They tear through the aisles, eyes glittering with desire, desperate to find the perfect toy. As they search, my husband and I watch them transform into the best versions of themselves. Compassionate, selfless versions. Big-hearted, open-handed versions that sometimes hibernate for weeks in normal life, but always wake up shining on this day.
On this day, they aren’t shopping for a toy they want—they are choosing gifts for each other. This is Sibling Gift Day.
When our four kids were toddlers, my husband and I began searching for ways to build a spirit of giving and generosity into our Christmas traditions; through things like singing in local nursing homes, buying gifts for families in need, baking and delivering treats for friends. Now, Sibling Gift Day has become our most bonding holiday tradition. Not only does it teach our kids the joy of giving, but it also builds connection and affection in our family. On Christmas morning, each kid receives one sibling gift chosen for them by the other three kids. Because our children are too young to have much money of their own, for now my husband and I mostly fund the tradition for them. But when they’re older, we hope they’ll carry out this tradition with their own money.
On Sibling Gift Day, my husband and I divide and conquer. We take turns sneaking various sibling groupings around the toy store while they choose gifts and try to keep their purchases secret. It’s a hilarious escapade that sometimes involves camouflage, spy gear, children diving for cover into piles of stuffed animals when siblings pass by, and semi-threatening text messages sent to the group from across the store: “DO NOT come ANYWHERE NEAR the LEGO aisle for the next ten minutes, OR ELSE!”
Our kids comb the aisles, studying toys (and I do mean studying, forcing beleaguered parents to read the fine print in French, German, and Mandarin), narrowing down the final candidates, debating which toy will make each sibling the happiest, casting their final votes before purchase.
Sometimes they set their hearts on a gift that’s more expensive than the allotted budget, and that’s when the sweetest stuff happens. They start wheeling and dealing on their sibling’s behalf—they offer to forego their paltry allowance for several weeks (they each receive a whopping two dollars per week), or offer to do extra chores to earn more money. If that still won’t cover the difference, they start begging, the only begging that’s music to my ears: “Please, Mommy, this will make him so happy! We’ll do anything for you if you give us the extra money!”
Choices made, we perform complex tactical maneuvers to sneak their purchases through the checkout line without spoiling the surprise. At home, they team up and hide in the bedrooms to wrap, adorning packages with an absurd number of curlicue ribbons and leftover pieces of fossilized Halloween candy. That night they arrange their masterpieces in places of honor under the tree. Then the exquisite agony of waiting begins. Not waiting to open their own gift, although of course they’re excited about that—no, I’ve been pleasantly surprised (ahem, shocked) to find that the kids can’t stand waiting to give the gifts they have chosen. (The first year this Miracle of Sibling Selflessness occurred, I checked them for fevers, because there was no way.)
The burden of their great secret is almost too much to bear. They spend the long days until Christmas accidentally tormenting each other with hints: “You’re going to love it!” “It’s the biggest thing we’ve ever bought you!” “You’ll never guess. It’s fuzzy, and it glows in the dark.” “Shhhhh! You’re ruining the surprise!” Every year they beg us to let them give their gifts early. Every year we make them wait.
At last there’s the joy of Christmas morning. The priceless brother-sister gift exchange has become my favorite moment under the tree. As each child opens his or her sibling gift, my eyes rest on the other three kids, the gift-givers—the way they bounce on hands and knees, giggling with anticipation; the way they have to sit on their hands because they so desperately want to snatch the package and make the unwrapping happen faster; the way they glow with pride when their sibling squeals their delight; the way they fall all over each other like happy puppies, shouting out every glorious feature of the toy they selected.
My kids don’t realize it now, but their closeness in this moment is their Christmas gift to me—the only thing I really want for Christmas. It’s the greatest gift a parent could receive—the gift that keeps on giving.
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New Holiday Tradition: Sibling Gift Day was written by Elizabeth Thompson exclusively for BonBon Break Media LLC.
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