When to Give Christmas Gifts?




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This might sound like an odd question, and possibly is. I mean we all have our traditions and so most people just know when to give Christmas gifts, (after lunch on Christmas day right?) until that is you have a partner or friends whose traditions are different.

Different families have different traditions for when to give Christmas gifts, but typically it is done on Christmas day.

Gifts are given for a variety of reasons, including honoring Jesus’ birth and as a way to show appreciation.

It can be tricky to decide who to give gifts to and what kind of gifts to give. One way around this is doing a Secret Santa with friends or family members.

In my house growing up we found our Christmas stockings at the end of the bed on Christmas morning (a tradition which continued long after childhood), these were from Santa and could be opened immediately. Then you could choose 1 gift from under the tree to open in the morning (usually chosen very strategically) and the rest would be left till after lunch.

If we saw family and friends before Christmas sometimes we could open gifts we were given there and then, but for grandparents or any gifts that were given when we weren’t there they were placed under the tree to be opened Christmas afternoon.


My husbands family, however, opened all their presents Christmas morning with the slight distinction of stockings before breakfast and presents after.

Different Traditions

These two traditions were pretty easy to meld together. But what if your partners family gave gifts on Christmas eve? This is common in many countries and apparently practised by the royal family. And there are plenty of families who allow for one gift to be opened on Christmas eve whether it’s a special Christmas eve box, festive pyjamas or a gift from someone you’re not going to see on the day.

Some people save gift giving until the 12th day of Christmas, (or even spread it out for 12 days) while other traditions have gifts given as early as the 5th of December when children leave their boots or shoes out for St Nicholas.

And while some families will open gifts from other people as and when they are received others are pretty strict about saving them for the big day.

How early can you give out gifts?

Regardless of when you choose to open gifts as a family there are also likely to be people you will give gifts to that you don’t see on Christmas day.

You might give gifts to teachers or preschool teachers at school, should you leave it till the last day of the term or just the last week?

Do you give gifts to colleagues at the office Christmas party or just before you all head home for the holidays? For secret Santa gifts, a date is normally given well in advance. 

Is November too early to hand over a gift if you’re not sure you’ll see them in person before the big day. Or is it better to wait till after Christmas if you are planning to see them between Christmas and new year?

While you ponder these questions check out our gift wrapping tips and how to wrap your presents waste-free.

Why Do We Give Christmas Gifts?

Gift-giving or exchange is a practice seen in pretty much all corners of the world. The occasions where gifts are exchanged might differ and the expectations attached to them may vary but it’s still a part of life in all cultures. Buying, giving and receiving gifts is certainly part of the Christmas tradition in western society.

In fact, it can sometimes be hard to feel that Christmas is about anything other than gift-giving and consumption.

There are people who spend all year saving up to buy presents or buying gifts to spread the cost of Christmas, and others who spend the following year paying off the debt they’ve accrued in order to buy the necessary gifts and food for the festivities.

Although we might feel that gift-giving should be something that is joyous and spontaneous, an expression of thanks, friendship or love, there are definitely social obligations that come with getting people presents at Christmas. And if you get it wrong there can be consequences.

So why is Christmas a time for gifts?

From the Christian perspective giving gifts at Christmas can be explained in a number of ways.

Firstly the wise men travelled to bring Jesus gifts as a symbol of honour and respect. When celebrating Jesus’ birth we can’t give him gifts so we give gifts to others in a somewhat symbolic gesture of love and appreciation.

Secondly, Jesus’ birth is seen as a gift from God. So again gift-giving, especially to those who are in need reflects that Christmas is a celebration of the value of that gift.

In the Christian tradition, the origin of the gift-giver (Father Christmas) is often attributed to Saint Nicholas, a 4th-century Christian Bishop, who was a legendary secret gift-giver.

But gift-giving during winter festivities goes back further than Christianity and can equally be attributed to Roman and pagan faiths that pre-date the gifts given to Jesus by the wise men.

Origins of a gift-bringer in winter folklore and traditions pre-date Christianity and are more likely connected to the yule (midwinter) festival of Germanic paganism.

Modern Day Christmas Gift Giving

In modern times giving gifts has become a popular part of Christmas celebrations regardless of whether you are religious or not.

We give presents to loved ones, particularly children, gifts of thanks to teachers, customers, employees and service people, and charitable donations to those less fortunate than ourselves.

Undoubtedly, there is an element of social expectation that surrounds this gift exchange. It can be awkward to receive a gift from someone and not have one to give them in return, and hard to decide who to give Christmas gifts.

And it can be hard for children to understand why they might have fewer presents under the tree than their friends or than they did in previous years.

But ultimately hopefully we all give Christmas gifts with good reasons and accept them in the spirit they were given.

How do you decide who to give Christmas gifts to?

Christmas is coming and unless you are a child writing a Christmas list your gift list is more about figuring out who you are buying for and what you’re going to get them.

They probably make the list if you have kids, especially if they’re still children. But beyond that who do you have on your Christmas list?

Personally I love gift-giving and really enjoy buying presents for people I love and appreciate. The thing is I always wish I had more money to spend, and I often fall into the trap of buying token gifts for people because I feel I should buy them something rather than because I’ve genuinely found something I think they’ll love.

And that’s one of the trickiest things about writing that Christmas list. There are always people you want to buy for that you probably shouldn’t, and people you feel you should buy for that you probably don’t want to.

Keeping the list manageable

A few years ago my family decided that instead of all buying each other gifts we would do a family secret Santa.

Children were not included and you could obviously still buy your partner a gift but otherwise, each person was allocated one person to buy for with a budget of up to £40. So instead of having 10 people to buy gifts for I had 1 (or 2 if you add in my husbands pick).

I’m not going to lie I struggled with this slightly, especially as I had already bought gifts for my sisters. But overall it was a great idea and a great way to cut down on both pressure and budget. And much nicer than simply saying no gifts as we all had something to open on Christmas day.

This is also something you could do with friends, and even suggest your children do with their classmates. Having an agreed-on budget also stops any social awkwardness around value.

Obligatory gifts

The likelihood is we all have people on our Christmas list that aren’t family or friends. Teachers at school, the postman or bin men, the lovely lady next door that always buys a present for your cat, your boss, the work secret Santa etc.

Or people that are friends or family but you only buy for because they buy for you or your kids.

Gift giving seems to come with a set of unwritten rules that determine who we buy for and how much we spend. We all have these rules inside us, trouble is they are different for everyone.

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