My family has a tradition for opening our Christmas gifts that makes the fun last longer, reduces chaos, increases our appreciation of each gift, helps us remember to thank gift-givers who are present, improves our ability to make an accurate list of who got what from whom (as a reference for thanking givers who aren’t present), calms down that “Gimme gimme! What’s next?” feeling, and helps us share each other’s joy. It works wonders, and it’s really simple!
One person at a time is opening a gift. Everyone else is watching. The youngest person goes first, then the next youngest, and after everyone has had a turn we go around again. Sure, there may be some distractions as the person next in line is seeking another package with her name on it, other people are still investigating their previously opened items, and conversation may be on other topics . . . but our main focus is on the gift now being opened and the recipient’s reaction.
Obviously, the larger your Christmas gathering, the more time this takes! In my experience, the maximum number of people who can keep taking turns until all the gifts are open is 5, maybe 6. [UPDATE: Now that our family has grown and we’ve had more experience, we’ll say that maximum is 8.]
With a bigger group, do one or two rounds of taking turns; then hand each person a gift, open all at once, and “Show us what you got!” before moving on to the next batch.
What if the number of gifts isn’t even? It sounds awkward for some people to be opening more gifts while the others are done, but it isn’t really any more awkward than when you open gifts free-for-all style and some people have more or open theirs more slowly. The first person to run out of gifts addressed to him alone gets to open a gift addressed to him and someone else. People who are done opening can distribute gifts, begin to clean up the wrappings, hotten up everyone’s coffee, play with their gifts, or just sit back and enjoy watching the others. It’s only when the number of gifts is very uneven that it gets upsetting.
We didn’t start using this method until I was a teenager, so I wasn’t sure how well it would work with a young child. It’s been great! Even at the Christmas when Nicholas had just turned one year old, he was happy to wait his turn because he had new toys to play with! He’s almost six now, and I think that growing up with this tradition has given him a deeper appreciation of both the gifts he gets and the pleasure of seeing others unwrap gifts he gave, compared to the typical American kid. At his birthday parties, when he’s the only one unwrapping, he examines each gift in some detail before moving along. It really helps to get Christmas off to a good start, though, if the first gift you hand to a young child is one you know will really interest him–not a boring pair of socks or something like a DVD that can’t be experienced until later.
Another tip for success is to eat breakfast first! Unwrapping by this method takes a while, and if people start to get hungry and light-headed and grouchy, it won’t be fun anymore! In my family, we open stocking gifts as soon as we get up (early risers are allowed to do this while waiting for others to get up), eat breakfast, and then open the wrapped gifts. We also go to church on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day so that there’s no pressure to finish unwrapping in time for church.