After my article, "Dealing with a Peculiar Family Tradition," about the Christmas Eve Gift game tradition was published in ROOTSWEB, Vol. 5, No. 51, 18 December 2002, I received a flood of emails from around the USA. It seems I had touched a chord with many others who practice this annual tradition in their families. The first morning I received 45 emails by noon, and by evening of the first day I had 72. Additional messages trickled in for days, and I've now received over 140 responses.
I've heard from many people that the custom has a connection with slavery days, the theory being that the slaves would shout out the greeting "Christmas Gift" and receive a coin or small gift. It seems to be a custom that was broadly practiced by families from the southern parts of the USA. I've learned about many variations on the theme, including a woman who's family gobbles like a turkey as a greeting on Thanksgiving.
I'm delighted by the notes I received from other people who's families also practice this custom. Most of them, like me, thought it was something weird that only their family did. Now we know that we are not alone in the world! I hope you enjoy reading the letters below, and learning something about the custom, and how other families play the game.
NOTE TO THOSE WHO PLAY THE CHRISTMAS EVE GIFT GAME: I should mention that I don't consider any of your feeble attempts at a premature "Christmas Eve Gift" to have scored! You'll have to try again on Christmas Eve day! And you'll find I'm not an easy mark! bwa-hahahaha!!!
Do you, too, have weird relatives who practice
the "Christmas Eve Gift" custom?
I'll post your comment on this page.
Email your comments to me at: Susan Buce
(Note: if you do NOT wish your email address, name, or city/state listed,
please let me know and I'll post only the text of your note.
If you provide a little useful genealogy information about your family,
I'll gladly post it with an email link back to you, but please
do not send me any information you don't wish to have published on the internet.)
The Smiths out of Tennesse also have this "bizarre" custom! I'm soooo glad we aren't the only weirdos out there!
Susan, This was played in my mother's family, too, and none of them ever lived in Oklahoma! She, her parents, and everyone back several generations were from Alabama. I don't know how far back the custom goes, though.
Just read your delightful story about your family tradition. My husbands family did Christmas gift on Christmas Day. This was in South Carolina. And, yes, as a young bride from Colorado it was years before I could remember to jump in. They are all gone now with the exception of my husband and I am sorry to say we did not keep up the tradition. You brought back good memories.
What a pleasure to read about your family game. My in-laws used to play the
game on Christmas Day, itself, not on Christmas Eve. Of course, they hollered
(or whispered) "Christmas Gift", not "Christmas Eve Gift",
but other than that the rules were the same, & yes, sometimes they "gifted"
people who thought they were nuts. Because it was not my birth family, I never
quite got into the game with quite as much enthusiasm as the birth family, but
I sure enjoyed watching them play. Unfortunately, my 1 st husband, his brother
& my parents-in-law all died when my kids were quite young & I never
really played it with my kids. I'm going to try to revive the custom & try
to get my oldest daughter to start it with her husband & my grandson. By
the way, my father-in-law was a "Drinkard" from Richmond, VA &
my mother-in-law was a "Moore" from Charlestown, West Virginia. I'm
not sure where they learned the game from, but I believe it was from the Drinkard
side. Merry Christmas & thanks for the memory.
You can't imagine how thrilled I was to read your Christmas Eve Gift article.
I thought my sister and I were the only people left playing. A little history....
My father grow up in Southern Alabama (coffee county). He was born in 1911 the
youngest of eleven children. His father was born in Pike County, Alabama in
1859. His father was born in Marion District, South Carolina in 1827. I was
born in Tallahassee, Florida 1954. So most of my Aunts and Uncles were well
over 60 when I was born. My aunt who was born in 1901 told me that this was
a game the whole farming community played because there wasn't money to buy
present. Like your article said this was a game that they all played very seriously.
People driving long distances to win. My sister and I still are very competitive.
I have lived in Saudi Arabia and we played even with the eight hour time different.
My kids are getting into the spirit but like you also said even after 20 years
my husband still doesn't understand. "Now why do you do this?" Thanks
for making my day!
I thought my mother's family was the only one on the planet that did this!
Although they were in GA from the 1830's until ~ 1900, they were in OK for about
30 years before returning to GA (though a large number are still in OK. You're
right that spouses are hard to warm to the game. <grin>. And my elder
aunt who died a couple of years ago played with more relish than anyone - always
answering her phone "Christmas Eve Gift" !! In my family, we actually
give Christmas Eve Gifts - exactly one gift - something small. For my immediate
family this has evolved into Pajamas/loungewear over the years and my kids and
grandkids know they'll get this every year. I love examining traditions and
thanks for sharing this one!
I was interested in your story on the Rootsweb page. I'm wondering where you
grew up. My father was from North Alabama, born in 1911, and he told that that
was something African Americans of that community would do to whites. Instead
of "Christmas Eve gift" it was "Christmas gift", and was
Christmas day. The one who was spoken to was supposed to buy a gift for the one who said it first. I'd love to know more about the origins of this custom!
I read your article in the Rootsweb Review and with interest your statement
about Oklahoma. My name is Rebecca Ramsey and my Grandmother was a Bruce. Grandma
was born in Indiana but moved to Oklahoma in the mid 1920's. By any chance do
any of these Bruce names look familiar to you?
b: 1816 in Pennsylvania
sp: Elizabeth MAISH
b: 1818 in Pennsylvania
b: Feb 28 1843 in Troy Township, Fountain County, Indiana
d: Feb 26 1922
sp: Anna "Jane" TRIBBITT
m: Aug 24 1865 in Carroll County, Indiana
3-William BRUCE - b: 1868 in Wabash, Carroll, Indiana
3-Charles BRUCE - b: 1873 in Wabash, Carroll, Indiana
3-Bert Monroe BRUCE - b: Apr 1 1873 in Rockfield, Carroll, Indiana
sp: Lydia Ann SHUEY
Thanks for the interesting letter published in ancestry.com newsletter. My
family too does the same thing. It has been passed down thru several generations
of my family, and now grandchildren are taking over. The granddad however usually
manages "by hook or by crook" to get almost everyone. Our children
and grandchildren all over the country are carrying on and loving it.
Ione Jones, KY.
It's not just your family! It's a very old Christmas tradition, especially
in the South! It was reported on before the time of George Washington, and it
was reported that it was the way gifts of coins were given by him to his servants.
It was common in families in the South to play this little game of greeting
one another first. C.H. Rollins used "Christmas Gif" as the title
for her Christmas anthology about African-Americans, but it was not solely an
My friend does this game too. She is in her sixties and is from Texas. Her
family has always done it. It was the first time I had ever heard of it.
I just read your "Christmas Eve gift" story, and just wanted to tell
you how much I enjoyed it. That is a delightful custom, and you have a wonderful
gift for storytelling. Thanks for sharing it.
My father told me about a variant of the same game. He came from Moore County,
North Carolina (Aberdeen, Pinehurst, etc. location). He learned from tenant
farmers who were descended from slaves that African-American slaves got up on
Christmas day and shouted "Christmas Gift" so the master would give
them a gift or, preferably, some time off that day. Thank you for your e-mail.
I will be interested in reading updates on your website. I think that you may
get a variety of explanations. Most folk customs have variants. I have not been
to Murphy for a number of years, but it is a pretty area except where Tenneco
Copper denuded the vegetation over the years, particularly around Ducktown and
Turtletown. The Middle Ocoee River is popular with whitewater rafters. I will
check your website again to see if you posted interesting feedback.
Sally MacLeod Owens
Wow, it is something to find someone else's family as normal as my family.
lol my family has done the Christmas eve gift thing since i can remember. lots
of fun when we can get the other person. i too have had to work on Christmas
Eve and answer the phone with that and the caller is silent for a minute and
then says what do I have to buy you a gift. but many times it is my family and
they are really upset that i got them first.caller id is really a help on that
date to see who is calling. my family comes from Texas so now we know Texas,
Tenn. and Ok have something in common. I think my father's family are the ones
that it came from. Henson side of the family from Ga. to Texas. thanks again
for letting me know ya'll do it too. but cannot remember what my dad said this
was all about. something about meeting people on the street on Christmas Eve
and wishing them a Christmas Eve Gift or a blessing on that day. if you find
out any other information please let me know.
merry Christmas to you
Enjoyed reading about your family custom of "Christmas Eve Gift."
This is a game we played in my family. Well, at least my Dad did with me. I
was an only child and he and I continued this through the years. After I married,
the telephone was our means of communication, and he usually won the game. He
also continued it until the next day and we always tried to beat everyone to
saying "Christmas Gift.: This must have been a Mississippi thing as he
was born there. He married my mother in Kansas, but she was not into it as much
as he was. Your Website is great! Wish I had thought of that first.
Patricia (Ward) Taylor
Our family has always had this weird custom, too. I thought we were the only
ones! We did it on Christmas, though. I've never asked my Mom which side of
the family passed it down, but will see what I can find out. I'm pretty sure
it was on the Setliff side since my grandfather was really good at it. Now that
we all have caller id on our phones, and we're all in our own houses, it is
much harder to win. And usually whoever is hosting dinner keeps the doors locked
so you can't sneak up on them. My husband has adopted the custom with GREAT
enthusiasm, so I'm sure we'll keep it going for a long time. In fact, over the
years, he and our son have become so competitive, that it has turned into a
two day event to include Christmas Eve. For the last couple of years, they have
been getting each other with instant messaging on their cell phones. BTW, we
live in Texas and my grandparents are from Arkansas. Christmas Eve Gift!!
Read your story on the Rootsweb Review and it really brought back memories.
My family was a western NC family, Hendersonville, NC, and my grandfather was
manager of a large estate owned by "summer people" from Charleston,
SC. Our Christmas cry was "Christmas Gift" given anytime after sunup
on Christmas Day. I have read that in slavery days all the slaves would come
up to the "big house" shouting this out, to receive their gifts and
special food for Christmas. Since the owners of these large estates also owned
cotton and Indigo plantation in the "Low Country", the custom seemed
to be carried into the mountains. I don't know where you live, but another southern
custom is fireworks on Christmas Day! My grandfather would go out after dark
on Christmas Eve and bury a large charge of dynamite. He set off the charge
on Christmas morning to start the festivities.
Thank you for sharing your story.
Patricia Pack Schell
I have wondered about the origin of this tradition for years, only ours was
just "Christmas Gift" on Christmas morning and came from my mother's
family. I don't know which side but they were a mixture of Irish, Scots, English,
French and came from IN, OH, KY and the east and north east. I ran across this
tradition once in a novel I was reading but know nothing about its origins.
Linda in Illinois
Our family version of the "Christmas eve gift" was quite different
from yours, perhaps you want to alter your version, but maybe not. Daddy was
always the one who said, "Christmas Eve gift" and to him this meant
a kiss, after it was uttered. Perhaps you can surprise some unwary family member
in person, and after you get them or they get you, THEN respond with a kiss.
It will blow their mind, I guess. And yes, daddy was born in Oklahoma, parents
from Tennessee and Georgia Then they went to Texas.
daphene hardcastle willoughby
Just read your post about your family tradition and trust me, I could tell
you family customs that would make your hair curl! Ferroll Sams wrote a book
about your family tradition. His family, from Georgia, had the same custom but
on Christmas Day. The game is the same but they would just yell "Christmas
Gift!" That is the title of the book and I highly recommend the read. I
read it every year at Christmas and it warms me. Take care and happy holidays,
My Cedar County, MO, grandmother (whose ancestors came through TN) also used
"Christmas Gift!" though it was done on Christmas Day. My grandfather
said she use to lie awake until the clock struck 12:00, then she would shake
him and call, "Christmas Gift." Even at age 73, I still awaken early--especially
on Christmas. Because our fireplace is stone, our children put out their shoes
instead of hanging stockings. We put their breakfast there--in theory so adults
could sleep in. I appreciated your letter. It was a reminder of other traditions.
This same grandmother enjoyed such things so much that we put out stockings
on New Year's eve for Santa's wife. The last time we did it, my brother and
I got soap and a washcloth. He got the Lux and pink washcloth and I got the
Lava and blue. We decided she was getting senile and quit the game. My grandmother
was very good at birthdays and April Fool's day. Thanks again,
I am a New Yorker who settled in Kentucky 30 years ago... My mother in law,
from Hartford, (Ohio County) Kentucky would always get the drop on me with the
greeting "Christmas Gift!" on Christmas Day. No idea where it originated
and the only ones who carry the tradition on are me and my son. (Which reminds
me that I must get the drop on him next week) Anyway, she always said Christmas
Gift, not Christmas Eve Gift, which must be a variation on your tradition....
Susan. I am 56 years old and I have heard "Christmas Eve Gift" every Christmas Eve of my life. In our family the custom came from my maternal grandfather, Daniel Cummings Oxley, who was born in Athen's Alabama and whose family was from Virginia. I am guessing that this custom is Southern in origin as my Northern families never practiced it. As for normal, what is strange are those who never practice the custom; these poor, benighted, folk have long been bereft and now bemused over one of the joys of Christmas Eve. Another custom in our family is having Oyster stew on Christmas Eve night. I have an intense dislike for the ugly critters, but on Christmas Eve night, I feel cheated if I can not have a bowl of the stuff. Before refrigerated freight oysters, oranges, and other easily perishables were available only during the cold season. Mom has a glass bowl (carnival glass) she received from her grandmother. One of her early Christmas memories is that bowl filled with oranges. When I go home, I too, see the same bowel and you guessed it; it is filled with bright, oranges. In our culture Christmas is one of the few times we retain family customs ritually practiced year after year. We are among the most advance civilizations known on this planet, but we have lost many of the customs that bind us together as a people.
I remember hearing something a-kin to your story about the slaves on Christmas Eve. Mom's paternal families all came from the deep South and I grew up knowing I was the descendent of slave owners with the accompanying stories. In the South the Civil War never ended to this day. Mom's maternal families, however, were from the North and/or were actively abolitionists. You get the idea. An interesting note that my grandfather Oxley's brother was in a hospital when Jesse Jackson was campaigning for US President. He got out of bed and ran down the hall just to shake his hand. I heard my grandfather make positive comments about Jesse Jackson too. In other ways they were very Southern. Anyway Christmas, for me, has always been a time for memories. Thank-you for hearing mine. May your Christmas be the stuff of memories.
Although this is only the 19th of December, may I be so bold as to offer you a "Christmas Eve Gift" knowing full well it does not count so you are free to play on December 24??!
May your future Christmases be the stuff of traditions.
Micheal G Groshong
I never heard of this until I married. My husband's family has done this all
of his life. I believe his father was the one who introduced the custom to his
family nearly 70 years ago. Where he first heard it, I don't know. He was from
south Mississippi. My husband is delighted if he can beat any of his siblings
in being the first to telephone saying "Christmas Eve Gift."
Dot W. Reid
Just read your article in Rootsweb Review Vol 5, No 51, and wanted to let you
know that there is another Tennessee family who shares this "gift."
But ours is "Christmas Gift" and is done on Christmas Day. Unfortunately,
my mother [who is 82] and I seem to be the only ones to play it with any enthusiasm.
LOL! I'm having lunch with her today and will ask her if she has any idea of
the origin of the game in our family. Thanks for the inspiration to explore
this family game.
Jackie Utley in west Tennessee
Just wanted you to know that I thoroughly enjoyed your delightful Christmas
Eve Gift story. If you ever discover the origins of the custom, please publish
it in Rootsweb Review.
I couldn't believe it when I read your story about Christmas Eve Gift!! I thought
our family was the only one in the world that did that!! I believe it started
with the Gibson family and rolled over to the Stanfords when my mom and dad
married. Now we all do it! We are sneaky, too, sometimes calling in the middle
of the night and shouting "Christmas Eve Gift" before an unsuspecting
family member gets the phone all the way to their ear! It's a great source of
fun with us. Some are more adapt than others, some get mad when you get them,
and we all do it without exception! Some of the more "addicted" family
start early. You just have to be sure and get the right number of "eves"
in! Nice to know we're not quite as strange as I thought! Would love to know
the origins of this... according to my grandmother, you were supposed to give
a gift to the one that got you! Would love to know more! Anyway, great story!
I forwarded it to my family, and will be sharing it during Christmas with everyone.
Happy Holidays and God Bless!
P.S. CHRISTMAS EVE, EVE, EVE, EVE, EVE, EVE GIFT!
Are we addicted or what???!!! *< } :)
My mother's family is from texas by-way-of mississippi. she says it's a southern
tradition. and it's true that spouses never seem to get the hang of it. my sisters
call us on christmas eve and 'get' my husband when he answers. he invariably
says, "hwa?" they laugh uproariously and then ask for me. he says,
"its one of your sisters and she said something about a christmas gift".
I scream into the phone, "christmas eve gift!' and get them every time!!
we take it to an extreme in our family, though. it works for every "eve"
of every holiday, like new years eve and even recently july the 4th eve. LOLOL
and speaking of new victims, my son is getting married in march and his fianceé
is going to get the full dose this christmas when we all call and 'get' her.
Early in my career as a voracious and undiscriminating reader (The Bible, military history, mattress tags, Homer, etc.) I read a short story or novella in which rural Southern African-Americans of the late 19th or early 20th Century are depicted adhering to a very similar custom, at least in its verbal expression.
I suspect that the author was William Faulkner (and if I hadn't read so many cereal box backs as a kid, I might be able to remember). In the instance I am thinking of, a Black man and a White encounter each other on the street around Christmas (the story is set in the height of the Jim Crow days), and the African-American immediately says "Christmas gift, boss!" Apparently, whoever spoke the phrase first was entitled to a small gift of money from his or her interlocutor. Given that in those days the Caucasian community had everything and the Black community next to nothing, I imagine that the flow of largesse was expected to be toward the latter. Maybe, then, the custom was that, if the potential recipient could get the phrase out before the intended donor could speak, the gift took place; if the potential donor got a word in first, no dice.
Possibly, this custom and the one prevailing in your family both derived from an earlier practice amongst Southerners. Having lived in the South and having had many friends from there, I am acutely aware of the subtleties of that region's speech. I recall a friend's telling me he'd stop by "this evening," only to see him and his family drive up to my door at one in the afternoon! (That would also account for the opening season for your Christmas Eve Gift spiel). Anyway, good luck in tracking this expression down. In these days of homogenized culture, it's good to see interest in our fascinating (and fast fading) regionalisms.
My family arrived in the Republic of Texas in 1839 and with them came the strange
customs of many old countries. I believe the answer to your question lies within
their heritage. My Irish mother hit the floor on Christmas Eve singing out 'Christmas
Eve Gift' to my Dad & me! It was an expected tradition to hear this saying
first thing in the morning when sleepy eyes where just opening and we could
never win the first wish challenge. She also had some other interesting sayings.
Their origins were unknown. One is particularly puzzling. When as a very young
child I would ask her what she making in the kitchen, she would answer 'levelers
to catch meddlers'. We have visited Ireland several times and there grows a
medlar apple. Whether it has anything to do with apple pie I shall never know
as Mom died in 1984. What a pity I did not ask.
This was hilarious (especially answering the phone at work - ROFL). Thanks
for sharing your story! (And no I never heard of it! Good luck with your quest.
I hope next Christmas Eve you post an update in the "history of this tradition"!
My husband's grandmother and her family did this, only it was "Christmas
gift" for them - their name was Gaddy, and they came from Pennsylvania
[i think] thru Indiana to northwest Missouri - they would call each other early
Christmas day and yell 'Christmas gift' - my mother-in-law thought it was a
very old family tradition but didn't know the origins - just thought you'd like
to know there was a variant!
I was born and raised in OK, too. One of my aunts used to say "Christmas
Gift", but it was just an expression she seemed to use at any time. I never
gave much thought as to what it meant. My relatives had many strange expressions.........but
probably most of the people around that part of the country said them.
Jan Babb McClintock
Although I had never heard of this and didn't play the game in my familly I
recently was reading a book written by my father's 2nd cousin. In my great great
grandfather's, Rolla Taylor's family, they played a different version. It was
Christmas Day Gift with the same rules. This was in Kansas in the late 1800's.
Allene Taylor Turner.
Read your article in the Rootsweb.com newsletter about the "Christmas
Eve Gift" custom. My mother's family always did this and I never understood
it either and had pretty much forgotten the custom until I read your article.
Her parents were from Georgia and Louisiana as far back as I can go (which is
not far) and they all participated in this custom. My mother's dad's family
were the ones who participated in this custom. Her grandmother's name was Kilpatrick.
It was great fun for them and they enjoyed "getting" one another with
the tagging of "Christmas Eve Gift". Glad you reminded me of this
and if you learn more of its origin, please let me know. Thanks.
I just got my RootWeb Review and read your article on Christmas Eve gift ... my Goldsworthy family members also played this game and I always wondered where the tradition came from. It has almost disappeared from our family, sadly to say. My mother, aunt and son still try to best each other and we are trying to teach the grandchildren the fun of the game. Your article inspires me to try to find an origin. Thanks for writing and submitting the article.
Judith Mikles Gartner
In my Middle Tennessee family (my mother was from Lawrence Co. on the southern
border of Middle Tennessee), we tried to be the first to say "Christmas
Gift!" (pronounced "Chrismus Gif'!" when encountering another
member of the family or a friend on Christmas Day and sometimes on Christmas
Eve. My mother said that she thought that it was an old African-American tradition
that the white families picked up from their servants. Since my father, a native
of the more cosmopolitan city of Nashville, didn't play, the verbal competition
never reached such heights as in your family. My mother thrived on it, however.
Thanks for sharing your story!
From Christmas Gift by Ferrol James 1989 Dell Publishing:
"Christmas morning did no begin at daybreak but at least two hours before. It began with the thump and patter of the newly awakened feet of children....Finally a permissive mother would light a lamp and all Christmas would break loose. When some bolder child approached his bed to see if he was awake, Missa Pharoah would leap up and startle the scout into immediate paralysis.
"Christmas gift!" he would shout.
Then it rang all over the house.
You said it first and you said it fast. You said it to anyone and everyone upon first sight that day. It was the salutation of the season used on that particular morning. It was an achievement to catch a sister, a cousin, an aunt or uncle unawares with the cry. "Christmas gift!" They said we picked up the custom generations before from our darkies. Maybe so. Certainly their decendents all used it. It was said that whoever beat another person to saying it was supposed to receive a present from that individual. When I said it to Simon or Coot or Clarence or any of Jesse Lee's children, however, I was always answered with "Hand it here!" My sister Janice had a sharp ear and had early noted the disregard for terminal consonant or sibilant in the speech of the help. She consequently cut a fraction of a second from her time. "Chrimma giff!" she would yell, jumping from behind a door. It was hard to get Christmas gift on Sister Janice. It was impossible on Daddy. He beat everyone to it, his parents, his siblings, and certainly his children. He surprised, he startled, he anticipated everyone. It was a point of honor with him. He carried the custom into his eighties. He was even known to hide behind the smoke house and leap out at arriving grandchildren. "Christmas gift!" It is the cry of the Bear Cat. Of the Bareheaded Man. It brings Baby Jesus and Santa Claus together. It wraps them in red tissue paper adorned with a sprig of mistletoe or holly; it is a harmonious package.It really means "I love you," and on that one morning each year it can be shouted exultantly to the heavens.
"Christmas gift ! Everybody!"
Glad you had fun with all the replies. My son called on Christmas Eve and I
nailed him in the midst of our conversation. However, when I asked to speak
to my six year old grand son, HE nailed me with a wholly unexpected "Christmas
Eve Gift, Grandpa!" Only 363 days to go before I get my revenge!
My father, Marcus W. Muth of Rockfield, KY, forwarded your page to me and it
is a revelation. My grandmother would ALWAYS nail him on Christmas morning.
I remember her rule as being someone had to say "Merry Christmas!"
to her and then she would answer with "Christmas Gift!". And yes...
old age and treachery won out. He got me this year. However, I had the presence
of mind to put my six year old son on the phone with the instructions to yell
"Christmas Gift!" first thing at Grandpa Mark. Payback is sweet.
P. Muth, KY
Being reared in Al. I am familiar with this custom. My great uncles delighted
in the same routine. This began in slavery days in the south when the slaves
were owed a gift if they "got" the master first. I have heard this
explained the same way several times. Your family sounds delightful. Enjoy.
Doris Perkins, Ok.
My grandfather, William Hulme came to this country in 1842 from Staffordshire
County in England. He settled in SE Idaho. In the same town was a lady who came
from the Preston area of England who came to America shortly after. These two
played that game on one another over the years and undoubtedly had learned it
from their English backgrounds. The lady was quite put out when William beat
her to the early announcement. However, the words shouted were "Christmas
Gift". I might suppose that in order to beat the opponent, the time of
early announcement was continually pushed back earlier and earlier until some
one thought he would beat all players by moving it to a minute after midnight. Then it was called Christmas Eve Gift. I hope this adds a little to your trivia of genealogy. By the way, if you do not pick this up soon, "Christmas Gift!"
I found your Buce website while looking for "Christmas Eve Gift"!
(Really super site, by the way). I am no relation as far as I know, But, my
family always did the Christmas Eve Gift thing, too. This was a tradition that
came into the family through my mother. She was born and raised in and around
Northeast Texas (fairly close to Oklahoma, I guess you could say). My dad was
from Tennessee and that's where she ended up living all of her married life.
I always thought that we were the only ones who did the Christmas Eve Gift thing,
too! My three daughters and I still do this with early morning phone calls to
this day. And, funny, two of three daughters have married young men with Oregon
connections (no Buces, though). My mother was born in Era, Tx and lived in Slidell
and Decatur before moving to Tennessee in 1947 when I was a year old. So I can
account for the tradition at least as far back as her date of birth in 1915.
There was a French great-grandmother on my mother's mother's side--maybe it's
a French tradition?? I am at work at lunchtime and the computer won't allow
me to access your website directly since EXE is involved. Otherwise I would
have posted this for others to read. Merry Christmas! (watch out for a computer
Christmas Eve Gift attack from cyberspace--we are 2 hours ahead of you and my
1 daughter on the East coast is 3 hours ahead.Heh, heh..:) Thanks for sharing.
I learned Christmas Eve Gift from my wife and my mother-in-law. My mother-in-law came from north Texas with Oklahoma relatives. She married a person from Tennessee and came to Tennessee to live. I thought this was just one family's tradition. Your story is very interesting.
The only thing not "normal" about your family is that you say "Christmas
Eve Gift" and those numerous Southern-raised other families, like mine,
say "Christmas Gift". We share the surprized telephone callers, etc.
I was always told, and have read, this is a custom from the "olden days"
(a Southern euphemism for the slavery era.) The "people" (i.e. the
slaves) would appear early Christmas morning with this greeting for the white
folks- who then were supposed to give presents (such great ones as a few yards
of calico, or extra food, or even candy!) It was retained as the competitive
"getting _____'s Chrismus gif" (Southern accent.) I've been out of
the South since 1957- but still have to be prepared when the phone rings. Thank
goodness for Caller ID!
I read with great interest your article about the weird little family greeting
"Christmas Eve Gift." My family didn't do that exact thing but then
they didn't do a lot of things that go with Christmas....a trait I'm constantly
trying to overcome. However, my dad never once in his life said "Merry
Christmas" but he always said "Christmas Gift" in a loud voice
as if it had to be said before anyone else thought of it. I always thought it
was a curious greeting but didn't give it much thought beyond that. Just recently
I read the origin of that greeting and it was (I think) Scotch Irish in origin.
(I'm notorious for forgetting WHERE I read something and this time is no exception.)
My Dad was of Scotch Irish and English descent and I remember having an "Ah-Ha"
moment when I read the article. If I can come up with where I saw it, I'll try
to let you know. By the way, my family roots are in Tennessee.
Shelby Sawyer Morris
What fun to find someone else who understands "Christmas Eve Gift"!!
I really don't think anyone who did not grow up with the tradition ever quite
"gets it" even if they learn to participate. Incidentialy in my family
we do both Christmas Eve Gift and "Christmas Gift". Gives you a chance
to get back at the one who got you on Christmas Eve. Your description of underhanded
methods sounds exactly like my family and we also answer the phone "Christmas
Eve Gift". If those outsiders don't understand we figure it is their loss.
We are not about to lose our tradition. I am age 56 and grew up in Carnegie,
OK. However in my family it was passed down by my grandparents who were raised
in Searcy County, ARK. My Grandpa's family was from Missouri and Grandma's from
Tennessee. I never though to ask them if they knew where it started. However
I know there are other families from Searcy County who share the tradition.
This may be because of so many families marrying into mine. My sister and I
are compiling a history of our immediate family. We have discussed where the
tradition started. We know it is well over a hundred years old in our family.
My sister thinks the tradition started back in slave days when slave owners
traditionaly gave Christmas gifts to all the slaves. She believes it was the
greeting the slaves gave the master as part of asking for the gift. She is an
English major and is not sure where she came up with this, just read it somewhere.
Nove of my family ever had enough money to own slaves although I guess they
might have picked it up somewhere. Anyway I am from another not quite "normal"
family. I just feel sorry for all those normal families who missed out on the
fun of "Christmas Eve gift".It is one of the favorite memories of
all my family.
Thanks for sharing your memories.
My family has practiced a similar "game" during the holidays. Unfortunately, I'm not aware of the origin either. We had a slightly different version, as it was "Christmas Gift" one needed to say before anyone else remembered to do so. This was usually shouted by relatives as they entered my parents' house on Christmas morning. It was more of a competition between my father and siblings though. I believe my dad introduced the tradition to us. Don't believe our version originated in OK, as the Fogle family has resided in KY for the past 200 years or so. The difference in dates may be because we really didn't celebrate until Christmas morning. My mom was adamant about waiting until then to open the presents (despite our whining objections to the contrary). It's good to know, however, that other families practice(d) such traditions as well. Thanks for relating the story!
Wishing you a great holiday season,
I was born in Al. and grew up in Ga. and we just said--Christmas Gift--when
we meet someone for the first time during Christmas season. It was sort of like
"tag". I live in OK now and still say it, the Ga.or Al way. Interesting.
My wife showed me your e-mail on Christmas Eve Gift. I grew up with this tradition in East Texas from 1930-1944. We played it with the rules you listed in your e-mail. I do not know where or when it started. It was played by my mother and father, my aunt and uncle, my cousins - Bobby and Glenn. My son, Ty... Jennifer Nanto's family plays a game called the "Christmas Eve Gift." The object is to say "Christmas Eve Gift" to as many people as you can, before they say
All I can remember is that it was great fun to catch them on Christmas Eve. All the best for your research! P.S. You have an excellent web page!
I too was born and raised in Oklahoma. Every Christmas Eve my grandfather would
call to wish us "Christmas Eve Gift". I thought it was just Grandpa
Stultz that did that. It was real interesting to read your story. Thanks for
Judy Stultz Flurry
Just thought I would drop you a line to let you know that my Mammaw Dill,(who
passed away last year at age 90), always played the Christmas eve gift game.
Like ya'll, She would even answer her phone saying Christmas Eve Gift. I had
never heard of anyone else that did this either. We live in Arkansas, but she
was born in Missouri with the Presson surname.. Anyways,
this is quite interesting.
Susan, I read your explanation of your family's "odd" behavior at
Christmas and had a good laugh. Our family has had a smiliar custom only we
said "Christmas Gift" whenever we visited other family homes - as
a greeting - instead of hello. We usually got a piece of hard candy from the
host. Unfortunately, the custom has died out since all the older family members
have passed away and my generation is too scattered to visit much at Christmas.
Our family is from Missouri (early 1800s) from Virginia (Rev. war era). I did
find a reference to such a saying in an old book about southern customs. It
seems that on plantations in the early south the slaves and families of indentured
servants, freemen workers, etc., came to the "big house" in a group
and called out "Christmas Gift". The owners then came to the door
and passed out gifts of clothing, food, treats, etc. While I have found records
of our family having had slaves (2 or 3) in early Virginia and when they moved
to Missouri, we were probably not "plantation" owners. So I don't
know where we got the custom. When I asked several members of my older generation,
they said "we've always done that". And my grandparents were dead
by the time I thought to ask. So, I'll bet your custom segued from something
similar to that above. Anyway, it's great to hear that the custom is being continued.
in really cold Colorado
Enjoyed your note on RootsWeb Review. You could be part of my family, cause
we always did the same crazy thing on Christmas Eve. Mom, Dad and I were the
only ones who ever seemed to know about "Christmas Eve Gift". I would
try to "get" all my friends, but as you say...there is really no challenge
there, cause they were ignorant of the whole thing. Mom would invariably "nail"
me each year. She would sneak up on me when I was just awaking and "get"
me before I was even conscious. Even when I grew up, moved to the big city,
working in a office and trying to be very professional, the phone would ring
and as soon as I answered I would hear her sweet voice say, with much relish,
"Christmas Eve Gift" with that "gotcha again" tone to her
voice. Actually nobody ever managed to get a Christmas Eve Gift, but that was
not the point. One-ups-manship was the point. My Mom has been gone 17 Christmas
Eves now and I still long to hear that sweet voice. Knowing this, my wonderful
husband has taken up the standard in Mom's absence and carries on successfully
in her absence, so I am not without the challenge. Thank you for reminding all
of us out here who still remember. (And to answer another question, Mom was
from Bowie, TX which is pretty close to the Red River and we had family in Oklahoma.
Perhaps that explains this hybrid down in Texas.) Merry Christmas and the happiest
New Year ever to you and your family. May you "nail" every one of
them before they can you!....
My maternal grandmother, from Louisiana, did this same thing, but on Christmas Day. It was "Christmas Gift" that she answered the phone with.
I saw your note on Rootsweb. My mother told us that her family had the tradition
of being the first to say "Christmas Gift" on Christmas morning. Other
than the day, the rules were the same. Their family still followed many German-American
traditions. Her grandmother and grandfather were from PA. But her father's family
was first generation English, so the custom might also have come from there.
We played the game as children, but just said "Merry Christmas". Also
we extended it to other holidays and the first day of each month. So let me
be the first to say "Happy December" to you.
My family also does a variation of your tradition. The Sewells of my family will do about anything to get "Christmas Gift" on each other. It is done after 12:00am Christmas morning though. The family was from Lee County, VA and even further back, from England & Scotland. I'd love to know where this came from too! My husband and I have been married 14 years and he STILL looks confused when we say it. I have one little tidbit to add. My mother's family does the "Christmas Gift" variation, but when they were kids, REALLY went all out. It seems they would get up very early and try to sneak over to their cousins' house to set off firecrackers and wake everyone. Whichever set of kids got their firecrackers off first and woke the others won. Fortunately, now at 80 yrs old, Mom doesn't set off firecrackers, but boy is she ever quick to say "Christmas Gift" when we call on Dec. 25th!
I just read the rootsweb ezine with your article re:Christmas Eve Gift. My family also did this same thing, and still do to this day. My grandparents and great grands were from AR, Izard and Perry Co's. They moved to TX in 1937 and carried the tradition with them. Interesting to see there are other families that also have this as a tradition.
My family comes from central Arkansas. Our Christmas Eve Gift tradition was a little different. The first person to say "Christmas Eve Gift" to someone received a gift from that person. Our custom was to give a "gift" that we had on hand. It was always a lot of fun. Yes people often look at you strangely when greeted that way. I wish you a Merry Christmas and hope you continue your family tradition.
Rebecca Stewart Garcia
Susan - My husband's family does "Christmas Eve Gift" It was a totally new thing to me when we got married, so my husband got me the first year. (We had been married only 2 months at the time), But ever since then I get him every year and it has been 15!! It is almost always sometime in the middle of the night. I am not sure which side of his family this custom is from. I'd never heard of it from anyone else until I read abt it in your post on Rootsweb.
Loved your story. In my family it is "Happy New Year 10 Cents" You
pay the greeter a dime if you get caught. Like you, I do not know where this
tradition came but it has been going for years and years. Susan, Merry Christmas
Gift and Happy New Year 10 Cents! Got you!
Hi Susan, my family played, and still plays, this game -- but not quite like yours, in two ways. First, we play it four times a year: Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year's Eve, and New Year's. Second, it's not fair until morning, doing it right after midnite doesn't count. My mother remembered her father getting up and going thru the house 'getting' everybody. They lived in middle Tennessee, family had (o'course) come from North Carolina, from Virginia. I don't know where my grandfather got the idea, if his parents did it or what. I've read in books that servants would come to the house on Christmas morning and say 'Christmas Gift' -- but then, they were looking for (and received) an actual gift. I believe this had started in slavery times, but I do not know this for sure. In any case, our family custom had nothing to do with actual giving and/or receiving of gifts. Your other descriptions were kinda fun, not like ours but certainly similar. Love to everybody, Barb.
I saw the article in the Rootweb Review and I just had to laugh. My husbands family also participates in this family tradition and I must say that since I come from a family didn't participate when I was growing up, I usually end up getting "got" every year (that's 15 years now plus our dating years). You'd think I'd learn! My husbands family started it with his uncle who was from East Texas - we now live in SE Texas (Beaumont/Port Arthur) region and have met several people here who also play which is a delight to my husband as he now has more opportunities to obtain victims to the game. He has been known to place Christmas Eve gift messages in cards, email, voice mail, etc. My husbands uncle's grandfather used to sit in a dark living room beginning about 3:00 am waiting for each person to get up so that he could catch them first. Needless to say, it gets pretty unmericiful at our house on Christmas Eve. I haven't looked too much at the uncles side of the family to see where they might have originated from before coming to East Texas. Let me know what you may find out. I would be interested so I could share with my husband.S
Saw your article in the RootsWeb column. My husband's family had this same custom. (I had never heard of it before I married him!) But, they played it a little differently. If someone "got" "Christmas Eve Gift" on you first (or "Christmas Gift") then you were supposed to give that person a gift. His family was from the mountains of North Carolina where, early on, there were a lot of German as well as Scotch-Irish and English settlers. Don't know where the game originated.
Ha, your story on Christmas Eve Gift. My mother was among the younger of 10
kids, I remember this was done (somewhat) among her siblings when I was young.
Except they did it on Christmas Day when they got up. So they said "Christmas
Gift." The ones that weren't staying with us usually telephoned each other.
The catch was that the one who said it first was owed a present by the other
one. Of course there never was any specific present to change hands over it,
no matter who said it first. My hazy memory is they said when they were growing
up, as Christmas Day went on, they would go among the community and visit their
friends and it was a game to see who said it first. So it wasn't just a family
thing, lots of people did it. They were from Lee Co., VA, which is the most
southwest county in VA, next to TN and KY. (It seems to me it just functioned
as a device to ensure people stayed in contact with each other.)
Just read your article on the Roots Web e-newsletter, and wanted to write and let you know you are not alone on having "Christmas Eve Gift" as a weird family tradition. My family played that as I was growing up (never could beat my Dad back then!), and we still do it now. But living hundreds of miles apart we now do it by phone. I usually will wait till late morning on Christmas Eve to call them(a call right after midnight would be a dead giveaway!) unless they call me first. Now that I am getting older, many times I have trouble remembering to do it on Christmas Eve until somebody gets me first. And we also answer the phone with "Christmas Eve Gift!" (If we haven't had a momentary brain lapse!). But it is still very difficult to beat my dad -his brain functions better at age 70+ than mine does at 40! I am able to best my sisters and brothers at times!! I grew up in Northwest Georgia, as did my parents, grandparents, etc--another area to add to your list. Wonder where this tradition came from?? If you ever solve the puzzle let me know. Take care!
Brooxie Barrow Smith
Our family tradition (on one side - which really makes it fun) - is saying Christmas Gift. We don't go for the competiveness your family does. My family that does this is from Central Texas and Methodist ministers. Don't have a clue how it started.
Reference your article, Vol. 5, No. 51, 18 December 2002, Dealing with a Peculiar Family Tradition -- My family had this tradition. I think it may have come from my Mother's side. She grew up in the country in Western Louisiana. The difference with my family is that it had material rewards. If you said, "Christmas Eve Gift" to a family member first, the person you said it to owed you a gift. The gift didn't have to be anything of value, but they had to come up with a gift. One of my daughters loved to be on the gift-giving end, and prepared a number of neat little inexpensive gifts. She would coax a member of the family to say 'Christmas Eve Gift," so she could present them with the gift she had carefully wrapped. It was sometimes fun just to act "dumb" and see to what extent she would go in order to get you to say the magic words.
I saw your info on your family web site. I was reading rootsweb review & saw what you wrote about "Christmas Eve Gift." My Mother in Law, Bessie Allen Conner, also would say that Christmas Eve. Her Allen family were from Alabama & migrated to West Florida. So, there's another area to add to your list. I haven't found out where the Allen Family were before Alabama.
I saw your comments about "Christmas Eve Gifts" on Rootsweb and it
jogged my memory. My grandmother Duran's family (She was a Cowan) played the
"Christmas Eve Gifts" in North Alabama some 70 or so years ago. Some
of her Cowan relatives moved to The Oklahoma Territory.
I just loved your story about the "Christmas Eve Gift" tradition that you and your family have. We do much the same thing with Thanksgiving. Yes, my family in not "normal" either. We take the first opportunity to call and gobble at someone on Thanksgiving day. This has turned into people calling at the stroke of midnight. This year, my mother got us all. She left her gobble call on the answering machine and just would not answer the phone! Needless to say, many of us were quite upset with that brainstorm, especially me, because my husband is a hunter and he bought this really great turkey caller this year and I was ready to get everyone! So, I didn't get my mother, but I got everyone else in the family. They thought the turkey caller was just great! This tradition of ours is fairly new, just within the last 7 or 8 years or so. My mother started it and it was not passed down through the generations, but just something goofy that popped up. It's fun and we have a great time with it. Imagine the surprise of the telemarketer this year that called me and heard my turkey gobble! That's total embarrassment!
Keep having fun and enjoy! I'm glad you shared your story.
Laura in Cleveland
My husband's family is (was?) into this "peculiar family tradition."
I say was, because it seems that my father-in-law would be the only one to yell
it out to the family members and I (being the only one in years who married
into the family) couldn't catch on. My family was rather staid and stuffy compared
to this raucous "greeting." I never did get used to being yelled at.
After he died, the tradition has pretty much died out. And frankly, thank goodness.
If you are forced to play a game you can never win, then it is never fun to
play. Never-the-less, I will forward your story to my husband's family. Maybe
y'all can compare notes. He was born in Lamar County, Texas in 1924. The family
might have ended up in Oklahoma at some time in his childhood.
I think I know the root of the Christmas Eve Gift game--it's been in our Arkansas family for a long time, and I'm pretty sure it comes from the Mississippi delta because it was a slave tradition among people for whom a penny was a huge amount of money. The person who got stung was supposed to pay with a penny. It never happened because they didn't have money but they knew what Christmas gifts were about. Incidentally, it is pronounced Christmas Eve Gif' and originally was Christmas Gif', I think.
I read with delight your story on Christmas Eve Gift, in the Rootsweb Review, followed by checking out your web page. I married into a family who plays this "weird" game. My husband's Grandfather, Milford Harris, was born in Texas. However, his parents were from Alabama/Georgia and their parents were from South Carolina and Georgia. I will never forget my total confusion on my first Christmas in this family. I had never heard of something so odd. But I will also tell you that I have grown to love this little game and I am one of the most eager participants. Pappa Harris has been dead now for almost 26 years, but his spirit lives on every Christmas when those of us who knew and loved him continue to play the game. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I thought this was a tradition that was somehow invented by my husband's family.
Brenda Hope Dahlberg
I just was reading (with interest and pleasure) your piece on "Peculiar
Family Tradition." It reminded me of a tradition my mother (who died at
the age of 89 in 1994) followed. The difference was that the phrase was "Christmas
Gift" -- no Eve about it at all. She and I were both born in Ottawa County,
Oklahoma (extreme northeast corner of the state). I remember her telling about
the game being played with her paternal grandmother and a girl cousin (Marie)
raised by the grandmother after Marie's parents' deaths. I think my grandfather
-- Mother's father-- also was in on it, but I don't have any particular recollections
of his saying it. In case you're interested in family names, I can fill in on
that. My mother was the daughter of Hiram Judson Allison (born in Zaleski, Ohio).
His mother (and I knew this great-grandmother -- she lived until about the time
of the birth of my second child) was Mary Virginia Grubb and she was born in
the 1860s in Ross County, Ohio. Curious little practice. I hope you can find
out more about it.
Pat Jimerson Bell
Well, I married into a family in AR that did "Christmas Gift" on
Christmas Day but exactly like you said. I do not know that they ever set an
alarm clock and they might not be quite as competitive but "mom" usually
got the most of us as we awakened and sometime with a breakfast beverage in
bed. Years later while in OH, an entertainer told to the university office about
the southern tradition of Christmas gift. His family had some ancestors in slavery
before the civil war and he told of some of the elaborate things that plantation
owners had done in order to personally or by messenger "better" their
friends with Christmas gifts first on Christmas day. Apparently they were actual
gifts but often not of great value but FIRST! At some time it became a verbal
greeting instead of some small or elaborate gift. Since then I have found several
references to doing this among many families as the generation of those that
were born 1890-1920 have died and otheres have married into families that do
not do this it seems to be dieing out as a tradition. My guess is that Alabama
and Georgia areas seem to the one of the areas where this was a tradition and
Arkansas this century.
Louise S. Godwin
My sister saw your posting and forwarded it to our whole family, delighted to learn that someone else's family is as whacky as ours. The only difference between what you wrote and what we do is that we do it on Christmas morning ("Christmas Gift!") Otherwise, everything you wrote corresponds to our behavior, from getting up in the dead of night (or waking up in the dead of night and waiting until other unsuspecting folks get up) to answering the phone to anyone yelling "Christmas Gift!" to the problems of indoctrinating spouses into the tradition. (What is really dangerous is an spouse who has refused to participate for years and suddenly decides to pounce!) Our rule is that a person has to be awake in order to "Christmas Gift!" them, so there have been creative ways to wake people, as well as folks feigning sleep in order to pounce first. When we are together on Christmas morning, rather than everyone waking and running down to our stockings, family members can be found lurking around every corner and behind every door.
You asked where the custom comes from. You may not want to know. The origin
comes from slavery days. My father was from a wealthy Memphis family and said
the tradition was passed down from slaveowners. On Christmas day there was a
tradition w/some owners that if the slaves could say "Christmas Gift!"
before their master did, the slave would get a gift. In addition to my father's
explanation of the tradition (I'm sure not nearly as wild as our current tradition),
I have seen this explanation in a couple of printed collections of Christmas
traditions. My siblings and I were embarrassed to learn the racist origin, but
by the time we did, the tradition was already well-established in our family.
We decided that it's an example of turning bad to good, producing years of family
fun. Despite embarrassment in explaining our family custom to friends, we have
still passed it on to our next generation, who delight in "gifting"
adults and get sneakier and sneakier as they get older. Thanks for letting us
know there are others like us out there! :)
In peace, Susan Lee Barton
Christmas Eve Gift,
I got you.
This was something done in Baltimore and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
Whoever said it first was supposed to receive a gift from the person who had
been "gotten." Apparently, since that is not in your explanation,
you have a lot of gifts that were supposed to be given to you. I believe the
"gifts" were things like a candy cane, a cookie, a coin, or something
else that could be put into a pocket. Although diamond jewelry can fit in one's
pocket, I don't believe anyone got things like that. It was always a small gift.
Since the "getting" was so popular and visiting and caroling were
also done, the opportunity to "get" something increased.
Bonnie in Florida
Since I got you, you owe me a cookie. B.
I read about your "Christmas Eve Gift" family tradition in the lastest
Rootsweb Review. Both my husband and I were born in Tennessee; he near Chattanooga,
Tn (eastern part of the state); I in Jackson, TN (western part of the state),
although we no longer live in Tennessee. I had never heard of anything of the
sort until I married my husband. His mother was the one into the "Gift"
tradition. However, the date was NOT Christmas Eve, but Christmas Day. Whenever
we would arrive on Christmas Day, we were greeted at her door with "Christmas
Gift." Of course, we came with lots of Christmas presents - a gift was
the penalty for the loser, not 350+ days of being bested. Thus, we were "even
steven" almost immediately.
In my family we always have said "Christmas Eve Gift". Only we had
to give the "winner" a small gift. As far as anyone knows (including
my 98 year old great-aunt) this came from her father, Charles Horace LaGrone.
He was a circuit riding preacher in East Texas and as far as i know did not
ride in Oklahoma, but there is a few years that he traveled between the death
of his first wife (appx. 1889) and his remarriage (appx 1892). His parents were
born in Alabama and his grandparents were born in France. Don't know if this
helps, but at least you can hold your hand out for a "gift" now when
p.s. yes we do pay up, it might be a "penny whistle" but we do pay up.
This has been a family tradition in my family as long as I can remember and I'm 71. I do know that my grandmother and mother had this family tradition and they were born 7-24-1872 and 11-14-1899. My grandmother was a Gunn, so, some one in her family probably used this family tradition. I hope this bit
of information is of some value to your search.
Robert L. Cashion
Susan, It is rare for anyone to wish to know something a 76 year old knows
about. As a white child in Dekalb County Tennessee I heard the expression on
Christmas morning, "Christmas Gift!" The person who said it was trying
to be the first one to say it on Christmas morning. The origin was from slave
days. The slave would expect a gift from his master if he was the first to say
"Christmas Gift." Hope this helps.
Esther Groom Arrington
Yes! I didn't think anyone did it but my husband"s family. I had never
heard of it. I play it now, too. They are indeed Oklahomans but the maternal
family came from KY to MO and then OK. The paternal was PA to OK. Both sets
of grandparents came to OK when it was opened or before. The MO family branch
rented Indian land and ran cattle before the land run. The other grandfather
came from PA in 1889. One set was Union in the Civil War and the other side
were Confederates. Maybe the "Christmas Eve Gift" was here already???
They are indeed serious about doing it. It is supposed to mean that you have
to give the person who beats you to saying it, a gift on Christmas Eve. Nobody
exchanges the "gifts" but still they play it every year.
Susan, You may be right about the Oklahoma connection. My Mother and her seven sisters used to yell that expression to one another and just laugh and laugh. My sister and I never "got it" and found it not very funny. My mother's mother was born in Texas, as was my ggrandmother. However, her father, my gggrandfather, born in Tennessee 1822, lived and died in the Oklahoma Territory. I enjoyed reading your anecdote and finally learning, some 60 years later, what was so very funny to my mother's family at Christmas long ago.
Barbara C. Brotherton
Thanks for explaining my mother's behavior which I as a child would find it
very embarrassing when I heard her calling out to a neighbor this greeting!
I thought she was asking for a present! She was from the Red River Valley (Tex-Okla.)
Thanks for a good laugh. well here goes ...
Until the day she died at 94, my dear old great-aunt would answer every phone
call on Christmas Eve with "Christmas Eve Gift". It's still a big
deal to call my mother and her sister early in the morning on the 24th, or just
as the 24th begins after midnight. I, too, had never realized how many other
people do this. It makes me think of my family that has already gone on every
time I hear it. Thanks for your story!
I thought my mother's family was the only one that did the Christmas Eve Gift
thing. They were from Texas, but my family lived in Oklahoma. Haven't heard
it since she passed away 22 Dec. 1995. Have Happy Holidays and an early "Christmas
That "peculiar family tradition" you describe in Rootsweb Review
18 December 2002 also existed in my family, but it was "Christmas gift!"
rather than "Christmas eve gift." My aunt (who died in1976) and my
dad (died in 1981) delighted in seeing who could get the other. When the phone
rang the morning of Christmas day it was often my aunt, and the standard way
to answer the phone was "Christmas gift." I don't know but suspect
others in their family also had this "peculiar" tradition, but I'm
afraid our generation has let it go. We lived in Benton, Louisiana, and my aunt
lived in Haughton. Both places are small towns near Shreveport and are located
in Bossier Parish. So, thanks for submitting the story. I enjoyed reading it
and have sent it to my two brothers and to our two daughters. Merry Christmas
-- or should I say, "Christmas eve gift!" or "Christmas gift!"
No, it's too early for those.
Thanks for the response telling about the emails you received. I'm sending
a copy of that to my cousins so they can refer to your web site themselves.
I sent your original posting with my brief comments about our family saying
"Christmas Gift" to all the descendants of my great grandfather, A.
J. Nelson, for whom I have email addresses. My "cajun" cousin from
south Louisiana had not heard of this tradition, but I received comments and
memories from three of my north Louisiana (where most of my family lived) cousins,
and I'll copy these below. Their responses are going in my family tree files
(and computer) and I hope will one day be meaningful for another generation
of the family. I also realize after talking with our two daughters that we didn't
pass the tradition on to them, although my father and his family really delighted
Responses from Nelson Cousins
* Martha Ann Nelson Miller
Oh, yes!!! It was carried on into the next generation. I can remember Edna coming into Mamma Nelson and Papa's house for our Christmas celebration saying, "Christmas Gift!, Christmas Gift!" Then on Christmas morning Daddy would always call Edna and Nelwyn after he had shared Santa time with the grandchildren. The first thing he would say when each one answered the phone was "Christmas gift." I think the idea of the game was whoever said it first was the one to receive a Christmas gift from all of the others. Of course, that never happened because it was just a fun tradition. My, how that brings back precious memories!!! It is as if I am back in Mama Nelson and Papa's warm, cozy, happy house right now. I can smell the aroma of delicious food coming from the kitchen. I see the Christmas tree that either I or another of the grandchildren decorated . I can hear the laughter that filled the house when one of the older generation pulled a trick or joke on another of that generation. One of the fun things was the giving of gag gift from "Santa." I can see the flat boxes of fresh raisins, crates of apples, oranges, and cumquats sent to them from Warren's parents in New Orleans. I can almost hear Papa laugh with hearty gusto. Big Lil enjoyed many Christmases with us too. Papa always had a good time teasing her with gag gifts too. They both loved life and everyone in it! Thank you for asking this question because it has taken me on the most wonderful trip in my memories. What a rich heritage God has given to me through this family!
MERRY CHRISTMAS again! This has made mine even more special that it already was!!
* Nelson Durio
This is new to me, but since you brought it up,
* Linda Magruder Green
Oh, yes!!!!! I have heard it all my life and I still thought the whole family was nuts. My Mother would always shout it at everyone when she first saw them or talked to them on the phone on Christmas morning, and when we arrived at my grandparents house, those were the first words we heard. I can also remember my Uncle Jack exclaiming to us on Christmas morning, "CHRISTMAS GIFT". I always thought it was only a Nelson thing, but I guess now we know there are some other variations. Thanks, it has brought back happy memories. Best to you all, Linda
* Miranda ("Randy") Nelson Parnell
I guess we can play the more modern version of "Nelson Christmas Gift!"
tomorrow! I will sit by my computer and send everyone in my address book the
"Nelson Christmas Gift!" greeting! Ah, if this were only Christmas
Day, I would be the winner! It's 3:00 a.m. and I'm awake checking my email!
Maybe, tomorrow! Yes, I do remember everyone greeting family members with "Christmas
Gift!" on Christmas day! Pop (Loy Nelson) still does it! My mother was
well trained also, I can remember them both greeting us on Christmas morning
when we were children. I can remember the greeting at Mama Nelson and Papa's
at the Christmas celebration. As a child, I was confused; thought it was just
a speedy polite way of asking for your gift or later another way to say "Merry
Chrismas!" Now that you have reminded me, I will surprise Pop tomorrow
morning when he comes down to see what Santa brought! Milna and I decorated
the tree some years too. It was always a beautiful pine with those big softly
glowing lights and/or the bubble lights that fascinate kids. Wrapping gifts
for Mama Nelson in the front bedroom
was a special secretive time for us! On the Nelson Christmas day, usually the weekend after Christmas, we entered another world in that house! Of course you all remember Papa's homemade sausage and the biscuits on the stove? The boxes of currants, oranges, chocolate creme and coconut drops, peppermint candy and mounds of homemade treats too! Pink and green divinity, millionaires, pound cake YUM! The "Christmas Tree" where we shared gifts was a delight, but the gag & fun gifts were very entertaining: The "candy" box with the rubber snake and the surprise in the can of peanut brittle. Big Lil and Papa teasing and making much ado about their silly gifts to each other! Papa's Jergen's lotion and Juicy Fruit gum. Papa's hearty robust laugh and Mama Nelson's sweet spirit, love, and kisses; don't you feel her hug and kiss now? Gathering in the yard for the fireworks display! That celebration at Mama Nelson and Papa's house made Christmas last a week! What joy! What memories! What a rich childhood we all share!
Merry Christmas all Nelsons everywhere!
Love & Joy!
M. Randy Nelson Parnell
Nelson Christmas Gift!
A member of a MyFamily.com web site that I belong to says the following about our family tradition:
Emma Parker - Dec 20, 2002
"According to history, the slaves gathered around the "Big House" on Christmas morning and chanted "Christmas Eve Gift" until the plantation owner and his family came out and presented each of them with a gift. This seems to have been the tradition over all the South prior to the Civil War. Guess it has just continued in some of the Southern States in a different form....maybe by descendants of the Plantation Owners??"
As far as I can determine our ancestors were not plantation owners and did
not own slaves. Maybe, they lived in close proximity to one and picked up the
tradition that way. Hmm-mm, lots to think about. I did ask her to give me more
details on where she found her information.
I loved your article about catching family with "Christmas Eve Gift".
My father used to love to catch me and my mom and eventually his grandson by
being first to say it. It took me years to get him first. He was born in Oklahoma
in 1915 and died here, I was born and raised in Oklahoma. I had to laugh when
I read about how you thought everyone knew how to play because I was surprised
when I found out that my friends had no clue what "Christmas Eve Gift"
was or how much fun it could be. I then thought "Christmas Eve Gift"
was something he was raised with. However his two living sisters say they don't
ever remember it and it is not something their family does. I don't know where
it came from or why he would have started it. I was amazed when you said it
seemed to be found only in Oklahoma. Sure makes you wonder how it started. He
worked for the railroad for over 40 years could there be a connection there?
I still remember how he would laugh and grin when he would get me first. I was
really disappointed to discover it wasn't a long time family tradition. I even
wondered if it was connected somehow with the depression when he was a child
but since his other siblings don't know about it I guess that wasn't it. You
mentioned you had a website about it but I couldn't find it. Thank you so much
for the article I loved it and with your permission would like to use your description
of a sort of tag game in my notes about my Dad. Merry Christmas to you and yours.
My father-in-law and I used to play a version of this game only it was "New
Years gift to ye". Apparently it is a Scottish thing as his background
was Scottish. When first seeing each other after New Year's Eve each would try
to be the first to say, "New Year's gift to ye". We had a good time
with it but no other family member every joined in. Your version sounds like
a lot of fun!
I just read your wonderful story in Rootsweb. I must be about your age, because
I know about "Christmas Eve Gift". I was born and reared in southeast
and south central Texas. My parents were 40 and 53 when I was born and so I
learned many of their old customs. Christmas Eve Gift was one of them. How wonderful
that despite whatever conditions may have existed in their lives, they found
simple pleasures and happiness in this "priceless" game. Thanks for
the trip down memory lane.
Well I couldn't hit the link to your web site fast enough. I'm talking about
your article on Roots web. I have heard my Mom talk about her mother and her
family playing the same game. I'm afraid I probably acted much in the same way
as your neighbor did. "??????" This part of my family was from Louisiana.
Calcaseau & Beauregard Parishs. My surnames are Hollie/Holley, Stanley,
Pool, Bass, and Windham. I think they must have been part of the outlaw gangs
that moved to LA. early on to escape the law, cause I can find little or nothing
on them. Mostly the Hollies and Pools are my big headaches. Sorry I can't help
you with your custom and origin, but to my knowledge nobody was from OK.
Thanks for the article,
My family has been doing the "Christmas Eve Gift" game for as long
as I can remember. Don't know if it came from my Mom's side (Stone/Garrison
from NM, MO, TN, NC, VA) or my Dad's side (Brown/Fitch from TX, AR, TN, NC).
If I had to guess I would say it is a "southern" thing. You have a
nice web site. PS: Christmas Eve Gift.
We also have this custom. One year I taped a large sign to the window of my
parents car when they were visiting us and staying in their travel trailer (no
phone!) I knew Dad would try to sneak out and call me! My son-in-laws are not
yet used to the custom, but they have only been with us a few years. I'll be
patient, but in the meantime I'm thinking of new ways to get them! hehhehe (or
should that be hohoho!) (my Dad was an orphan and I know he didn't get it from
his foster family so it had to come from my Mom's family in Arkansas)
Susan......Was delighted to read your Christmas traditional story. It seems
that long ago in Southern Indiana we had a similar tradition. It went like this;
When you met someone on Christmas Day , instead of saying, " Merry Christmas",
you wished that person, " Christmas Gift".....that is amongst the
old timers The first time I became aware of its use, was when I met an old neighbor
on the road, early on Christmas morning. As we met , he smiled and said "Christmas
Gift to you," I responded with a "What ?", and he repeated, "
Christmas Gift....I'm wishin' you." I then inquired of him, " Well,
what does that mean ?" He stopped and said, Well, if you don't know what
that means, you're dumber that I had thought you were," and stomped off
in a huff. I found out later that it was a way of saying that he hoped I would
receive many gifts for Christmas. So from then on I accepted the old timers'
greetings with a grin, and a response of, " Yeah, I hope so, too"!!
Susan - Your family custom sounds like fun. There is a book by Ferrol Sams
that tells of his family's similar tradition. I believe the title is CHRISTMAS
GIFT although I have given my copy away ( several copies) in fact. Merry Christmas!
Thanks for your information. My mother did this also, but she never knew or at least wouldn't tell where it started. She was from a first generation Swedish family, so I assumed it was a Swedish tradition. Enjoyed your Rootsweb article.
In our family we have a slightly different tradition, on Christmas Day, we do the same thing, "Christmas Gift". We make it a habit of calling different family members and trying to be the 1st one to say "Christmas Gift". I don't know who began it, but I remember my grandmother would greet us with this greeting. I really enjoyed reading all the responces for the "Christmas Eve Gift", including my own. I was born in Ga. and live in SC now. Most of my mother's family were from Ga. also. Our family lines are from CT., VA, NC, & GA. and from what I can tell most all the lines are Scotch, Irish, and English. I was glad to read the history from where the custom probably came from. I, like many in the e-mails, have heard"Christmas Gift" all my life, over 60 years. I want to wish you and yours a very Merry and Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Sincerely, Helen Bates
I am one of those spouses who married into a family with that custom, at least my mother-in-law does it. I'm not sure any of the rest of the family played along. My husband never pulls it on me. His mother was from Polk Co., Arkansas, and married a Bowen from the same area. (She is now 85.) I grew up in Mississippi and had never heard of this custom. I said my husband never pulls the "Christmas Eve Gift" on me. This year after I had asked him about it, he did! I gave him a kiss
for his prize. (Actually I could have gotten him, but I let him win!)
I just had to write and tell you that my husband's father's family plays this
game. They have lived in Alabama for many generations, so you can add Alabama
to your list of participating states. I had never heard of it before I started
dating my husband, and my mother-in-law says she had never heard of it either.
Anyway, it's fun and nobody enjoys it more than my father-in-law does. (His
family lines are Ganey, Stockman, Castleberry, Mathews, and Hair to name a few.
Do any of these ring a bell with you?)
I was surprised to read about your Christmas Eve Gift. My mother and her father
played a game similar to that, only it took place on Christmas Day. Each one
tried to sneak over the other person's home and be the first to say, "Merry
Christmas". We lived in southeastern Minnesota where the winters produced
lots of snow so they had to trudge through snow banks to get to the back door,
open it without it squeaking and get into the house without being heard. As
my grandfather got older, my mother would hear him, but let him win. And I really
don't know if this came from his family....his last name was Hughes and he said
they came from Wales or if it came from his mother's family, Dunford, who were
English. My grandfather is dead and my mother does not remember the signifigance
of the game....in fact she does not even remember the game at all. I should
have asked her about it before her memory went. I don't know if this might be
a similar game, but it sparked my memory of my grandfather and mother playing
their Christmas Day game. Thanks for the memory.
Dear Susan : My Mother's family, the Ramers and Simpsons, from Tennessee have
also played the game. My Grandparents passed it to my parents and their siblings,
then to their families, and each of us has passed it on to ours. That's a lot
of people! But I finally read somewhere where it started--During the Civil War
in the South, great poverty prevailed. Therefore no one had the money or resources
to give gifts, so the game was started in Southern families as a practical,
but patriotic gesture, to put some good humor into Christmas! We have had much
fun in our family, and it has spread to our grandchildren as well. It takes
a lot of resourcefulness to trick us. I'm looking for a new one this year. We
have already tried email, and first caller response. Do you have any new ideas?
Merry Christmas, Best Wishes,
I missed your article in RootsWeb Review, but backed into it this morning while searching for some history on "Christmas Eve gift" anyway!
Our family's version:
1. It does NOT start at 12:01 a.m., and that would be a modern twist to it.
It only begins after the day begins, at sunup.
2. It only works with PawPaw! It's his family tradition (Tennessee origin, although my mother is also from Tennessee).
3. It only works ONCE, for the FIRST person who says it to him. He can't be "got" twice, and no one else plays it!
We have the traditional Christmas morning opening of presents. Santa comes on the night of Dec. 24th. After an unfortunate incident about 40 years ago when some rambunctious children got into some presents early in the week prior to Christmas and completely spoiled Christmas for themselves and their parents, not one person has dared touch a Christmas present before December the Twenty-Fifth! As those children grew up and had their own children, the well-learned lesson became a rigid rule, then a law engraved in stone, and now the most verboten/superstitious/unforgiveable sin imaginable. No one opens a gift before the 25th.
Except for Christmas Eve Gift. That is, of course, the one exception to the rule. Therefore it has taken on even more meaning and importance.
No, you are not allowed to set your alarm for 12:01 a.m. and waken PawPaw. (PawPaw is NOT someone you want to aggravate on the day before Christmas, let me tell you!)
PawPaw is an early riser anyway, and is always the first one up on Christmas Eve morning - well, he has lots to do, but I won't spoil things by telling you just how much! OK. I'll tell you this much: PawPaw IS Santa Claus. I've known this pretty much all my life, but until this day (at age 53) I have yet to figure out how he gets to all y'all's houses on Christmas Eve. There's still a lot of mystery left!
Anyway, here's the payoff that I was leading up to:
There is only ONE gift to be got, which PawPaw judiciously selects from under the tree - a perfect gift, a game or something that several children can enjoy and that will entertain them for (well, most of) the day. I remember one year it was a remote-controlled car that we had to take away from my grown brothers and give back to my son who "won" it that morning. (It really is a lot like the Christmas Eve lottery!)
Anyway, the children DO set their alarm clocks to get up early on December 24th, and then one lucky someone gets one thing to play with all day and keep the children (somewhat) entertained while they try to contain their excitement and anticipation for Santa's visit on that evening.
THE PAYOFF (it's coming, I promise):
Since the children get up so early on the morning of Dec. 24th, we noticed that they were zonked on the evening of the 24th and could barely keep their eyes open long enough to set out Santa's milk and cookies and Rudolph's carrot. In fact, I do believe some years their parents (the naughty children of yore who had well-learned their Christmas lessons and maintained all customs with an almost religious fervor) had to put out the treats because the children went to sleep without doing so!
And then began the vicious circle:
Hey! Let's not forget the Christmas Eve gift. And make sure that it's something really great that the children will remember from year to year and get up really early on the morning of the 24th so that they go to bed really early that night so that Santa can come early and get on his merry way! And on and on it goes.
I'm still interested in the origin of the custom. It's definitely Southern. I'm interested in the suggestion that it's Scots-Irish. A lot of the Southern families were Scots-Irish. I can see that it came through the slavery days as a version of Boxing Day in England. I am wondering whether it was originally "Christmas Gift" or "Christmas Eve Gift" (and each family tradition stands alone, of course), but I was looking at its origin. The Boxing Day tradition makes sense, since the servants would have to work on the 25th, and then they would be given the following day off (complete with the leftovers from the boss's table all boxed up). In slavery days I guess the field hands were given the 25th off, and it was probably "Christmas Gift" for them. I wonder what the custom was for the house slaves. I completely understand "Christmas Gift" but how did it become "Christmas Eve Gift" for others of us?
Alice Ann (now in La.)
Your description of Christmas Eve Gift sounds exactly like my family, strategies and all, and yes, we still do it, and pull the inlaw in! Except, ours is Christmas gift, done Christmas morning (a good way to get the grown-ups going earlier, so we could open presents.) My dad's from Memphis, and as I understand it, it actually dates back to slavery times. If slaves could say christmas gift first, they would get a gift from the master. I'm not sure if this is true, or just something I've heard--gives a bleaker note to the tradition! My aunt gave me a book entitled "Christmas Gift," which I don't recall and can't find, but you could search for on the web. I think it recounts versions of the tradition.
I hope you and your family are having a terrific Christmas Season! I just ran
into your site - while browsing - and saw your "Christmas Eve Gift"
story... I had to laugh... My husbands family plays this also --- It seems to
be more "fun" for the females of his family, as he never thinks of
it !!! It did take me awhile to get "into" it - as I had never heard
of it... The women "got" me most of the time !!!!! I guess the guys
are "more mature" than we !!! His family is from West Texas (Abilene
area) and Alabama before that. I don't know how far back this game goes either.
My family is from Texas - and everywhere else ! Anyway, thanks for the story.
It was great to read.
T E R I
I was born and raised in Maryville, TN. While my sister and I were still kids,
our Grandmother Shinpaugh used to hit everyone with "Christmas Eve Gift"
whenever she answered the phone or welcomed you to her house - on Christmas
Eve, of course. I had forgotten about this until reading your item on the Rootsweb
Review. Thanks for the memory,
I read on the Rootsweb newsletter about your family playing Christmas Eve Gift.
Our family does, but on Christmas Day. I read a book about Christmas on the
Plantations and it seems the slaves would hurry to the "big house"
on Christmas Day and shout "Christmas Gift". The "massa"
would come to the window still in his night clothes and "act" surprised.
It seems that whoever said Christmas Gift FIRST, would be the recipient of the
gift. Of course, slave and master both knew the master would the be loser. Or
so that is what the book said.
Liz in Texas
Saw your Christmas story on RootsWeb. : -) Have also had a brief visit to your
WebSite. Nicely set out. Will have to return for a better look soon. Our family
also has a routine such as yours. I don't know how far back it goes. It has
been part of my Christmas ritual for as long as I can remember. Ours takes place
on Christmas Day. The idea is to say "Christmas Box Off You" first.
If the phone rings, you answer with that phrase and hope it is family. LOL.
Also when answering the door. Just like your routine on Christmas Eve. My Father
and Grandfather delighted in catching who ever they could. My Grandfather was
a great jokester. He died in 1954 at 92. Dad was 80 when he died in 1979. I'm
76. So if Grandpa started this in his early years, it's been around the Doherty's
for at least 100 years. I don't know if it was in the family earlier. I have
passed it on to my Sons (3) and Grandchildren (2) who also enjoy playing the
game. My ancestors came to Canada in 1819 from Co. Donegal, Ireland and settled
in New Brunswick. My line remained there until the 1920's, when Grandpa moved
to Alberta then British Columbia. My Dad followed shortly after. So there you
are, with someone else who has a "strange family custom" but with
a little different format. All I can say is:
" CHRISTMAS EVE GIFT? "
Just finished reading your delightful article in the most recent RootsWeb Review & I MAY have an answer for you re: the origin of your family's traditional "Christmas Eve Gift". (Fortuitous that I decided to do something other than lie wide awake in bed on this early Christmas morn, huh?) This is also a tradition in my family with one exception. We greet others on Christmas Day.
My sister & I grew up in Texas but our parents were from Tennessee. The
explanation we were given re: this custom is that it began prior to the Civil
War. The slaves would come to the "big house" early Christmas morning...."surprising"
their master with a boisterous greeting of "Christmas gift". (Whoever
shouts the greeting first is assured of getting a gift from the other one.)
The slave owner always played
along good-naturedly......obligating himself to provide gifts on Christmas to the slaves, who, of course, always beat him to the punch with the greeting.
I've found that Caller ID on today's phones certainly helps prevent those embarassing moments of answering a ringing phone with "Christmas gift" and receiving absolute silence instead of the anticipated laughter from one who's in on the family tradition. SOOOOOO..........."Christmas Gift", Susan, and a Merry Christmas Day to all of your family.
Harriet Davis Darling, Kansas
Count me in on your "survey" of Christmas Gift family traditions. I too, do not have a clue how or why it started in our family!
Thelmer Smith, Arizona
This game was played here in Texas too, at least, among my grandfathers family,
it was. He was a wonderfully gifted southern gentleman who could play any musical
instrument, toured the south as a'snake-oil' salesman, and played Noah in a
company of players that toured around the south. He's been gone for many years
now but I still remember how his blue eyes would twinkle when he said 'Christmas
Gift' whenever we visited.
John M Lovelady, Texas
Just wanted to let you know that a friend of mine here in Georgia (she is from the Atlanta area) had this same tradition in her family...She said that it came from her father's side. All Georgia people!
This is my family's tradition also... I copied your "story" relating
your adventures with it to share it with my family and friends. Loved it! Thanks,
I appreciate it!
Retired teacher that I am, I still have memories of the Holiday Traditions
Units set up by colleagues in several schools. I do recall someone talking about
an African American custom in the south, where you came to the door and had
to be the first to shout "Christmas gift"( on either side of the door)
I think that entitled you to candy or some sort of little treat. Sounded almost
like a winter version of trick or treat. That's about the extent of my knowledge.
Obviously your version did not include the treat, just the trick. Sounds like
I think the "Christmas Gift" story is a wonderful tradition. I grew
up of the west coast and hadn't heard of this custom. How lucky you were
Just wanted to drop you a line that this was also a custom in our Walker family. This was the way that my dad always greeted my brothers and me on Christmas Eve. I try to keep family tradition alive in our family with our children, grand children, and now our first ggrandchild. I have enjoyed reading all the other responses from other families.
I am just catching up on backlogged e-mails from early December and read your delightful account of Christmas Eve Gift. I don't know the origin of the "Eve" part, but for several generations our family has delighted in a similar tradition that is simply "Christmas gift." This tradition is so dear to my heart that every year at Christmas time I read Ferrol Sams "Christmas Gift!" to bring back memories from my growing up years in the deep south.
One of my Mother's sisters used to say Christmas Eve Gift. I have no idea where she got it from. None of the rest of the family said it.
Hi! My name is Brian Smith and I am with the Payne County Genealogical Society in Oklahoma. I was wondering if I might get your permission to reprint your Christmas Eve Gift article in our newsletter.
I am just now getting to my email and saw your article on RootsWeb Review. Our family also participates in this weird tradition. It comes through my Mother's family which are in Ouachita County, Ar. So it isn't just in OK. She says that her Grandfather was the family champion when she was growing up. You are right that the spouses seem not to catch on, but my nephews caught on early and are always planning how to get their Grandmother.
Helen Paulette Weaver
Researching: Weaver, O'Keefe, Looper/Luper, Holleman/Holomon, Lambert,
Diffee, Hindman, Rodgers, Coffman, Howerton, Cook, Tedder, Refearn/Refern,
Huntley, Cooley, Koonce, Yeager, Smith, Hatley.
My Home Pages: Weaver-O'Keefe Connection
Here is another family who does the Christmas Eve Gift thing! The Cotter families
of Fulton County, Ar. I had never heard of it before I married into this family.
They say they have always done it, so they don't know who or where it came from.
They were among the first settlers in this part of the state and they came from
Indiana. They are Irish people. This was as far south as they came. They really
enjoy this game. They also call long distance to other cousins to "get
them". And believe me, they are tight with the long distance calls!! Most
of my folks were first settlers in Searcy and Stone Counties in Ar. But my grandparents
didn't do anything like this. Hope you can get to the bottom of this custom!
I saw your post in my Rootsweb Review of 18 DEC -- and darn it, I missed the perfect opportunity to "get" you!!
My mother is from Texas and although we were raised in IL, my sister and I grew up with Christmas Eve Gift. Typically our Grandmother would "get" us before we knew what hit us. You are the first person I've come across who also plays it -- and I just thought my family was odd, LOL!!
Our rules are similar to yours, with one exception: the one who was "got" has to give a gift to the "getter," usually something inexpensive like a t-shirt or candy. Lately I've been wondering if there was only one chance for someone to get someone else, and after that the game was over for the year. But I seem to recall several gifts being handed over -- and in theory, if one is a bit slow, they could lose several times!
And over the past 20 years I have gotten my husband more times than he has gotten me, merely because he goes to bed before midnight and I'm a late night person, heh heh heh. I gently wake him up and "get" him, causing him to grumble and turn over -- I'm giddy with laughter for most of the next day.
This year, however, he jumped out of bed when the bedroom clock said 12:00am and excitedly "got" me -- he was sooo happy with himself until I noticed that the rest of the clocks in the house said 11:57pm. I gleefully broke the news to him, walked away, and came back in three minutes and "got" him. Of course he has little chance of winning, I've been doing it all my life!! He grew up in the Chicago area, and no one in his family has ever heard of it; I've been unable to get them to catch onto it -- not even their kids (well, there is a six year old I should teach, hmmmm).
Hope your holidays were merry and bright :).
My family also has this custom at Christmas. I have often wondered where this custom came from. No one else around us had this custom after we moved to Texas. My folks are from Oklahoma. It is getting harder to best my son with "Christmas Eve Gift" . He has all the gadgets, such as caller ID and now knows when to answer "Christmas Eve Gift" before he says hello. I emailed him a "Christmas Eve Gift" message at 12:01 a.m. It worked this time but I don't know about next time. Let me know if you ever find out where this custom came from. I would be interested to know. Thanks.
Retired teacher that I am, I still have memories of the Holiday Traditions Units set up by colleagues in several schools. I do recall someone talking about an African American custom in the south, where you came to the door and had to be the first to shout "Christmas gift"( on either side of the door) I think that entitled you to candy or some sort of little treat. Sounded almost like a winter version of trick or treat. That's about the extent of my knowledge. Obviously your version did not include the treat, just the trick. Sounds like fun.
I just read your story about "Christmas eve gift" and cracked up!
My family, Brooklyn New Yorkers, used to play a similar but more vicious version
"Pinch, punch, first of the month" when I was a kid! Of course its
not nearly as effective to just say it on the phone or by email without the
actual pinch and punch. Thanks for the chuckle.
Christmas put me a little behind and I just got around to reading my Dec. Rootsweb
issues on the internet. Was interested in your story about being first to say
Christmas Eve gift. My paternal grandmother , Cora Wheeler Cox Hargrove, always
did this, only she did it on Christmas Day and said "Christmas Gift!".
I never asked her about it, but as a child I assumed that she was so poor when
she was young that they couldn't afford gifts and said that instead! I still
say it to friends, some of which are puzzled as they've never heard it. My grandmother
was born in Pope Co Ark and moved as a teen ager to Okla in the Chickasaw Nation
lands of Okla territory. Later, she and my grandfather moved to NM to homestead
and then on to Lamb Co, TX. Most of his 8 brothers moved from OK first to Throckmorton
Co, TX before scattering all over TX. My grandmother was married at 15to her
first husband (perhaps in Ark, maybe in OKla) to Andy Cox. He and 3 infants
all died within a week of spinal meningitis when she was about 20 years old.
She married my grandfather Hargrove the next year. What tragedies our ancestors
Dot Hargrove Hogan
We, too, celebrate "Christmas Eve gift" from my father's side of
the family, who have origins in La. and Ala. It then transferred to my mother's
family when they married, as they both came from the same small town in Texas.
The competition is also fierce, but the "gotch-ya" only lasts for
the day. When my sister married a fellow without many family traditions, he
thought we were pretty crazy, with long distance calls to be first. So he added
to the tradition one year by calling one day earlier and announcing "Christmas
Adam", with a chuckle and a brief explanation. This just added to the humor,
and to the family game, which was made especially important to his children
when he died unexpectedly, at a fairly young age, from a heart attack. His teenagers
are always reminded at Christmas that their dad made a special addition to Family
Barbara Matthews Wright, Tx
Did you find where it started? My family in Mississippi have played it for about 20 years. We can not remember why we started it.
Just caught up with my RootsWeb, and read your amusing account of "Christmas
Eve Gifting." I haven't heard of that variation, but I recall my dad talking
about a similar game of saying "Christmas Gift" on Christmas Day.
He was from southwest Virginia, not far from the Tennessee border. He's deceased
now, but his sister recalls it, as well, but doesn't remember the rules; she thought maybe the person you "got" was then supposed to give you a Christmas gift. I had totally forgotten it until I ran across a reference to "Christmas Gifting" in a short story by John Henry Faulk last year; somehow I thought I'd heard Daddy talk about it, and I then asked my aunt. Faulk's story makes it sound just like the verbal tag you describe, except that it seemed not to stop all day. Is the "Eve" aspect that is unique to your family or area, or had you not heard of "Christmas Gift," either?
I love reading the e-mails about this. My mother always said that, too, even later over the phone when she would call me from Missouri on Christmas morning. We didn't have any exchange that I recall. It was just the greeting. Her family came from Virginia and Kentucky. I'll "stay tuned" to see how many responses you get. Thanks,
Nancy Bird, CA
I can remember doing this when I was a very small child. Only, we said it on
Christmas Day and said "Christmas Gift". I can remember a Great Grandmother
actually being miffed if someone "got" her. My two grown children
always try their best to "get" me on Christmas Day Morning - and they
succeed. This year, my son even e-mailed me at 12:01 on the 25th and the subject was: Gotcha! and indeed he did. I saw an article about this custom in Cappers Weekly one year and cut it out. It is somewhere (?) in my files. Thanks for sharing.
My maternal grandmother lived with us from the time I was seven. She had the
custom of saying, "Christmas Eve Gift" and "Christmas Gift."
The answer given her was, "Give it here." All my life I have wondered
why MaMa did that, but in memory of her, I have continued the custom. I was
glad to read other people's stories of this custom in their families.
Gladys May, TX
Susan- I was very pleased to see your story as I read my old e-mail tonight. My Mother passed away last August at the age of 90. All thru the holidays I thought of the story she had told me about saying "Christmas Gift". I always thought that it was kind of a strange game and wondered why they did such a
thing. Thanks for taking the time to post the story. Maybe next year, I will use this idea to create a Christmas greeting for our family to continue her childhood memory. PS: My Mom was born and lived in East Texas as a child.
Are you tired of thinking about it by now? I ran across this today and immediately thought of you. I'm reading the diary of the daughter of Robert E. Lee. The book is "Growing Up in the 1850s: The Journal of Agnes Lee". In her entry for Jan 1, 1853, she says, "I must describe my Christmas holidays. Well twenty mins. before five Manda rushed in and caught me 'Christmas gift'." A foot note speculates that Manda was a daughter of one of the house servants. So we know the tradition is at least that old--and VERY Southern!
I just had to write and tell you how much I enjoyed your website! That is a very unique layout! I have no Buse's in my line but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it! Especially the Knick Knack Drawer!
Ann Allen Geoghegan
County Coordinator for:
Franklin County, Mississippi AHGP
Franklin County, ALGenWeb
Jefferson County MSGenWeb
Claiborne County MSGenWeb II
Lamar County MSGenWeb
Project Coordinator for ALGenWeb - Alabama Families
Project Coordinator for MSGenWeb - Mississippi Families
Just getting around to reading some of the e-mails that arrived before Christmas and found your article. Thought I would let you know that I had the pleasure of the "game" as a child growing up in Texas., 75 years ago. I am not positive, but I believe it may have been through my grandmother who grew up in Tennessee.. I played the game with my children, too, when they were small If you find it's beginnings, I hope you will publish it. You have piqued my curiosity now.
-Edna Walker, Texas
Both of my children tried to get me this year, but only one was sucessful..Our family has done this for years and years..My favorite is about my Aunt Bernie who was blind..We could never get her because of her super sense of hearing. As soon as someone came close or even far she would yell Christmas Eve Gift..One year we put a tape recorder under her bed and put the remote outside her window. At 12:01 we turned it on and got her for the first time..We whooped and hollared so loud that we were afraid the neighbors would call the police.....What wonderful memories of years of Christmas Eve Gift....
Pat Studer, Arkansas
I was so excited when I found your site. Not too long ago my sister was telling me that a coworker had mentioned something about the Christmas Eve Gift tradition in a casual conversation. We thought this was so strange as we thought it was just something our family did. So I decided to do a little research and I found your site.
We have played this little game I am the youngest of five girls. We all practice this tradition with our children. Since we are all so far away from each other we do get each other on the phone. In our family it is a really big deal if you can get my Dad. He seems to be the champion. I thought I would be sneaky one year and get him over the phone but he answered "Christmas Eve Gift." That added a new twist to the tradition. My son likes to sneak up on my Dad and "get him" when we arrive at their house on Christmas Day. We have even parked out of the way just so my son can get him.
I am not sure when this tradition started in my family. I do know it came from my dads side of the family which has roots in Oklahoma and Arkansas. I found it interesting that many others who practice this game also have roots in that part of the country.
I enjoyed reading about this tradition and plan to keep up with it. THANKS.
You have probably received a ton of e-mails on the "Christmas Gift" story you ran recently for Roots Web.
It took me a while to find what I was looking for, but I knew I had heard that term before.
My great-great grandmother, Victoria Hammett Hoyle, wrote her autobiography
in typed manuscript form (back before there were even mimeograph machines,
etc.) and wrote of her life in the south (Hardin Co. Kentucky and vicinity),
her family, and her growing up living to see flags flown at half-mast for the
deaths of two Presidents --Lincoln (1865) and Harding (1923). It is so
interesting with stories and lyrics to songs included. I checked up in this
manuscript begun in 1914, in her seventieth year, and found the following
concerning Christmas Gift. I thought you might like to have this for your
information as well. It pretty much agrees what everyone else has already
told you, but it is historical in this case...
"I have told of the one of the Southerners who called "Christmas gift." If you ever chance to read a story of Southern life before or during the Civil War, where a Southerner calls "Merry Christmas" as a salutation, take it from me he doesn't know --the author, I mean -- Southern life. In the old days children rose early, and probably grown people were eager too. If a child, or any one else, got ahead of you in shouting "Christmas gift!" you were supposed to owe them a present. You didn't always pay it, of course; but it was the supposition it was due from you. So it was who first should call "Christmas gift" and a triumph for the one who did."
On an earlier page, she writes of an incident during the Civil War...
"It was on Christmas Day of either 1863 or 1864, I think, when the Southern [which later her sister disputed in a letter saying that they might have been Union soldiers] soldiers, quite a number, rode up the lane from which one entered our yard. I rather think they were Morgan's guerillas. As they came up the lane the corn crib for a minute hid them from view. So one, putting back his head, called out "Christmas gift." Beyond our house, as one came down the lane, stood our tobacco barn with its precious store of tobacco. The soldiers were a body of cavalry. Of course we were in much alarm for our tobacco, but they rode on and though they may possibly have taken a few "hands" of the tobacco, practically no harm was done. I am inclined to think this was when they set fire to the bridge at Nolin and to the railroad near Sonora as well. The latter, at least, we saw burning, and I think the bridge as well."
Her manuscript is a fascinating story of Southern life and rich with all kinds of information of their travels which took them eventually to the Racine, Wisconsin area and then later to California. She, and her sisters, were well educated and were teachers, which could possibly attribute to the number of songs and stories that she also relates throughout the manuscript, which is also 80 pages all typed. Not bad for a woman of 78!
Anyway, I thought you might enjoy reading a piece of my family treasure.
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