Duelling Gift-Bringers: Reconciling Overlapping Traditions

The Christkind was here!

It’s the twenty-fourth of December. Three generations are gathered around the piano in the family room singing Christmas carols. Light from the windows illuminates soft flakes falling silently to the ground. Just as silently, unnoticed by the youngest in the room, grandmother and grandfather exit the room. A while later—no one can recall exactly how long; time seems suspended on this most anticipated evening of the year—young ears pick out the ringing of a bell. The music stops and there is a rush for the door. Small feet pad down the hallway, eager hands throw open the living room door and wide eyes take in the splendour of a decorated tree lit with candles where once the sofa had stood, at its base a pile of wrapped gifts—the Christkind has come!

I love this time of the year, and when I moved to Austria years ago I quickly came to appreciate the Christkind tradition. While there are many variations, in my extended family the Christkind is responsible for all gift giving. Every package under the tree is wrapped, and they all come from the Christkind. This elusive being is also responsible for decorating the tree in some circles, though in our case that’s something the kids get to do on the afternoon of December 24. Except lighting the candles—that remains the Christkind’s purview.

I like the idea of an incarnation of the infant Jesus bearing all gifts. By keeping the gift giving in the family, so to speak, rather than outsourcing it to, say, Santa Claus, the celebration of Christmas has the potential to be more closely linked to the teachings in John 3:16 and Moroni 7:24. For anyone concerned about preserving the meaning Christmas, the Christkind tradition offers a way to recenter the festivities on Christ.

However, a couple of years ago I realized that there is a downside to the notion of the Christkind being the bearer of all good things.

The realization came the year I decided my daughter was old enough to start thinking about presents for other people. “What should we get Mama,” I innocently inquired. “But I thought the Christkind brought Mama presents?” Oops. So I hemmed and hawed and left it at that. It hadn’t occurred to me that by making a miracle out of the entire gift-giving process, it sidelines the role young believers in the gift-giving process. That is an advantage to the Santa Claus tradition where gift giving is split between mere mortals and an unseen, prescient being. Surely thinking of others is a key part of the holiday too, and by sharing responsibility for gift giving, everyone gets to participate without suppressing the magic of a few surprises under the tree on Christmas morning for those who look forward to that.

In the meantime, we’ve decided that independently of what the Christkind has in store for each of us, we also exchange homemade gifts. We haven’t outsourced the Christkind’s role; we just complement it with modest gifts that come from the heart. And, reflecting a kind of commitment to non-overlapping magisteria, my daughter happily accepts that in some families the parents are the gift givers without negatively impacting her belief in the wonder of the Christkind. It’s a delicate balance, but one that I think will hold one more year.

Have you found yourselves in a similar position of having to reconcile family traditions as families merge and grow?


  1. The conflict my spouse and I are having right now is that my spouse is still paying for the gifts that the kids give to others, and I feel that they should be using their own money. It’s great that they can give others cool gifts, but I don’t think that they are internalizing gift giving when it comes with virtually no effort on their part.

  2. Could they make candy or cookies for their friends? It’s cool to be a ‘foody’ these days, and a rare treat to be given such amazing treats. I made crackers for cheese this year with, with chili, sesame and nori flakes. Impossible to buy such a thing, more of a grown up thing though. Nicely presented, little late now though!

  3. Jader3rd: we’ve run into this with cousin gift exchanges. We made our kids earn the $$ and the cousins were giving much pricier gifts, bill footed by parents. Made me crazy because originally the dollar amount for gifts was really low, with the impression that the kids should be learning how to give at a young age.
    As for Santa or other traditions of gift giving, that has also made me crazy. The kids think that Santa is going to give them a bundle of gifts AND then mom and dad will drop another bundle. Except it’s the same wallet! I was very happy when The Polar Express movie came out and each kid only had ONE gift from Santa in the movie. I was glad when my kids clued into who Santa is at a younger age and I could dispense with all of that. We can enjoy the magic of the Christmas season, focus on the Savior’s birth, and enjoy each other’s company, forgoing all the commercialism!

  4. I’ve never really cared about Santa, but I know people have FEELINGS about it…but honestly, I know too many people who have seriously questioned the existence of God, as well, when they find out that Santa isn’t real. In one case, this person literally cites that as the moment they became an atheist. So I feel pretttttty cautious about saying that gifts are from anyone other than the people they’re really from.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    When I was a boy our best gift was unwrapped from Santa and the wrapped gifts were from family members. We followed that pattern with our own kids, but at some point as their gifts became more expensive and therefore fewer we skipped the Santa part and wrapped everything.

  6. We are Christ’s hands on earth. It works.

  7. jader3rd–thinking of what to give people is not “no effort.”

  8. @Kristine, the greatest amount of effort that the kids need to overcome when being unleashed in the Walmart toy section to pick a gift for their siblings is to overcome the hurdle of mom saying “Do you really think your sibling would like that, or is that really for you?”
    So yes, technically there’s effort, but it’s certainly no sacrifice.

  9. Growing up my family tradition was the same as Kevin’s. And growing up all the best gifts came from Santa. Since Santa gifts come first, the day is downhill from there.

    So my wife and I changed it up a few years ago. We decided the journey is as important and the gifts. So kids decide and buy nominal gifts for each other. Santa brings 1-2 presents which are wrapped in different paper from family presents. We open the small Santa presents and small stocking treats. Then we have breakfast. Then we let the kids spend time with the Santa presents. Later in when the cadence feels right, we open the family presents.

    We decided the point of the day is spending time together. So we spread out the presents in hope that the in between time is spent enjoying each other’s presents together. This year it worked really well. The morning was spent playing Barbie, legos, and navigating a new drawing tablet. The afternoon was spent on a puzzle and learning how to play with our shiny new Nintendo switch together.

    I also kind of dislike Santa taking credit for things. Sometimes anonymous gift giving is appropriate but sometimes it’s also nice to share the origins of how the gift came to be, and acknowledge the thought and effort appropriately.

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