Don't Mess With Holiday Traditions - To Wrap or Not To Wrap

Christmas Morning 2009
Waiting to see if Santa came.

Christmas Eve 5 years ago. Our son was three and a half and we knew that this year he would remember what happened at 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.

That was the worst Christmas I have ever had. I woke up after only two and a half hours sleep, frustrated, hurt and still upset. I faked it all day long.

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, 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. 
The best thing to do, create some of your own traditions. Unique to your family. Traditions that don't belong to either of your families. New traditions just for you. 
For example... My husband spent a few years in Germany. His time there made a huge impact on him. It only makes sense that we incorporate some German Christmas traditions into our family. My parents don't do that. His parents don't do that. They are only our traditions. A challenge:  This year, establish a new family tradition, unique to you.



***An added note***
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. What a wonderful post! Santa wraps at our house. It had never even occurred to me that there was any other way it was done.
    The traditions that we began that are our own are 1. Black Friday is tree/house decorating day which begins with a special dinner in the early evening followed by Christmas music and decorating. And 2. Mommy makes a special Christmas breakfast buffet on Christmas morning with tons of breakfast goodies to choose from. These are just small things, and not really something unique but they are different from the traditions either of us grew up with and something that we really look forward to as part of our holiday celebrations.

  2. Hi there, Heather! Growing up both of us have had gift wrapped up, because of the kids' joy of tearing apart stuff to discover something even more exciting:) SO no disagreements over that one! But when it comes to where do we spent Christmas and New Yrar.. whole different story.. always gotta flip a coin for it:) ha ha I just found you on SITS and i am now following your lovely blog and it would be so nice if you could share the love back too:)
    And don't forget to check our Show Yo' Flow Campaign today to see the interview we have in Jocelyn and the amazing surprises she has for everybody:) See you there! Happy Wednesday!

  3. We didn't argue about it, but has several long discussions about wrapping or not and how many gifts Santa brought. In my husband's house, Santa only filled stockings and didn't bring any other gifts. In my house Santa gave just about everything and it was all wrapped (in addition to the stockings). We ended up going with our own version that sort of combined both of our perspectives. Santa brings mostly awkward to wrap/largish gifts (unwrapped, of course) and fills the stockings. Then another set of gifts are wrapped and come from mommy and daddy. It worked out to be a great I'm just wondering what happens when the kids trade notes at school???

    We also started a completely new one with the Elf on the Shelf which is adorable and my kids love finding him every morning. It's better than other countdowns we could think of like chocolates every morning!

  4. We agree to not even do Santa so thats solves our problems! ;-) Popping in from SITS.

  5. Ironically enough, Santa did not wrap gifts in my house growing up, but for whatever reason, I do for my children. I'm not even sure if it was something my husband and I decided or if I just started wrapping and have done so for the last 4 years! :) Oh, but let me add...Santa does NOT wrap the "big gift". Last year it was a Fisher Price Smart Cycle, that was hidden behind the tree. This year it's a bike (for Manuel) and that will not be wrapped.

    I have to agree that hubby and I having the SAME EXACT TRADITION, in regards to where we spend what holidays, every year has aleviated SO much stress and arguments! There is no question of where we'll be and when, because it's the same thing EVERY year! It really helps! :)

    Your children are ADORABLE! :)

  6. I have a similar story, Heather. Our first Christmas together, my husband and I flew to Phoenix to spend with his family. We had only been married 3 months and I didn't know them very well. I had developed a strong preference for one of his little nieces and so I had gotten her an "extra" present. Because I didn't want the other kids to know that I favored her, I put "from Santa" on the tag. My husband and his family were MORTIFIED that "Santa" had wrapped a present because Santa had never wrapped presents at their house. I was confused as I had never even considered that Santa didn't wrap presents! I definitely felt lonely and homesick that day! And learned an important lesson on making assumptions! I should have known better...I was already a practicing therapist!

    My husband and I spent a great deal of discussion on the topic on the plane ride home, and we came to the compromise that Santa would wrap gifts at our home, except for the large gifts, which would just get a bow. My husband has decided that he really likes them wrapped as long as he is not the one to do it! (His wrap job consisted of a brown paper bag when we married...he has since progressed to the gift bag!)

    Other traditions we have meshed and being without either of our families here in UT has allowed us to develop our own traditions!

    Thanks for sharing your dilemma...I definitely know it can cause huge conflict with lots of couples, myself included!

    Merry Christmas!

  7. In our house growing up Santa didn't wrap, but we did each have our designated spot. A neighbor friend spoiled Santa for me at a young age, so I just faked it from second grade on for my younger siblings. When my parents got divorced, Santa came to both houses and nothing was wrapped, but as we entered our teens it changed. Our spots at my mom's were designated by what santa brought to my dad's. When we got up Christmas morning, we each had a specific color of wrapping paper wrapped around my mom's Santa gifts. So technically we ended up getting both forms.
    Santa is very minimal at our house, because of so much love from grandparents we don't need a bunch of extra Santa gifts. Santa just brings a family game, a Christmas book, and a nativity; then the kids a couple of get unwrapped, unpackaged gifts in their stockings. (Because Santa makes the gifts at the North Pole and doesn't put them in plastic making it harder to start playing with them:) This way the kids experience the magic of Santa, but learn to appreciate family more; plus we are able to focus on the Nativity and the true meaning of Christmas:)

  8. We had the same fight the our first Christmas with kids. Santa wraps at our house but I still fight for no wrapping every year!

  9. It is so great to hear all of the different Santa traditions you have in your homes. Glad to know there are some other "non wrappers" out there too. Comforting.

  10. I'm pretty sure we always had one unwrapped santa gift (usually the bigger one), but not sure if it was ALWAYS that way.
    We now usually have one unwrapped (although this year they will be wrapped because kids are getting older and harder to hide things), and some stocking things are wrapped and some aren't. I guess we're causing confusing traditions by doing whatever :0

  11. honestly, i have no idea! some years we wrap, some years we don't. I know growing up that my presents weren't wrapped...and when my husband was growin up he was a Jehovah's Witness, so they had "Toy Parties" instead of Christmas. (He was baptized LDS at 11)
    We have started a few traditions taken from both sides of the family. Growing up we opened all of our presents from family and friends on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day was Santa. My hubby's family did all presents on Christmas Day, except for pjs.
    We have come to a compromise: we let the kids open a few gifts on Christmas Eve, including pj's and leave the rest for the next day. It was hard for me to come to that compromise, but I am so glad that we did. It works for our family.

  12. Growing up, Santa always wrapped his gifts. In fact "Santa" went so far as to use wrapping paper that was new, and had never been seen by the kids before. So it must have come straight from the North Pole! And "Santa" signed his name in a very special way on the name tags so we knew it was in fact from Santa. Usually the wrapping paper actually had pictures of Santa on it. Now that I'm typing this all out is sounds pretty crazy, but us kids loved it.

    I just can't imagine not unwrapping presents from Santa. Sort of takes the anticipation away, but to each their own :)

    1. I am so with this post. I have to discard extra paper so no one will think it is in our house regularly. LOL

  13. Santa does not wrap gifts! That's crazy talk. Luckily, Santa didn't wrap my husband's gifts either so we never had a problem. I can't imagine anything better than running down the stairs and seeing your own little pile of presents! So awesome. We would wake up at 3am, look at what Santa left and play for a bit, go back to bed and wake up the parents around 6 so we could open the wrapped presents under the tree. Bliss!

    We've never fought about family traditions. We have a few of our own that we've each brought, but there's room for everyone's traditions in our family. I'm just glad we've never fought on one of those that can't be compromised on.

  14. Good Heavens, that sounds just like my Christmas Eve last year, only I attributed my tears to pregnancy hormones. My oldest was 3 1/2 and I knew this was the first Christmas to really count. I didn't want to wrap them partly because I was large and lazy, and partly because Santa never wrapped mine. He just placed all our gifts by our stocking in a separate place in the room. My husband's Santa always wrapped their presents and put them under the tree.


    Our compromise was that Santa would wrap the presents in white tissue so they were wrapped in something different than all the other presents, but we place them by each individual stocking instead of under the tree like he did.

    I admit that I don't love it- but it works for us.

  15. LOL, we had the same discussion and for the same reason you did I gave in, after much discussion ;) We do however still put the kids presents (and ours too) in designated spots.

    Growing up my brother got one end of the couch and I the other at my grandma's house and I can still remember peeking around the stairs to see the piles before we were "allowed" to get up and open them. ;)

    This year my son is 3.5 and I honestly thought we were set when my husband came to me the other day and suggested that only the presents "out" of the stocking be wrapped (SOOO much easier) which I enthusiastically applauded. And this will be the first year that the two kids get anything from us for Christmas, one present wrapped under the tree from Mom and Dad. I'm just waiting to see what my son thinks, he has been talking about it for months already.

    And we too started the Elf on the Shelf last year and Brighty has been a very big help so far this month in helping curb behavior, I just have to say his name and the whining or grumping stops, miraculous!

  16. Lovely post! Santa wraps...but with "special" Santa paper like my mom did. I'm just waiting to blow it one year for my 3 kids! We all remember how we found out right? Well...I'm positive I will do something thoughtless and be the trauma behind their stories...sigh.

  17. Santa is a non wrapper here always has been. I actually had no idea Santa wrapped;) Similar in my house it is mostly my traditions. The only Christmas tradition Shane cared enough to fight for was a real Christmas tree and so I am enjoying the fresh scent of pine now and will every Christmas for the rest of my life.

  18. I believe Santa wrapped my presents as a child, but when Paul and I talked about what to do for our own children it was immediately clear to me that the non-wrapped presents were superior. In our home Santa brings each child the one gift he really really wanted (and requested while on the big man's knee.) That gift is unwrapped, assembled, has batteries it in, and is ready to go. All other gifts are wrapped (except those stocking stuffers) but the Santa gift is immediate and magical. I wouldn't have it any other way and it is the best tradition from his family that I have adoopted.

  19. What a great post! I have to admit, I haven't even asked my husband what he wants to do yet-he might feel strongly. His family wraps, but you are right. :) SANTA DOES NOT WRAP GIFTS. It's our first year at home doing Christmas our own way in 6 years of marriage and our oldest(4) is going to start noticing and caring. We also need to establish our own traditions. I would love to see a post on that. Unless you already did and I missed it.

  20. Stopping by for the first time from SITS. Loved this posts. It is so true. In our family we never questioned the wrapping of Santa gifts. We just always wrapped them. My brother however never wraps gifts from Santa. It was a tradition his fmaily started due to low funds and not wanting to wrap tons of gifts.

  21. Rach,
    Our son who is 8.5 is all about doubting this year. He is too logical to really believe something so fantastical. He hasn't lost the sprit, but the story, I think he might be over that. It is sad to me. My husband says it is no big deal. My husband also thinks Santa should wrap his gifts. Haha.

  22. ONe PiNK FISH,
    Funny how we never really question the tradition until we feel it is being challenged. Thanks for stopping by. I tried to find contact info for you, but your user profile was not available.
    Have a good weekend.

  23. santa NEVER wrapped his gifts for us either. with my kids we do it totally different. when my hubby and i were married one of our gifts came in a HUGE, i mean literally HUGE like can fit a human being huge, red bag. (we were married in the it was sorta weird, but whatever) We now use that as the santa bag and that is what santa puts all of the santa gifts in and then my husband pulls them out one by one on christmas morning fot he kiddos. We tell them Santa visited our house last and left the whole bag of toys for them!!!!

  24. Yes, Santa is a wrapper in our house. However, my sister-in-law started the tradition years ago (she was the first one to introduce grandchildren into the mix) that Santa's gifts are wrapped in plain red paper and written on with a big black marker. It pains my heart when I so carefully wrap my other gifts and embellish them with handmade gift tags.

    I grew up in Holland with St. Nicolas. He was a wrapper too. Happy SITS Day, enjoy the unwrapped comments today.


  25. Santa wraps in our house too : )
    I am glad you conceded.

  26. At our house we always had one big gift that wasn't wrapped but everything else was.

  27. Santa wraps in our house too. :-) We had discussions over when to read the Christmas story though. In our home it was always read Christmas Eve. In my husband's family it was read Christmas morning, followed by 30 min. of singing Christmas songs (before presents were opened). We compromised by doing it his way, though we kept my family's tradition of Christmas pajamas on Christmas Eve and we shortened the length of time singing...just 1-3 songs instead.

  28. Love this post, I've written one just like it! Hubby and I still haven't completely combined our traditions!

  29. You are so right, you need to figure it all out ahead of time. After years of fighting my husband and I sat down and planned the year's worth of holidays and who we'd spend them with. Much easier when the time came to it.

    Happy SITS Day!
    P.S. At our house some gifts get wrapped and some don't, but Santa always has the strings/wires cut in the boxes and batteries in the toys; much easier with little ones!

  30. Santa does not wrap his gifts. We started this tradition together based on some advice I read in a parenting magazine early on. That way our presents and Santa's presents are never wrapped with the same paper needing explanation.

  31. this was such an interesting post - found it from the SITS group. In my home, we didn't go the Santa route - we knew he was a nice kind man, but we were never told that he came and left us gifts. I mean, we understood that other kids thought so but we knew it was like a fairy tale. So we never had to worry about who wrapped gifts... but sooo interesting that you discovered this huge difference in traditions after being married for awhile - that has happened to my husband and I to. I was happy to see the resolution and really liked how you handled it, when you realized he was really fighting for something for once. My husband would be like that too - he always lets me have my own way, and so the FEW times he has resisted, I KNOW it is super meaningful to him!
    Great read!

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