When and how should your family open those unique Christmas gifts? Should you wait for Dec. 25? Should you open the best Christmas present last? Should you tear off the ribbon and wrapping paper – or carefully cut off the tape with a knife, saving the best bows for next year?
Psychological studies on these big questions about family gifts for Christmas seem to be nonexistent. But since a Gallup survey last month found the typical American was planning to spent $770 on Christmas presents this year, it seems worth looking at how to unveil the loot.
Should you disguise presents?
Definitely! Add screws to befuddle a child who loves to shake boxes. Put a tiny present inside a huge box.
Should you open any or all gifts on Christmas Eve?Anecdotally, at least, most people seem to like to save at least some of the presents for the big day. Psychologist Carl Hindy, for one, likes no more than a "teaser gift or two" on Dec. 24 to help build anticipation. He likes to keep "a little of the childhood glee of Christmas morning," he says. "Ah, the memories of being a kid and trying to stay up late to hear Santa!"
Registered dietitian Dave Grotto, author of The Best Things You Can Eat, posed the "when to open" question on Facebook. Friends promptly weighed in with responses such as, "In-laws, eve. My family, day." Grotto, his wife, and their three kids open gifts Christmas day. On Christmas Eve, they're busy hosting a big family party, which includes his 92-year-old accordion-playing father. Relatives go home too late, and tidying up takes too long, to open gifts afterward.
Should you open in age order, from youngest to oldest?
"Not necessarily because not everyone has the same number of gifts," says Michelle Barratt, professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, a former member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on adolescence, and the mother of five. She does like the idea of going from one person to the next, rather than opening in a free-for-all fashion. "We want them to see what other people are getting," she says.
Should you quickly rip off the wrapping paper?
My father-in-law preserves bows and paper for future years by opening presents with a pocketknife. A caveat: This time-consuming technique can frustrate younger kids. But it's a family tradition.
What if you're not home Dec. 25?
It can be tricky to bring presents to grandma's house. So should you open gifts before – or after – a trip? Barratt's family is visiting grandparents but needs to do the exchange earlier because of kids heading straight back to college. She also notes that her offspring will be able to use some of the presents, such as a duffel bag, for their travels.
Who, if anyone, should pass out presents?
My father always handed out gifts, but many families put a child in charge. "Usually one kid plays elf," says Barratt. "Usually it's the youngest kid." (Sometimes one of her older children does it. They're now 20 and 24, but, she says, "they like the job!")
Should you encourage kids to save their best present for the end?
"Sometimes I'll say, 'You have to wait on this one," says Barratt. "I think coaching on which one you should pick is good."
What if two kids are getting the same present?
Ask them to open at the same time, says Barratt.
What about Christmas stockings?
I like to wrap everything, even the smallest-in-value, smallest-in-size presents, like pencil erasers or chocolate. It helps make the opening process last longer than 10 minutes.
What if you're planning to make a change?
"A lot of it is tradition," says Barratt. "If you're going to do something different, then you've got to let them know."
Should you play Christmas tunes in the background?
Mix up holiday songs by Bing Crosby, Bruce Springsteen, and Taylor Swift. That way every generation can recognize a singer or two.
What should you do when it's all over?
Feel free to leave the tree up until 12 days after Christmas. Many towns, including mine, pick up trees and recycle them. My husband usually leaves ours in the backyard for birds to perch on for a while.
Finally, remember to write thank you notes!
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