As much as I hate to admit it, my kids were so bad at peeking at their presents that it forced me to create “family traditions” to keep them honest.
While I’m confessing faults here, I can’t write this without admitting one thing: I peeked at my presents one year when I was a kid. It’s been so long, I don’t remember how I was given the opportunity. Maybe my mom was napping– or outside. Nevertheless, I had the time to unwrap, take a peek, and rewrap the presents I was most intrigued with.
I say only once because, in fact, it did only happen once. When Christmas morning came, and I opened all my gifts, the ones that I had already opened felt hollow. There was no surprise element. Instead, they were soiled with my guilt. Who needed a grinch? I had stolen my own Christmas.
My mother never said a word, but I could tell she suspected my crime against myself. Maybe she noticed that the tape peeled off with ease and didn’t rip the paper. Maybe she could see it in my eyes. Or maybe…she knew me.
I don’t think I actually caught my kids peeking. Instead, I heard rumors among the children that so-and-so had peeked. Then, one year, after Christmas I heard some of the children had bragged to the others that they were experts in peeking at presents and not getting caught.
To combat the battle of wills and wants, I began a new tradition. I stopped putting the Christmas presents under the tree. The tree stayed decorated, but the space beneath was completely empty until the morning of Christmas Eve.
Then one by one, they would appear under the tree all throughout the day. I spread it out over the course of the entire day. Then by sunset on Christmas Eve, the bottom of the tree was filled with presents. For the little kids, it was nothing short of Christmas magic.
This didn’t stop the Christmas ethic violations.
Those who had made a sport of peeking at their presents sharpened their skills the following year. I had just added the thrill of the hunt to the game.
One more layer of security was then put in place.
As I bought presents I would bring them home and wrap them — without tags. Only I knew which presents belonged to which child. Some years I used a dot system. Other years I color-coded the wrapping paper.
Once again, I upped the thrill of the game for the kids who were bound and determined to peek at their gifts. (Although I have to say, it did put a damper on it.) Very carefully opening up someone else’s present isn’t nearly as thrilling.
At the same time, for the rest of the children, it just increased the level of Christmas magic and surprise.
Update: All but two of my adult children admit they were notorious for peeking, and took that thrill into their adult years.