Thursday, December 25, 2008

The 12 Days of Gift Opening

I'm writing simply as a parent today. I want to talk about gift giving.

I want to write about helping our children be more grateful for their gifts, to be more present with each gift as they get it, about spreading out the joy of Christmas over a longer period. I want to talk about our family tradition of the 12 Days of Gift Opening.

What I see is that many kids get an awful lot of "stuff" all at once, under the tree. When I watch these gifts get opened, I notice that while they love the thrill of ripping through the paper and opening a bunch of stuff all at once, they don't always appreciate each present fully when they do this. They go off and play with one or two things intensely and leave a pile of "stuff" under the tree that gets neglected or ignored for some time.

I also noticed that when my eldest kids were very young, they'd want to stop after the first couple of gifts and just play with those gifts; they totally lost interest in opening the rest of their gifts because they had stuff they were already interested in. Little kids live in the moment; it's hard for them to open something really neat and then put it aside so they can open up the rest of the stuff for Grandma and Grandpa's benefit. Yet we routinely make them do just that.

When my big kids were very young, we started the tradition of letting them open ONE gift on Xmas Eve, and the rest on Xmas Day. Oh, this made them SO excited!! They loved it so much. They were almost more excited for the Xmas Eve gift than for the big pile on Xmas Day.

And I noticed that they really engaged so much more deeply with their Xmas Eve gift than with all their Xmas Day gifts. They really played with it, they really spent more time with it, and they really seemed to appreciate it more. Yes, the big Xmas Day present-fest was fun, but they really seemed to be more in the true spirit of Xmas during the Xmas Eve present-opening.

After a few years of making them open all their gifts at once so the Grandparents could see it all, we began to space out the gifts a bit more. We did open quite a few of them on Xmas Day (especially the ones from the Grandparents so they could watch), but we also watched the kids' attention span and called it quits when they were done emotionally. Then we would open one present per child every day after Xmas till all the presents were gone.

And you know what? It was amazing to watch! They loved doing presents that way, because the excitement of Xmas and of present-opening was spread out so much longer. Even if one child ran out of presents sooner than another child, they still got a thrill out of watching the other child finishing up their stash. It emphasized the surprise and the joy of giving and receiving so much more than the actual getting of some particular "thing." It became more about the spirit of Xmas and fun than the spirit of consumerism.

And I just saw them engage in and appreciate their presents more when they were spread out over time. They'd stop everything to really play without whatever the gift was, and there was a lot less whining about "less cool" presents like socks and whatnot. Even if you only got socks that day, someone else had something cool to look at or play with.

It reminded me of "The 12 Days of Xmas" song, and in time, we began deliberately pursuing spacing out presents over several days. Sometimes it was over 12 days, sometimes only over a few days; we don't follow any particular "rules" except going with the flow.

Now, as my older kids have gotten closer to teenage-hood, they'd rather do it all at once instead of spread it out more, but even so, I notice that they still have a better appreciation for their gifts when we talk them into spreading things out longer "for the little ones' sake."

I don't know how long this tradition will last; I only have one really little one left to emphasize "spreading things out for." But I'm hoping to talk my kids into continuing to extend the gift-opening season at least a little bit because it really seems to cut down on the hyper-consumerism of the season, the overemphasis on "stuff, stuff, stuff," and the underemphasis on gratitude for and engagement with what we do have.

Does anyone else do something like this at all?


Anonymous said...

no, i don't, as i don't have children, but i think that some day when my huband and i *do* eventually have kids we might. i like this a lot!

-- maggiemunkee

Anonymous said...

Well, this is what Chanukah has been like in my family, and what we try to do with our little one.
One present a night (sometimes two), with plenty of time to play with that one gift. There's a birthday right around the corner for the extra "spillover" gifts.
This year, we had one night with all of the gifts for the grown-ups (grown-ups don't usually get their own gifts for Chanukah in my family, maybe one or two, because we have lots of other celebrations clustered between December and February).
This is fun and festive, and I used to love Chanukah so much, and deciding which present to open, and to be excited by whatever I got, and when I got older, to ask for one big gift instead of smaller ones, understanding that it would mean I wouldn't have a present each night. We would sing, light candles, have dinner together, it was fun, and I hope our little one gets just as excited as I did.

Anonymous said...

Hi :) How wonderfully said!! Having just sat through another frenzied present ripping and dropping session with my relatives, I am desperate to somehow make a change. What a great idea! And on the day the kids open a present from a relative, they could ring them and thank them? Would that help replace the opening on the day - since it would be a focused and honest recognition of the giving?
Best Regards

Bri said...

We don't do it but I am thinking we should! What a great idea.

Tami of BrooksGroth said...

Thanks for posting this!

For us, we also open one gift Christmas eve and the rest (immediate family/ santa) gifts Christmas morning -- or at least that is what we have done the last few years but this year was a bit different, and even more spread out, being gone for the holidays (in TX w/ in-laws). And then the gifts from various grandparents, etc. are opened on the day we are with that family. On one side of the family we open SLOWLY and on the other side thigns are just ripped into. Guess which is more enjoyable?? And yet my sisters and I can't seem to change it ... maybe I'll try harder next year.

Happy New Year!