When do you open them? For us it’s at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning. I trim the tree with fresh roses while the kids are in bed. I hang the candles. The Christ Child finds himself in the manger and the children wake up to a single candle burning on our Christmas tableau. The cloth has turned from blue to red and they know it is time. We’ve had Christmases where I’ve managed to create a trail of candles from their bedrooms to the living room and they are guided in the darkness towards the candlelit tree. We sing some carols and tell a Christmas story and then we open presents.
Each home has its own tradition. Others open presents even before the day, one present at a time . I don’t do this because I like to live into Advent as much as I can, which is a period of restraint and waiting. In today’s materialistic world, I think this might be the single most important gift I can give my children–to learn to wait patiently, to feel what it is to journey towards something with equanimity. I do not want them to grow up feeling that the season is just about one day and that the day is all about receiving, receiving, receiving, and that we can alter the dates as we please. We wait, we prepare, we look at our Advent table daily and see what has occurred. We take in the changes patiently. Everyday the images tell us something and we know that something unfolds towards the actual opening of presents. My children always check to see if the Christ Child is in the manger, then they know their time for receiving and giving has arrived.
No matter what else happens outside, no matter the images the commercial-material world hurls at us, I know that I have created a little womb of light at home where the gifts are not just the ones you find under the tree.