Christmas Eve gift leaves long legacy

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

Christmas Eve gift!

It’s a simple phrase that’s been uttered on Dec. 24 by my family as long as I can remember. In fact I’m not sure anyone knows when it all started. That makes it a family Christmas tradition.

I’m sure if someone in my family or anyone else in eastern New Mexico knows when or where it started I’ll hear about it after this column.
The concept is pretty simple: The first one to say the phrase, “Christmas Eve gift,” to someone else is owed an early gift. A Christmas Eve gift. The person who has it sprung first on them was said to have been “got.”

One of my earliest recollections of it was when my family would get together at paternal grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve. As family gathered and someone new would arrive at the house, they arrived at the door with a hearty “Christmas Eve gift” on their lips. Problem was I never saw too many folks actually receive their gift.

My mother, a relative newcomer to the family (less than a decade), had noticed the same thing. So one Christmas Eve she set a trap for the deadliest of Christmas Eve gifters in the family, my Aunt Betty’s husband, Gordon.

Mom had saved an empty chili powder can especially for the purpose. She added a little noise-making gravel and a note that told the holder they were entitled to a free enchilada dinner at her house.

When Betty and Gordon arrived, she purposely went to the door and intentionally let herself be “got,” just to see the look on his face when she produced an actual wrapped Christmas Eve gift.

That exchange led to another night of merriment over the holidays when my mom hosted the enchilada dinner. It also typified the reason we all carry on the tradition: It’s fun and it brings us all closer together.

Christmas Eve gift works just as well on the phone as it does in person in our family. Frustrated people who have been “got” repeatedly by other family members have attempted to call in the wee hours of the morning to gain advantage. I tried it on my mom and dad once after I moved to Tucumcari and whoever answered the phone answered it with the greeting “Christmas Eve gift.” I hung up in shame.

One year I even brought the tradition high tech and e-mailed a few folks the phrase.

So if you call me or one of my family on Dec. 24, don’t be surprised when you don’t hear the usual salutation. It’s not safe to let your guard down on Christmas Eve.

Over the years, the best part of the whole tradition is initiating new members of the family into the club. My just-engaged wife-to-be in 1981 thought we had all gotten into the loco weed that first Christmas I brought her home with me. She’d never heard of the tradition and never seen the domino game 42 played until that Christmas.

I don’t know as we’ve ever gotten her started on 42, but she’s a Christmas Eve gift participator.

This is a special Christmas in our family this year as it will be the first Christmas for my niece with her new husband. I can’t remember if he got a good initiation last year as a beau or not. This year he’ll have to learn the tradition the hard way.

With any luck at all, by the time he or his wife reads this, he’ll have been “got” by Uncle Karl.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Karl Terry is managing editor of the Portales News-Tribune. Contact him at 356-4481 or e-mail: