I suspect she learned it growing up on the family farm near Hillsboro. For from the 1840’s on, in the rural South it became a Christmas tradition for many such families such as hers, most of whom likewise had limited resources at best. Not surprisingly, thus, my mom, one of five sisters with a widowed mother, not only practiced it as a child, but when she grew up she taught it to her own family and, in turn, I passed it onto my kids, too.
It’s a simple idea, really. For the point is just to be the first one in your household to greet others on December 24 with the exclamation, “Christmas Eve Gift!” And whoever you manage to get the drop on is then expected to present you with a small present, traditionally some candy or nuts. Amazingly enough, however, the tradition can get downright competitive.
When I was growing up, for instance, my mom would often be right at our bedsides when we awoke on the 24th, and before we could even adjust our eyes, she’d yell out with a smile: “Christmas Eve Gift!” And though I thought her tactics were a bit unfair as a child, when I became a parent I found them to be eminently reasonable.
There’s a variant on the tradition, of course, that moves the whole practice to Christmas Day itself, changing the greeting accordingly. In my mind, however, doing it on the day before presents are customarily exchanged seems to add an extra dimension to it, almost like getting a bonus gift or, to use another Southern expression, some lagniappe that you hadn’t planned on receiving.
But in either case, there’s something wonderful indeed about a greeting that recognizes the birth of Jesus as a gift to this world. For that’s what all of our presents, large or small, one to the other, are meant to remind us of in the first place, is it not? That God so loved the world that He GAVE the ultimate Christmas Eve Gift, so that you and I might not perish but find eternal life?
Despite what advertisers might try to sell us, thus, Christmas is not about the commercialism, but the connections—those between God and ourselves, and ourselves and others whom we love. And in that respect, I am glad to know that even in England, far away from the rural South, my grandchildren are growing up with that family tradition, too.
Just because they are six hours ahead of us here in Texas doesn’t mean they’re going to be able to beat me, however. For should they happen to read this while I’m still sleeping on this side of the pond it will still count: “CHRISTMAS EVE GIFT!”