The Fat Red Creep

Image result for creepy santa royalty freeChristmas gift giving can be the source of stress, disappointment, marital discord, or surprise and joy. Often it is all these things wrapped in one holiday, with a big bow on it. When I was growing up, we opened our family presents on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day was reserved for stockings from Santa (funny how even typing that, my fingers first typed “Satan.”) As I recall, Santa wasn’t a top biller, and he didn’t give presents–just candy in stockings. Parents, the people who actually knew you and cared about you, gave presents–not some random weirdo who lived like a hermit in Superman’s ice cave. Santa was like the bad grandparent, plying you with sweets to keep you quiet, not caring about things like Type 2 Diabetes or what you really wanted for Christmas.

As a youngest child, I suspect that my parents were simply over the extra prep involved by the time I rolled around. When I asked one innocent question about the logistics of flying around the world in one night at age seven, Santa was quickly discarded like last year’s ugly Christmas sweater. My sister and I used to enjoy mimicking Santa’s arrival with sleigh bells we would jingle above the heat intake so that our nieces and nephews sleeping in the basement would hear his reindeer and have a moment of magic. The next morning, they would chatter excitedly about having heard it, or the loud clomping sounds the jolly old elf made in the hallway above their heads. My sister loved making Christmas magical, probably in part because she still swears she saw a six foot tall Easter Bunny in our bedroom when she was twelve; the rest of us thought that was a suspiciously late age for such encounters.

Years later, when I had my own family, we had to decide what traditions to keep from each side. My husband’s family is much more celebratory than my own, and I had to adjust my inner Scrooge a bit to weather the change. A key difference was that Santa was suddenly front and center, a gift-giver, a real presence in the traditions. As a nod to my own family traditions, we opened all family gifts on Christmas Eve, and then we left out treats for Santa and sometimes his service animals, and had basically a whole ‘nother Christmas on Christmas Day, with an equally impressive set of wrapped gifts for each person and stockings filled not only with candy, but also with a few small wrapped gifts. The key difference was that Santa wrapped with different paper and wrote names in cursive (vs. my own easily read block letters–we don’t use gift tags, instead using a marker to write the person’s name on the wrapped gift). An unfortunate side effect of this tradition was that the kids were excited to get up early in the morning rather than our usual late sleep in. This Santa fellow was really cramping my style. Maybe that’s why some traditions have Krampus instead.

I pointed out early on that it was unfair that Santa was getting all the credit for our hard work, and also that it’s a weird idea that some stranger is invading your house leaving presents. Is this some sort of grooming activity? Shouldn’t we be on guard? The Grinch made sense–he took presents which is more likely for a house breaker. We took to privately referring to Santa as the Fat Red Creep or FRC for short. I would secretly make sure that the best presents were given on Christmas Eve.

As our kids got older, from adolescence to adulthood, we’ve continued our Christmas Eve tradition for family gifts. We usually attend an extended family gift exchange with food traditions the day after Christmas, and the kids look forward to seeing their Utah cousins, although as Phoenicians (and as ex-pat Singaporeans) they never seem to have appropriate winter attire.[1] When we lived overseas, Christmas break usually meant a longer family trip somewhere (Australia and New Zealand the two years we were there), so we would just pick a day to do family gifts, and on the actual holiday we’d be somewhere else, like the Great Barrier Reef or Key West. Travel beats presents in our book.

What about your traditions? Have they shifted from the family you were raised in to the one you raised or stayed the same? How do you feel about Santa–magical elf, arbiter of children’s wishes, exploiter of small workers, or Stranger Danger? Who gives the best presents in your house–parents or Santa?

Please share!

[1] I’ve had to explain annually that a hoodie is not a coat.


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    Growing up the Santa gifts, unwrapped under the tree, were always the very best gifts. Christmas morning the kids lined up at the top of the stairs and were led one by one to the tree and their special gift. (Family gifts were wrapped.)

    I grew up in a family were gifts were unwrapped one at a time so we could all see what everyone got. When I got married, my wife had grown up in a family where opening gifts was an every man for himself melee that was over in minutes. Since my tradition meant a lot to me, in our house we did it my way, but then in the afternoon when we had Christmas dinner with her family, they did it their way, which seemed like a good compromise.

    As our kids got older eventually we stopped doing Santa gifts, because the kids tended to get fewer and more expensive gifts and we wanted them to have more to unwrap.

  2. For us, stockings are what are there to amuse/feed you until the parents are ready for Christmas morning. Small presents, fruit, little things to get us somewhere near sunrise.

  3. Kind of with Kevin here. While growing up, the Santa gifts were generally unwrapped and the coolest stuff (train around the tree!). As a kid, the wrapped stuff started to appear the week before Christmas. This led to great guessing games or stealth attempts to unwrap-rewrap. Loved that. My wife did not, however, so wrapped gifts only appeared on Christmas morning after our kids came along. Consequently, sometimes some wrapped gifts got labeled from Santa too. We generally do the one at a time opening, though when several families are involved on Christmas morning, that often degenerates some.

  4. Santa’s presents were always the good ones, and were unwrapped. One Christmas I was up first, and saw what Santa had left me, and what he had left my brother. Thinking that nobody would know the difference–because Santa, right?–I swapped my brother’s present for mine. I liked it more than what Santa had left for me. It took years for me to figure out how my parents knew which present Santa had really intended to give each of us.

  5. A couple years ago about this time in December we were working at homework and projects with Christmas music playing when Santa Claus Comes To Town came on.

    Mid-song, our 10 yr old daughter (A) looks up and declared, “He knows when I’m sleeping, he knows when I’m awake? Santa sounds like a real creeper if you ask me.”

    To which our 5 year old daughter immediately quipped, “Well, I guess we can plan on heating the house with A’s gifts from Santa this year!”

    Santa is still a big part of our house given the age ranges. We have on many occasions had an uncle call on Christmas Eve pretending to be Santa to ask if the girls have been good and whether he should still plan on stopping by. In the day of iPhones these days we have to think ahead and make sure to change this uncle’s contact name to Santa. We forgot to do that one year and almost blew the whole charade.

    The children only get to open one gift on Christmas Eve and usually that is an ornament (we give them one every year – call it part of the “hope chest” collection for their future) or else new PJs.

    We make a big deal about leaving food for Rudolph and Santa with notes welcoming them to our house – which I happily munch on later in the evening and then craft a hasty reply on the back of one of the notes.

    Stockings in the morning are intended to buy us parents time before getting up at a reasonable hour.

    We then throw on The Messiah, cook ebelskievers and Christmas Salad (grapefruit, orange, pomegranate and sugared mint) before engaging in a round robin of present opening which is a combination of parent and Santa gifts. He gets special paper.

  6. I got to open one gift on Christmas Eve. It was always a book and it was so I would read until the rest of the family got up and got moving. My parents (and teenage sisters) were not interested in an early Christmas morning :-) All gifts were wrapped in our family and I don’t recall any consistency on if the big gift came from my parents or Santa – gifts were just so exciting any way we got them.

    We do still wrap all the gifts but we take turns opening. Depends on the gift whether Santa or parents get credit. We do love Santa and he will bring you presents no matter how old you are as long as you believe.

  7. Geoff - Aus says:

    Christmas is a very different holiday in Australia and NZ. The school kids and workers have their summer holidays, 6 weeks for kids and 4 weeks for workers. So summer activities like camping, and beach going, and visiting rels.We also have cricket in summer. Traditionally a test match starts on boxing day. This year there is a 5 day test against England, starting on boxing day.
    There are socks left out for santa to fill, and later, when the extended family has gathered we open the presents under the tree. Now that our grandchildren range from 10 to 25, we usually arrange secret santas, as there are too many to buy for otherwise.
    In our family we each unwrap our presents separately, so we can all share in the enjoyment. We have a tradition of all calling “put it on” if someone gets an item of clothing.

  8. Geoff-Aus, my FB memory feed is reminding me that a scant 6 years ago, we spent our Christmas Day at Fitzroy Island on the Great Barrier Reef. After a day of snorkeling and diving off an ocean trampoline, we had peanut butter & jelly sandwiches at a picnic table for our Christmas feast. It was a fantastic way to spend the holiday!

  9. As a kid, presents from and to each other started to gather under the tree as they were wrapped and delivered. Part of the anticipation of Christmas was watching the pile grow (with ten people in the house it could be substantial). Santa brought unwrapped presents on par with, if not cooler than, anyone else’s and filled the stockings. Nothing was opened until the 25th, but with Santa’s presents unwrapped, if afforded kids the opportunity to figure out what belonged to whom before jumping on mom and dad’s bed to wake them up and get the show on the road. After dinner our Christmas tradition was to go target shooting.

  10. My parents were immigrants to the U.S. They came from a nation, where children don’t worship Santa like they do here.

    They worked extremely hard to earn money and make it in this counrtry. As a result, they didn’t try too hard to feed my illusion that Santa bought me toys.

    At age 5, in my Santa enthusiasm, I tried to unlock the door on Christmas Eve, since we didn’t have a chimney, and I needed to give Santa a way to get in the house.

    My mother’s response was hell, no, were we going to leave the door unlocked and risk having some weirdo sneak into our house.

    It is funny to me now…how little effort my parents made to keep the illusion going.

    Anyway, Christmas today with my teen–we eat great food and do a volunteer thing that means a lot to the people. I don’t give him gifts. After Thanksgiving, we go shopping together, and he picks out stuff he likes. I buy it and tell him it’s for Christmas. So Christmas Day–no pressure, no unrealistic expectations. We just relax.

    We don’t think about Santa at all. I have a hard enough time remembering to thank God for it all.

  11. I don’t like Santa getting all the credit, either! My niece has anxiety and for her first couple years they put a note on the door for Santa to leave the presents on the porch and not enter the house. Still made her anxious, so they just took her the truth.

  12. As a child in my family, Christmas Eve we opened one presnt from my parents, which was always pajamas or something like that, then Christmas morning we opened up wrapped presents from my parents as well as what Santa brought, which was anything that would fit in a stocking. Our Santa brought things like crayons, coloring books, and festive socks

    In my husbands family, all of the parent’s gifts were opened on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas morning the kids would come out to see their gifts, unwrapped, arrayed on couches and chairs. Their Santa brought things like video game systems and dollhouses.

    Our combination is that Santa brings one gift, and we try to make it whatever she asks Santa for ((this year it is a bow and arrow). It is unwrapped, on the couch with her stocking, which contains some other small toys that fit in stockings. Mom and Dad get all the other stuff for her, as well as the credit for it.

  13. I could do without Santa at all, wife disagrees though. So Santa gets to fill the stockings and I try not to roll my eyes too much when he shows up at ward Christmas parties. When the kids ask about getting something from Santa I always say/ask “Santa is fine, but where do all good gifts come from? Who do we thank for all we have?”

    I don’t ruin the idea of Santa in my kids, but I don’t encourage it either. They all move on from Santa between 6 & 8.

    I might start using FRC too.

  14. My mother was adamantly against Santa. To her, if she lied to me about him, then by the time I was a teenager I would be convinced she had lied to me about God. I was very disappointed at the time. But honestly for only one reason — my friends who believed in Santa got more and better presents.

  15. My husband’s family didn’t celebrate Christmas (JW mom, and dad whose family just didn’t celebrate much of anything).
    Growing up in my family, we got a mix of gifts from our parents and Santa, and at least one each from Mrs. Claus, the elves, and even the reindeer. Our cats, naturally, got new toys and treats from Santa Paws.

    With our family, Santa gives our oldest son one present and the rest come from us. I got to thinking last night that we didn’t get the youngest (<1) a present from Santa, just from us, and I'm sure the oldest (4) will wonder why his brother didn't get a present from Santa. If he asks, I'll tell him that, since his brother can't tell Santa what he wants yet, we'll get him something until he's old enough to tell Santa what he wants.

  16. We’ve never done Santa, instead we have three gifts like the wise men, a book, a toy, something to wear. Plus stockings and Christmas Eve pjs and sibling gifts–and it’s always plenty! Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas today.

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