Prompt: What were your favorite gifts, both to receive and to give? Are there specific gift-giving traditions among your family or ancestors?
For many years – since fairly early on in childhood, really – my favourite gifts have been books. Whether I’m giving them or receiving them, there are always books at Christmas. It’s the librarian in me. In fact, I probably have enough books to start my own library! The problem these days is actually finding time to read the ones I’m given. I have only a couple of books on my Christmas wish list this year because I’m still working on reading some of the ones I was given last Christmas, and the one before, and the one before that. Having children has really slowed down my reading! I also almost always give books as presents at Christmas – and this year will be no exception.
There aren’t really any specific gift giving traditions in our family. We have a ‘gift-opening tradition’ in that we tend to do stockings first thing in the morning, have breakfast, and then open the rest of the presents. It also tends to be just the more immediate family we exchange gifts with and not the wider, extended family. By the time I came on the scene our extended family was large enough that while we would get presents from our grandparents, gifts were not given between members of the various families. There were just too many aunts, uncles and cousins to make that feasible. It really was enough to just get together and celebrate.
I have started one tradition with my children – every Christmas Eve they get a new pair of pajamas. It’s only been a few short years for this tradition, mind you, but this year’s pajamas have been purchased and washed and are just waiting for the big day!
Excerpt from Where the Saints Have Trod, Judith St. John, 1974 (Oxford University Press). The book is based on the author’s childhood memories (ca 1914-1924). She was my great-aunt.
“It was still dark when the alarm sounded. It was morning. “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas.” Everyone shouted the greeting as loudly as possible. In a twinkling my brother, Elizabeth and I were racing downstairs for our stockings. I let the other go first in case Santa Claus had not found us in the new parish. But he had come all right! Our stockings were bulging. The tree looked like a fairyland tree in the faint light.
“ ‘He found us. He found us.’ We all climbed on to the big bed in my mother and father’s room. Aunt Rhoda came, too, wrapped in a blanket. The things in our stockings were a great surprise to everyone. A red candy apple, a little candy donkey, a toy watch, a puzzle, nuts, raisins, candy, figs, dates, a shining apple, and in the toe, a fat, bouncing orange. When all our treasures had been unpacked, we sang our jolliest Christmas songs, beginning with “Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas bells”. I thought Santa Claus had never been so generous.”