To Wrap or Not To Wrap – Christmas Traditions


Christmas Eve 5 years ago. Our son was three and a half and we knew that this year he would remember what happened on Christmas. It had to be perfect.

It was late and the kids were fast asleep. I sat down to start getting Santa’s gifts ready. I was surrounded by bags when my husband walked into the room.

“Where is the wrapping paper and I will help you”? He said.

“I would love some help, thanks”.

“Okay, so where is the wrapping paper”?

“There is a little down stairs, why”?

“To wrap the gifts.” he said.

“What gifts”. I said, concerned.

“From Santa”. He responded.

I laughed, “What? Santa doesn’t wrap his gifts”. I said.

“Yes, he does”. My husband said.

“OH. NO. HE. DOESN’T”. I said.

“OH. YES. HE. DOES”. My husband said.

And so it continued, for the next FIVE hours, into the wee hours of the morning. We went back and forth and back and forth and back and forth over this Christmas tradition.

You see, when Santa came to my house as a child, gifts were not wrapped. They were set out by child and each of us had a special spot in the room. My gifts were on the chair, and my brother’s gifts shared the couch. The small gifts in our stockings were sometimes wrapped, but the main gifts from Santa, THEY WERE NEVER WRAPPED. SANTA DOESN’T WRAP GIFTS.

My husband completely disagreed. In his house growing up, Santa wrapped everything.

How silly. That didn’t even make sense to me. Still doesn’t for that matter. Never the less, that was my husband’s tradition and he wanted to see it carried on to our family as badly as I wanted to see my Santa tradition carried on.

I had dreamed of the day that our kids would run down the stairs to see their gifts on display.

My husband and I don’t scream and yell at one another when we disagree, and we didn’t that night either, although we got close. Really close. I can tell you there was a lot of crying (by me), and going to bed at 4 am on Christmas Eve does not make for a very enjoyable Christmas Day.

We argued our cases and the more I cried (I mean talked) the more I realized how strongly our beliefs stemmed from our traditions growing up.

We were at a stand still. No one wanted to move. How could we, you don’t challenge Christmas Traditions. In fact, I didn’t even know I cared whether Santa wrapped his gifts or not until my husband challenged my tradition.

If we wrapped Santa’s gifts our kids would miss out on all the great Christmas memories I had growing up. I knew that what ever we choose that night would have to be the tradition forever. We couldn’t switch back and forth.

For most families November and December are filled with more family traditions than any other time of year. Traditions passed on through generations. Traditions that mean so much to us that we make sacrifices of time and energy, money and sleep, to make sure they happen.

You don’t dare mess with holiday traditions. In fact, for couples, compromising on holiday traditions brings more contention than money or intimacy. That is a lot of stress. Questions like,Β Where do we spend Christmas, do we open one gift on Christmas Eve, do we give matching pajamas to everyone in the family?

How can we ease the frustrations that come over holiday traditions?

Two things…

1. Talk about your expectations for holidays and traditions before they hit. Discuss what means the most to you and why. Remember, you are not the only one with traditions that you love. Your spouse has his/her favorites also. Talk about it in advance. It would have been a lot easier to talk to my husband about all of this in July, instead of on Christmas Eve.

2. Create your own family traditions. It is natural to carry on your family traditions. It is important. Research shows we take about 50% of what we did in our families growing up, with us when we get married. We just don’t want to get caught up in keeping score. Your traditions or mine.



At 4 am a settlement had been reached. Around 3:30 am, amongst much anguish, something hit me. I realized that my husband had never, ever fought for any of his family traditions before. Ever. Our family has carried on traditions my family grew up doing. My husband likes them, he is fine with that. But I realized that he had never cared enough to fight before. If it meant so much to him that he was willing to fight for it, then it was important we did it the way he wanted. In our house Santa now wraps his gifts.


  1. 1
    Rachel Obrokta says:

    In our house, Santa wraps presents. That was sweet of you to compromise after considering how much he cared about the issue.
    I love your suggestion to make a new family tradition of your own!

  2. 2

    Wow, I haven’t gotten to that point yet, but now it has me thinking what traditions I really do care about. I, too, like making your own traditions.

    By the way, in every Christmas cartoon and film I have watched, the most recent being Polar Express, presents were wrapped. :) As Santa Claus movie (or one of those newer non-animated movies) said, Mrs. Claus is the one who knows the exact wrapping paper that would be perfect for each child.

    Maybe one day Santa can forget to wrap presents because he ran out of time. πŸ˜‰

  3. 3

    This is post really hits home for me because me and my hubs had a Christmas tradition argument about Santa during a long drive home from a birthday party. I did not grow up believing in Santa and I didn’t miss out on the wonder that is waking up to find the milk glass empty and only cookie crumbs left on the plate I set out on Christmas Eve. I don’t want my daughter to think Santa brings gifts (not offense to anyone who has this tradition). I thought my husband agreed when he said that our child would never take a photo with Santa. Turns out he stills wants to her to believe in Santa. I don’t see the point. He says it’s part of the joy of being a child. um, okay, whatever. I proposed a compromise that Santa could be a bedtime story, but that she be taught that her parents and other family and friends buy her gifts.

    Maybe you and your hubs can find middle ground. “Santa’s” gifts are in the corner unwrapped. and gifts from other people (ie grandparents are under the tree in wrapping)

  4. 4

    What a great story about putting love and family first during one of the most stressful times of the year :) I’ve been lucky so far on the traditions in my marriage, but like you said, some traditions don’t even come to mind as important until they are right in front of you!

    In our house growing up, Santa wrapped most presents, and I don’t feel we missed out on any excitement by seeing a pile of mysteries underneath a tree. Santa used different handwriting (block lettering) and different paper (always with Santas on it) than presents from my parents.

    One benefit of this was that my parents always got to see each moment of surprise, even if they slept a tiny bit later – the rule was you could open your stocking at dawn, but tree presents must wait until mom and dad are up with coffee in their hands! It also helped control the chaos a little bit more with five kids.

  5. 5

    I am really interested to see which side gets the most votes in your comments. I grew up with all presents being wrapped and no stockings. but we didn’t really have any traditions? I mean sure we had santa and most of the time we would watch a christmas movie the night before christmas…but nothing like cookies or gingerbread houses or advent callenders. My boyfriends family did ALL those things and Christmas seems like a much more exciting thing to him than it was to me as a kid, even though I enjoyed it it wasn’t a month long thing that i will cherish forever, like his is. So I am really intrigued by all the traditions and hope to have tons when i start a family.

    My boyfriends family had gifts wrapped that were from his parents but unwrapped if they were from santa. They were’t just ‘not wrapped’ though they were actually put together or set up, if they were something that required assembling. SO everything was on display. I like it for a few reasons. One being, I can imagine how exciting it would be to walk into a room of brand new toys set up. Another being, I like how it makes it very obvious which ones are from santa and which are from mom. As a kid, I knew that some of the gifts were from my parents and others weren’t, but I never cared the morning of and so I don’t think I appreciated the fact that my parents got me stuff too, and I would like to highlight both sides of christmas – how magical santa is and how it is a time to give to others as well.

  6. 6

    Santa did not wrap the gifts when I was growing up; however, Santa wrapped the gifts in my husband’s house. When our oldest child was 2 my husband insisted that we wrap Santa’s gifts, so I told him to go ahead and he did. The next year Santa no longer wrapped the presents. :)

  7. 7

    I was an only child and Santa never wrapped my presents. My husband was one of three children, and I guess his household wasn’t as calm and orderly as yours, because he said Santa had to wrap their presents in order for everyone to know who got what.

    We both had wrapped presents to/from family members, except for what we got from my maternal grandmother. She had brown paper grocery sacks, one for each member of the family, with our names written very big on the side in magic marker. Inside we’d find toys and cute little novelties when we were kids. Getting older, we’d get practical gifts like toothbrushes and (embarrassingly) deodorant, yarn-wrapped clothes hangers, and lace doilies. We all laughed about the bags and made fun of the ones who got deodorant, but they created precious memories that will never fade.

  8. 8
    katklaw777 says:

    Half the fun of getting a present is unwrapping it…I can not even imagine a child seeing all their presents out in the open all at once!!! What an overload for the senses!
    Teaching a child to unwrap slowly and to appreciate the present is part of the whole deal.
    I also believe that if you have to wrap them you will buy less and that is a good thing too.
    We are trying something new this year at our house and wrapping our gifts in a more eco-friendly way.
    I am using cloth material that can be reused, Cotton shopping bags that can be reused for grocery shopping. I am using the comics which I have saved all year to wrap the kids gifts and paper bags for a country look.
    You were smart to figure out what you DH needed. I say leave ONE present unwrapped for them to play with or maybe a video that can be watched while everyone is waking up and getting ready.

  9. 9

    I grew up with Santa doing the same as at your childhood Christmases…each child (there were 3-5 of us, depending on how many foster children were there) had a small pile of gifts from Santa. Now, as an adult, we travel with our three children to spend Christmas with relatives…and we bring presents that are wrapped/bagged and “mislabeled” to conceal them during the trip, and then the presents (usually one per child) are unwrapped (and assembled, if needed) after the kids are asleep on Christmas Eve. However, it makes no real difference to me as long as I keep a careful list of what’s from Santa, and how it’s “mislabeled”! πŸ˜‰

  10. 10

    Great post! Am new toyour blog and think its fantastic!

    As a child and now with my own children we have a mixture of both. Santa leaves his presents in piles in different spots for each child(wrapped) but a big toy or something that may need setting up will be beside the pile ,unwrapped and if needs be set up. Children find the setting up so difficult on xmas morning and I always think there is a very likely possibility of small parts being lost.

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