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20-40-60 Etiquette: 3 hours to open gifts — oh wow!

[File art: Pexels]
[File art: Pexels]

QUESTION: Now that the holidays are over, I want to ask you all if everyone opens gifts together at a family gathering or one gift at a time? At my in-laws this year, my father-in-law insisted that everyone open the gifts one at a time. We were sitting there for three hours. My husband and I have a 3-year-old so it became harder to entertain him as the time went on. And we didn’t want to get up and leave as we did not want to hurt Papa’s feelings. Do you have any ideas about gift openings?

CALLIE’S ANSWER: That’s a loooong time to open gifts for anyone, adding a 3-year-old to the mix, yuck. Next year, be upfront with your papa. I’m sure he will understand; at one time, he had children, too. I would let him know that you might have to leave a bit early during gifts. Like two hours early. Good luck!

LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: That’s a lot to ask of anyone, especially a child that young. You must have a big family. It is hard to balance expectations (the grandparents’ in this case) with reality (the attention span of a toddler) during the holidays, and you are nice to try to accommodate everyone. It sounds like the grandparents wanted to enjoy the experience of giving to their grandchildren. Maybe in the future, if it makes things shorter, you can suggest that the children open their gifts and then go off to play. In theory taking the time to enjoy each gift is a nice way to model gratitude and giving; however, everyone has to be flexible and adjust according to the situation. There are other ways to express thankfulness and show the grandparents how much the children like their gifts. Hopefully, they will realize it was too long next year or you can discuss it with them ahead of time.

HELEN’S ANSWER: It is fun to see children opening the gifts that you brought, and if everyone is opening at the same time, you miss those opportunities. One at a time takes too long. Maybe all the children open the gift from grandmother at the same time, or from the aunt/uncle? At our house, we start out one at a time, but start opening more as time goes on and it just works out to be the right amount of time.

GUEST’S ANSWER: Kathy Walker, community leader: How fortunate you are to have so many gifts to open that it takes multiple hours to do so! Perhaps you could discuss with your father-in-law that Christmas gift-giving is usually focused on the excitement and joy of watching children opening their gifts. Depending on how many children are in the family, perhaps two children and one adult could open gifts simultaneously. Or, two adults and one child at the same time.

If my math is correct, this could cut the gift exchange and opening down to one hour. Do you think that could work for you? I’m sure your father-in-law might be able to handle a simple solution to help his grandchild and that child’s parents get some sleep after a long and meaningful day with the family in celebrating the birth of the Christ child.

Since 2009, Callie, Lillie-Beth and Helen have written this generational etiquette column. They also include guest responses from a wide range of ages each week. So many years later, Callie is 20-plus; Lillie-Beth, 40-plus and Helen, 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email

Helen Ford Wallace

Helen Ford Wallace is a columnist covering society-related events/news for The Oklahoman. She puts local parties online with daily updates. She creates, maintains and runs a Parties blog which includes web casts. She is an online web editor for... Read more ›