kid so in retrospect, I am glad ours were wrapped because I could sit in front of the tree (and did!) for hours on Christmas morning waiting for everyone else to get up.

    My sis and I used to take turns opening, but the ‘big family’ gathering was – and remains- a free for all. I sort of hate the buzz saw aspect and wish people took turns. Then again when there are 25 people it would take hours, so maybe it’s more efficient this way?

  • I grew up in a non-Christian household, so Christmas is relatively new to me. Well, for the last twelve years, so “new” with a grain of salt. For our family, Santa gives the big gifts, we give one present each to the boys, and then they get a few things from aunts and uncles and grandparents. My mother-in-law goes CRAZY with gifts, little cheap toys she finds on sale and buys all year and it drives me up the wall. I do not like lots of gifts. I’d rather ONE nice gift rather than twenty awful ones, but I guess some people like volume. As someone who lives in a house with two closets, I disagree. And no we don’t do the Elf on the Shelf because we can barely remember tooth fairy money.

  • I love this discussion and keep coming back to read the new comments. You might be interested in something we started this year; you can consider it an alternative to the elf. Growing up, my mom had a pair of wooden clogs that we would put out the night before St. Nick’s Day (12/6), per the Dutch Christmas tradition. The next morning, there would be a few treats from St. Nick (clementines, candy cane, etc.) This year, my mom sent me one of the clogs and my sister the other to have for our kids. We told my son that St. Nick comes to check in on how he’s doing before Christmas (naughty or nice). “He” left the kids a couple of new Christmas books, and they each got a Christmas-themed shirt. He also wrote a note about how they were being good, but to try a little harder at not whining, sharing nicely, etc. It’s just one night, a good excuse to give them the things I’d probably give them anyway, and it provides a little more motivation in the behavior department without being overly creepy (though a man in a red suit that enters your house in the dead of night is creepy in and of itself).

  • Growing up, we always celebrated Christmas at our house. My husband’s parents are divorced and he had to do the holiday shuffle and hated it. We decided when we had kids that we wouldn’t travel at Christmas. Family is welcome to visit us, but we always spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning at our own house. Our family was grouchy about it for a couple years, but they got over it. There’s something to be said for making your nuclear family a primary focus, especially around the holidays — if that makes sense. We love our extended family, but I wanted my kids to have traditions and experiences that we created as a family. We do our big travelling and family visiting at Thanksgiving, or in the summer.

    On Christmas Eve, we attend the early church service then head home for a cozy dinner in our Christmas PJs. In our neighborhood, Santa visits each house with a gift for all the children on Christmas Eve after dinner. It is so fun to hear the kids’ names announced on the loudspeaker and watch Santa walk up to the door. They love it. But, I think I may love it more. We open all the other presents on Christmas morning. When the kids were young, Santa didn’t wrap any of the presents, he had them all set up and ready to play with when the kids walked down the stairs. The past couple of years, Santa has left a few of the big things out and unwrapped, but has wrapped up smaller gifts (like video games and books), otherwise Christmas would be over in 5 minutes.

    I just love the holidays. Over the years, I’ve found that if I make sure to get all of my Christmas shopping done right after Thanksgiving — and I mean all of it, including teacher gifts, the holidays are so much more enjoyable. I also order nearly everything online, which just makes easier.

    • Hmmm. I was doubting this “unwrapped presents” idea since we never did that when I was a kid, but the idea of having some toys out and ready to be played with is kind of genius! Our kids are only 3 and 1.5 so they aren’t into unwrapping box after box of things yet. Might have to try this!

  • Me again. Three times in 10 days, who am I? I struggled with the Christmas issue too. We always celebrate Christmas with my husband’s family and no surprise its very different than how my family did it growing up. I sort of adopted a “when in Rome” attitude and just let my mother-in-law run the show. Its worked out very well for us because truthfully, she does an amazing job and the kids have a great time. I am taking a long view that not all of these people will be here for all of my kids Christmases and/or there will come a time where it makes sense for us to host Christmas and I will get to “run the show”. The most important holiday memory for me to give to my kids is that the holidays are no stress/no drama. Wombat is so young that I don’t think doing it their way one year will not make a lasting impression. Plus, you get to create all the other traditions for all the other holidays the rest of the year and I have see all the effort and love you put forth in making every day a celebration for your family. Merry Christmas!!!

  • Growing up we either did Christmas at our house or at my grandparents’. Either way, my grandparents (on my mom side) would be there as my mom is their only child, When we were kids, we would go to church on Christmas Eve and would open our presents that night (taking turns). Santa would come while we were gone Before leaving, we would leave a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for Santa.

    Gifts were wrapped, except for the big ones. He “forgot” one outside our house one year as it was too big to be wrapped. When we were young, we would open stockings before going to Church but now, we get them on the 25th. My mom hangs them on our door during the morning, And now that there are no kids, we open the presents at midnight on Christmas Eve (well, that would technically make it Christmas morning).

    As for spending Christmas elsewhere, I remember being really worried that Santa wouldn’t know where we would be for Christmas. That year, my mom made me write a letter to Santa to remind him that we wouldn’t be home. It wouldn’t bother us to do things differently, since we had told Santa (might be good for Wombat!). I remember one year, we were at my grandparents’ and Santa had left his hat outside the house in the snow. Waking him and seeing the hat was so awesome :)

  • AWelles we had a stocking full of wrapped small gifts at the end of our beds. I LOVED feeling it with my toes, that feeling of fullness and that crinkling sound… My uncle blew the Santa myth for me one year by farting as he left the stocking… We also had one ‘big’ gift (but not big by today’s standards- big like a pair of jeans) from our parents- also wrapped. The idea of unwrapped gifts is totally alien to me!

    With our kids (well, to date just kid, as the youngest is 6 weeks) we, er, don’t get them a big present. They’ll get loads from other relatives! Father Christmas (do americans ever call him that? Was wondering the other day) will leave a stocking of small wrapped gifts, probably not on the bed though, as our toddler is a light sleeper and I do not plan to wake her and ruin the night’s sleep for us all by leaving a Stocking of Huge Excitement in her room… And the baby, well, sleeps in a Moses basket and would be squashed by his stocking of recycled stuff (yes, we’ll be doing that too).

    Re Christmas traditions, I think little kids are up for embracing however things are done in the place where they are. Both sets of grandparents are divorced in our case, so Christmas is a spread-out affair, and our daughter just loooves the presents and party atmosphere, however they come to pass in each house. She is not yet 3 though, and asked if it was Christmas when her baby brother was born, as she had so many presents. So, logic doesn’t really come into it with her!

  • Re: Elf on the Shelf and not wanting to reward for good behavior–isn’t that what Santa does, though? Brings you toys if you’ve been nice and not naughty? Or do you guys get around that by saying that Santa brings to all children, no matter how they behave? Not being contrary at all, just wondering. We do Elf on the Shelf with my daughter, and I had the same thought about it, but then I was like “Well, if the lore is that Santa is monitoring her 24/7 already, might as well go all out.”

    • So far we haven’t focused on the nice/naughty list very much (Wombat is pretty well-behaved on the whole), but I think the big difference is that I always thought Santa brought stuff for kids who were good *all year long* (e.g., “Have you been a good little boy this year?”) whereas the Elf seems to emphasize that kids are being judged on their behavior only when the Elf is in the house, and being judged quite closely, since he supposedly reports back to Santa every single night. That’s a lot of pressure! Especially when you’re little enough that self-control isn’t always the easiest thing to come by. Every kid has bad days, and I think Wombat’s the type who would probably take it really hard if he thought the Elf was going to tell on him for every tiny little transgression during the month that his behavior supposedly counts more than at other times.

      If I ended up HAVING to do the Elf, for whatever reason, I’d definitely NOT buy the book, so I could modify the story to my liking. For now, though, we do enough other special Christmas stuff–holy crap, advent calendar activities are a lot of work!–that we really don’t need this one extra thing to deal with.

  • Elf on the shelf is marketing AND creepy creepy. Santa did not do the big gifts at our house, but he did get us a thing we wanted, every year. The gift from the pets, however, was often just as good as what Santa offered. The big stuff was clearly from mom & dad or the grandparents.

  • Can of worms! Can of worms! I loved that.

  • I lived in England/Europe for the first 12 years of my life, so mine is probably simiar to Simon’s – stocking gifts were wrapped…and not only, they were in a ‘real’ stocking (like pantyhose) and laid at the foot of the bed while we slept. There is nothing (nothing!) more fabulous than waking up and feeling the crinkle crinkle of the stocking at the foot of the bed! I tried to recreate it with our kids but it sort of didn’t pan out. So we still wrap stocking gifts, but we use a long fleecey type one…and I do put it at the foot of the bed. So they can open stocking gifts when they wake up (although we are all together), then the tree gits later. Tree gifts are a combination of ‘from Santa’ and ‘from others’….before we had kids, tree gifts would go under at any time prior to the big day; now they go under after the kids are in bed on Christmas Eve, so it’s more special when they come downstairs.
    Oh, and I certainly hope you’ll be having crackers (which are harder to find here now!).

  • On the elf note, we have an elf but we haven’t assigned him any magical properties. We are also heathens, and the concept that Rhys should behave well because “the elf is watching” is just plain BLERG. Rhys does, however, enjoy finding the elf every morning even though I’m pretty sure he knows (at 2 1/2) that Paul and I move it every night. It is an elaborate hide and seek game, which I think any kid would enjoy. It doesn’t have to be mystical and magical and *dishonest*.

    • Kind of the same way here too. We bought a boy and a girl Elf at a discount store and made up our own “story” about them. They move every night and are not “naughty”. They do silly things, like play cards with the other dolls, hide in the fridge, try to get in the candy jar, build forts etc. My daughter loves it! We didn’t tell her that they watch her and stuff, but we do say how they have such good manners, they clean up, etc. I think it is fun and I don’t go to elaborate measures each night at all. This is our third year and we enjoy them. :)

  • Elf on the shelf is creepy and stupid marketing and I’m glad my kids were too old and/or hated the idea.

    Our first Christmas as married folks was a difficult blend of traditions like yours. He always had unwrapped gifts from Santa and all of my gifts were. So we compromised and have one unwrapped gift from Santa (usually the one we don’t want to wrap…lol) and the rest are from mom and dad and are wrapped. I’ve refused to be anywhere but our own house on Christmas morning so the kids don’t have the multiple places/traditions.

    Have fun and good luck!

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