Christmas Presents: Sneaking a Peek


There are two kinds of people during the holidays: Those who like to be surprised when opening Christmas presents, and those who don’t. Yes, I am talking about Present Peekers.

One of the conflicts of having children reaching adulthood is that they start to tell you things they did when they were young that you might not really want to know. Case in point: My sons told me during the Thanksgiving holiday about how they used to search the house to find their Christmas presents in advance. I don’t know that I wanted/needed to know that.

I have a co-worker who proudly tells about how she always knew what she was getting for Christmas because she was so adept at using a razor blade to slice the tape, check the gift, and re-wrap it without ever being caught. What a strange thing to brag about.

What kid would go to that effort only to satiate their curiosity, and at the same time sabotage their excitement for Christmas morning?

This former kid right here. Maybe it is genetic. When I was young, I remember scouring the house, trying to figure out where my mom had hidden things. I particularly remember one year, after some particularly fruitless searching, I stumbled upon a treasure trove of unwrapped Christmas presents in the trunk of my mom’s car.

Strangely, come Christmas morning, none of the presents we opened corresponded to what I had seen in the trunk. I was baffled. It was never spoken of. Maybe, one day, when I see my mom again, I’ll ask her about that.

I have since outgrown my desire to know in advance – I figure that the since someone is being kind enough to give me gift, I should be courteous enough to let them give it to me on their terms.

What is it about sneaking peeks that is so powerful? We know the giver wants it to be a surprise, and will sometimes go to great lengths to try and preserve that surprise, but our curiosity is simply more powerful than simple respect. (I have no evidence to back it up, but I think it correlates to those who read a book straight through vs. those who skip to the ending.)

I don’t presume to understand the psychology behind the fixation, but it probably has something to do with an inability to enjoy delayed gratification. (Uchtdorf’s marshmallows, anyone?)  As I got older, and hopefully more mature, I stopped feeling compelled to know in advance, and now quite enjoy the surprise.

As adults we don’t peek as often, but there are other ways of Present Peeking. Some people just don’t like surprises. Some just have to know in advance. Some like to be in control, or have trust issues. They would rather only get cash or gift cards, pick out their own gifts, or even shop and wrap for themselves. Same syndrome, different age. To each his own.

Personally, I like being surprised. I like letting someone who cares about me (enough to give me a gift) give me a gift of their choosing. I like opening it on Christmas morning so that person can watch. I like respecting the giver enough to refrain from peeking. (But I’m still not above giving a package a quick shake…)

Are you a Present Peeker? Were you a Present Peeker? I imagine most families have one – and there is probably a tale to be told for each.

What are your anti-peeking techniques? Double-wrapping, swapping presents with the neighbors, wrong size boxes? Or do you just let them suffer the consequences of their impatience?

And if any of the FOMLs are reading, stay out of my closet.





About the author


  1. I was never much of a peeker. I remember a couple of times the fascination of looking for hidden gifts, and then when I found them the intense disappointment that I no longer had something to look forward to. My brothers, on the other hand, were rabid gift searchers, and my mom had to be creative in hiding things. It was a family tradition that at least one or two gifts would show up in the weeks after Christmas as she stumbled across things she’d squirreled away and then forgotten where.

    We didn’t have much problem with our kids, as (inherited from my mom?) I’m a more devious hider than they are searchers. And yes, I’ve occasionally forgotten where I hid things.

    I think the surprise is a big part of the fun. I love surprising people with something they like, and hate just checking things off someone’s list. Which has caused some tension, as my EC is the complete opposite. I’m still trying to adapt.

  2. When I was almost 13 (my birthday is 9 days after Christmas), I decided that I was going to go strong and hard at peeking for presents for the first time. When my dad was at work and my mom was taking my only sibling to dance class, I would scour their bedroom. When I finally found a gift, I’d take a picture of it to know what position to put it back in and look. I never unwrapped gifts (almost entirely because I had no clue how to avoid the noise), but I knew my parents’ tactics. My mom can write in shorthand, so I took the entire time to learn how to write shorthand just so I could find her list of presents she bought.
    That was the same year I wanted a book on Italian grammar (I was learning the language for fun), and I knew I was getting it, because she was atrocious at hinting at it. She even had a laptop, so I would try to go through her history and emails to find gift orders and possible purchases. I was lucky if she left an account open, so I could go through her purchase history.
    Luckily for me, I never had to fake enjoying what I got, because I was (and still am) a person who’s terribly awkward at showing surprise or emotion for gifts unless I’m beyond excited for it, and even then, it’s pretty low-key. Despite these efforts, I only found out what a few of my gifts were, but it was worth it – I had something to look forward to!

  3. Hmmm…..it never occurred for me to look. Ever. Maybe because every Christmas …..it would actually be a surprise if Christmas came at all? {My mom always was faithful in warning us that Christmas may not come due to finances.} Who knows. I am truly baffled here. This is the first time I have read something like this….making me really wonder why I never thought to look? I still don’t. Weird.

  4. Ugh…I remember the year that curiosity killed the cat! Just as your co-worker did, I carefully unwrapped and then re-wrapped everything under the Christmas tree and snooped around for the Santa gifts. WORST. CHRISTMAS. EVER!!!! It was such a painful lesson that I was scarred for life. When we had our children it was an easy choice for me to choose to be surprised at the gender. No more peeking for me!

  5. When I was about 8 or so I found all my Christmas gifts and then the actual day was such a letdown! I never peeked again. I also told my kids about it when they were little and not one of them ever peeked. They are all adults now and they swear they never did! My husband, while he doesn’t peek, he will just go buy things he tells us he wants. Drives me crazy!

  6. I was never a peeker, but definitely a shaker. I love to be surprised. I have to admit that this year I have purchased my own gifts, simy to offer a little stress relief to my husband, who is in a particularly stressful period with both work and church. He is a great gifter, so I bear no resentment to giving him the gift of one fewer thing to stress about this Christmas.
    As for my kids- I have always told them exactly where the presents were hidden in the house. I tell them they are welcome to look, but that doing so will ruin all of their surprises. They have all, surprisingly, been very careful to avoid seeing the gifts! I am super thankful for that! I do look forward to the day when I can actually put wrapped presents under the tree before the wee hours of Christmas morning. Having a 9 month old and a 2 year old sort of put a damper on that prospect. But then, having a 2 year old is so magical at Christmastime (and all the other days of the year) that I’ll take a bare tree over not having a toddler any day!

  7. First, about the gifts in the trunk that you discovered but didn’t get yourself – maybe they were for an ‘angel tree’ recipient or neighbor family???

    Second, I’ve been a peeker partly out of curiosity but partly because it’s rare that I’m given something I actually want and I’d rather not be disappointed on Christmas Day so if I know it beforehand, problem solved.

      1. I can see how it might look like that but I’ll never forget the Christmas I unwrapped a training bra (in front of my dad and older brothers no less). It’s difficult to be excited and grateful when you had no warning and are completely embarrassed. That’s just one example but I’ll spare you from others. Needless to say, gifts have felt more like someone was just calling anything good and not giving any thought to me as an individual.

  8. My children weren’t peekers, but they began to compare the size of presents under the tree and it started to cause some jealousy. They were still young enough to think bigger is always better, and didn’t realize that the huge box might not be as great as a smaller gift. So to end the comparing and complaining, I stopped writing names on the tags. I choose two random numbers between 1 and 100 for each child and write numbers instead of names on the gift tags. Nobody but me knows which number goes to which child, and I hide the list carefully until Christmas Eve when I put the presents next to the correct stocking. Now they leave the presents alone.

  9. My wife and I would wrap presents early and then number them. No names on the packages. The secret paper was kept well hidden and on Christmas morning it was revealed who got what numbers. It has worked great. The kids are a little older and we still do this. It has become a fun tradition.

    We also rigged the basement door (which was where the kids rooms were) with various alarms on Christmas night.

    Christmas with young children bring great memories of fun and games!

    1. This is what we do as well. Most of the kids have left home but we still do this for just the one kid at home and us as parents. It really discouraged peeking. And still does. It is now a fun tradition.

    2. We do something similar but with reindeer names instead of numbers. One year to change things up we used famous characters.

  10. I didn’t really look, though one year we accidentally found a toy that my mom had bought for my brother for his birthday and forgotten to give to him. He got it for Christmas.

    The same thing happened to my husband, his mom forgot about some of the things she had gotten and hid for his birthday so he got extra Christmas gifts. His brother was not too happy about it.

  11. I enjoyed surprises when I was younger. My younger brother and I used to catalog each gift under the tree, rearrange them, and try to guess. I never wanted to search for the gifts. Earlier in our marriage I enjoyed the surprise. Now I don’t. I have been really disappointed in what I got. I don’t like getting gifts that I don’t really want and don’t enjoy. Now I prefer getting it myself. I have anxiety issues and maybe that contributes to not liking to be surprised.

  12. AuntSue
    There were several years when I was a searcher of presents. But then one year I guess was a pretty lean year financially, and I found ALL my presents.. Was a sad Christmas. Never did that again. But after I was married we moved away for most of our married life. Presents that came in the mail, it was my duty to see what they were, right?

  13. When I was a freshman at BYU, I came home for Christmas vacation and told my mother that I would like an umbrella, which we seldom needed in high school. I went shopping at the mall and came home and told Mother that they had a neat umbrella at a certain store. It was white and would open if you pressed the top onto the pavement. Several days later, my younger sister and I peeked at the gifts and I found a blue umbrella for me. On Christmas morning, I opened the gift from my mother, and it was the terrific white one. My sister said, “I thought you got the blue one!” My crime was discovered. Ever since then, I have never peeked at gifts, instead I have enjoyed the surprise of opening gifts on the right day at the right time. No peeking for me ever again.

  14. I learned my peeking lesson early. I was abt 5 when I tiptoed through the house in the wee hrs of Christmas morning, and found a sled in the dining rm. When morning came, the sled was in front of the fireplace with my Christmas stocking from Santa. What?!!! There is no Santa?!! I wasn’t quite ready for that info! I have myself given birth to a few peekers, and I was sometimes so adept at hiding gifts that a few times I didn’t find them until the next yr, during a closet clean-out.

  15. Did once and it totally ruined the fun of Christmas morning! I like surprises….except some of my husbands are a little TOO surprising sometimes 🙂

  16. I never peeked because I loved being surprised. I would sit and hold a present and out of excitement say, “What is it!?!!” and my siblings would yell at me to just hurry and open it and find out! I loved the surprise. Now I want to either buy myself gifts or tell the givers exactly what I want because I have reached the lame/practical stage of life and really hate excess and things in my house that I will never use. So, I can’t say the peekers and the adults who want to pick their own gifts are necessarily related, but that’s just me! Maybe someday when we aren’t working hard to pay off student loans gift receiving will be exciting again! Until then, I don’t want my husband and family using precious money to buy me things that I really don’t need!

  17. For years our oldest son made it his mission in life to find the Christmas gifts and tell all the others what they were getting for Christmas. One particularly stressful Christmas I didn’t bother to hide the gifts but informed my children where the gifts were and told them to go look if they wanted to. Imagine my surprise when no one peeked, not even my oldest. From then on we made no effort to hide gifts but left it up to our kids to peek or not-their choice.

  18. I only looked in my parent’s closet once as a child but never again because I like REAL surprises and figured I was a poor actress. I never unwrapped/rewrapped a present but my husband did and to this day, he cannot believe it. He is convinced everybody did and that I have a bad memory or whitewashing my past.

  19. I love fun surprises! I’ve never, ever been a present peeker, even to the point that I get bummed if I happen to stumble across a present intended for me.

    Some of my siblings were so my mom would hide our presents in the big toilet paper boxes she would get at case lot sales. Don’t think anyone ever thought to look with the tp. (She also hid the chocolate chips inside empty frozen peas bags, brilliant woman!)

  20. I am a former present peeker. It was in my youth, and it was about control….totally. As a mom with 4 kids, I have strict peeking policies (since I have resolved my control issues haha). If you find a gift that I intended for you, I will return the present. It was always enough to scare the children from even looking….until my 4th child, who is now 7. He found a super cool present this year and then lied about seeing.it. I eventually got him to confess. I think he has accepted that his treasured present is now going to be given to his cousin, by him. Oddly enough, I am the one most sad.

  21. My oldest two daughters found our stash last year. I found out the next day when my 14 year old daughter told me she wanted to add something to her Christmas list. It just happened to be the same thing I had just bought for her on a total whim. My oldest caved as soon as I questioned her! Luckily they did not spoil things for the younger two, who still believe. I love that my children are terrible liars!

  22. I never opened or searched much. But I LOVE playing detective. Hold, balance, weigh, shake, sniff, etc. It is fun to see the surprise when you guess right. It is even more fun when the giver has a good stoneface, so you get the surprise when you open it AND the bragging rights of being so good at guessing.

    As for tricks? One year one of my brothers “knew” he has getting an Aerobee for Christmas. He had seen it when it was purchased . So we put it in a huge box with rocks and other bits to make package bulge in different places. He changed his mind about what he was getting. That was a fun one. the final wrapped package was about 5 times bigger and heavier than it needed to be.

  23. I peeked, I was good at it too. I then prepared myself to want whatever I was to receive. One time my mother succeeded and I did not find my “special” gift. I could not hide my dissapointment. What Highschool senior needs a bulky, really bulky, homemade sweater when we lived in Miami, Florida? Never wanting to hurt my mother’s feelings like that again, I continued to peek. Given the chance, I would do it again and be prepared for that sweater!
    Even ow, 40 years later, given the opportunity, I probably would peek.

  24. My son’s FIL sealed his gifts to his EC in a #10 can at the cannery one year to foil her peaking!

  25. One Christmas I was insanely curious about one particular present. I did the best I could to clandestinely unwrap and re-wrap the gift, although I suspect my mom knew anyway. I remember unwrapping the gift and feeling disappointed that missed the surprise. I became a dedicated non-peeker from that moment on.

    1. Me too! My sister and I unwrapped all of our presents one year, when I was 10-11. It made Christmas morning so disappointing! We never did it again.
      Now I am the one who buys all the presents so I don’t have the option of waiting for a surprise.

  26. We had Present peekers at our house for a few years. We solved that problem by storing all of the gifts in the outdoor storage shed at the Church, my EC being Branch President at the time. Problem solved!

Add your 2¢. (Be nice.)

%d bloggers like this: