How We Stay Sane on Christmas Morning: Large family gift-giving

I currently have 6 children. Five of them are old enough to wake up early on Christmas morning, run downstairs to the Christmas tree, and hover wonderingly over the colorful packages underneath wondering which ones are for them...and what's inside. I am pleased to report that, in spite of our numbers, Christmas mornings are calm, quiet and happy ones. I do admit that I find this generally surprising.Things don't often go so smoothly in a room full of excited children and I am certainly no expert at managing such situations.

So what is the secret? First acknowledgment goes to our sweet Savior who grants us this extra blessing and grace on His special day! Secondly come a few deliberate parenting tools that help keep things properly focused...

1. Jesus is always first: Christmas Mass

No big gift-giving gatherings before Christmas Mass. Christmas doesn't start for us until the vigil mass on Christmas Eve. That's the big party, with all the bells and incense and glittering smiles. Although the kids love getting presents, they still maintain that nothing trumps the excitement of Christmas Mass; we arrive in our finest clothes, gifts or letters are presented to the Christ child in the creche, we attend mass with the friends and family we know and love in our parish community, and we always find ourselves among the last to leave the church as we visit with families and our priests and take pictures. Mass begins at 10:00pm but we usually don't arrive at home until between 12:30 and 1:00am.

Aside from the fact that first attention should always be paid to our Lord, there are a couple positive practical side-effects from this practice. The first is that the children are exhausted since we stay very late, have a snack when we get home and usually have a hard time settling down to sleep. This is good because the kids do sleep in the next morning (hoorah!). The second is that the gift-giving and getting parties are postponed until morning. There is no "getting through" mass just to get to the presents. Mass IS the big deal.

2. Jesus is always first: Christmas Morning

There is no gift-opening until Scripture is read, prayers are said and "Happy Birthday" is sung. Every member of the family must be present. This means that no matter how early you wake up, you still have to wait for mom and dad. Aside from obvious benefits, a huge practical bonus to this tradition is that the kids always have plenty of time to eat breakfast before presents (since dad does enjoy sleeping in on Christmas) thereby reducing low blood sugar induced crankiness.

The kids have learned not to be frantic about presents. There is no serious whining. It is simply understood that presents are never first.

3. Three gifts per child

Jellybean identifies her pile of presents
We give gifts in imitation of the Father Who gave us the greatest gift of His Son, Jesus. We give three gifts in imitation of the Three Kings who adored and honored the Christ Child in Bethlehem.

I know that 3 sounds like a small number to some people but I assure you that, when multiplied by 5 or 6, it looks quite impressive scattered all over the floor! One of the reasons this really helps maintain peace in the household is that everyone knows how many presents they have and that they are limited. There is no frantic tossing aside of boxes looking for more. I think it increases their appreciation for each gift. (It also indirectly increases their appreciation for the Grandmas and Grandpas who love to spoil them! Have I ever told you how much I look forward to being a grandma someday?)

I confess that my husband and I cannot quite escape the lure of Christmas morning materialism and we do cheat a bit. We give 3 gifts but one of them is "The Book Box" and, depending on our abundance or lack of resources for the year, can be quite full. We also have a stocking for each child but don't tend to stuff them. It's a nice way to appease mom and dad's desire to give just a little bit more.

Once the three gifts are opened, the kids enjoy watching mom and dad open our gifts. Everyone then settles into a chair with new books or on the floor with the little ones. As I said, surprisingly quiet and definitely enjoyable.

I do know and and admire families who do less than we do. I also know families who have the children choose an unopened package to donate to families who have less. There are so many beautiful ways to put Christ first and limit the focus on stuff.

What are some of your traditions that help keep Christ at the center of your family's focus? 
Posted on November 24, 2010 and filed under "Catholic Christmas", "Christmas".