I recall Christmas mornings from my childhood as frenzies of junk-food, wrapping paper, giant stockings, and toys galore followed by the depression of "nothing left to open" by around 8:15 AM. My siblings may have differing memories... I welcome their thoughts on the subject. Christmas in my home these days has grown out of that, but in a reactionary way. I feel that any tradition not conducive to happiness is actually a bad habit. Thus Sandra and I have arrived at a system for pacing the materialism and gluttony, tempering it with some actual loving kindness and a spirit of giving rather than getting. We start with "Christmas Morning Surprises" at 7:00am. The stockings (Giant! These suckers are four feet long when stuffed! Tradition!) are laid out with treat food (sugared cereal serves as nicely bulky filler) and stocking-stuffer-ish stuff. This year it was dollar-store toys and Nintendo-themed t-shirts. The other surprises are the gifts that Sandra and I (and in some years generous Schlockers) have provided for "the kids" rather than a specific child. Lego sets, craft kits, movies, and video games are laid out unwrapped for gleeful discovery. There is no mention of Santa Claus. My kids know and have always known that Santa Claus is a game we play when we don't want anybody else to know who is giving the gift. The absence of the formalized up-on-the-housetop mythos is not felt at all. The kids have a great time without the Fat Man. They are also more inclined to be grateful, because they know that Mom and Dad provided this stuff. They look up at us with bright eyes and say "thank you!" The kids tear into their stockings and the array of family gifts while Sandra and I make breakfast. It is then decreed (often loudly, because their attention is hard to obtain) that we won't start the gift exchange from under the tree until everyone is dressed and fed. The gifts under the tree are handled much differently than they ever were when I was a child. The gifts are sorted into piles at the feet of each of us, but the piles are sorted by who the gift is FROM. Then we begin with the youngest, and somebody roots through their pile to find a gift they're giving to him. On to the next youngest, same drill. Everybody gets to give, and we open everything one at a time, pausing for reaction shots, thank-yous, and lots of hugs. There are lots and lots of hugs. My kids love each other, and with some help from Sandra and I they've gotten pretty good at picking gifts for each other. (Okay, the help mostly comes from Sandra.) Last up, we start distributing the gifts that were sent to us from relatives. And then finally, last of all, I sneak Sandra's new laptop out of my office. Hah! And she thought the delivery I'd been hoping to hide from her hadn't arrived yet. Boo-yah! Who is the king of Christmas Stealth? Daddy, that's who. The gift exchange runs until about 10:00am, and the rest of the day runs far, far more smoothly than I ever remember Christmas Day running as a kid. Oh, sure, there will be a tantrum or two, but we get one or two of those every day anyway. I'm not entirely sure how we arrived at the tradition we currently employ, but I sure like it. My kids know what they got for each other, and they celebrate the giving as much as they revel in the getting. I hope the season has held some of that for all of you, regardless of the traditions you follow or the creeds to which you adhere: celebrate giving things, and when you revel in getting stuff, be sure to say thanks. And give a hug. A big one.