Carlisle Family Christmas Eve Gift Game

I remember a game passed along in the Carlisle family, now still finding interest down to the fourth generation—passing from my father to me, to my children, and to my grandchildren. My son says he has done research trying to find an earlier origin of the game, or to see if there is another family practicing this somewhat unusual fun activity, but without success. If someone reading today’s post enjoys or can relate what you know about a similar pastime, I would be delighted to hear from you.

My “Dad” Marion Carlisle grew up in a household of five brothers and two sisters with their “Mom” and “Pop” who were people of modest means. He told me that the Christmas gift he received as a child each year was an orange, two or three pieces of hard candy, and a few walnuts in his stocking. Evidently there was not money enough for a brood of seven to receive anything other than a few edible treats as the “Christmas Gift.”

I found out from my Dad that the game “Christmas Eve Gift” and its sequel “Christmas Gift” were played by the grown-up and living-apart brothers and sisters via telephone, although I imagine it was played when they were children and all living in the same house by calling out to each other. For example, my Dad might telephone one of his brothers (Bill, Cliff, Milton, or Louis) or one of his sisters (Genie or Retta). Note to any younger folks reading today’s post: this call would have been made on a rotary dial phone where your finger slid into the hole on the dial, and you pushed clockwise then let go so the dial itself returned counter-clockwise—going through your desired series of letters and numbers.

Too early to call? Naw . . .

The object of the game was to pronounce boldly “Christmas Eve Gift!” or “Christmas Gift!” as early in the day as you dared, or anytime before the recipient of your call had a chance to say it to you. Of course there was no caller I.D. so someone suspecting it was a game call would answer the phone with “Christmas Eve Gift!” or “Christmas Gift!” instead of saying the usual, “Hello.” Whoever said the magic game words first would gloat, “I gotcha!” and would be the winner between those two parties. Sometimes the one who failed to say the magic game words first would belt out, “Well, bring it on over!” Then both siblings would laugh and be as appreciative of the greeting as if he or she had received an expensive gift.

I passed along the fundamentals of the game to my children and to my grandgirls and grandguys. But determining a winner has become increasingly difficult as our world has become more and more digital. “Nonny, does texting count?” one of my teen grandchildren asked me this last Christmas season. “Well, I guess if you just text one person, it might be o.k. But if you text everyone at the same time, that doesn’t seem fair. You know, maybe we should say, ‘Make a phone call.’ Anyway, that seems like more fun. And you have the chance to carry on a personal conversation, even if it is brief.”

A few years ago when my grandchildren became more aware of the Christmas Eve Gift game, the grandguys tried to extend the game into yet-to-come holidays which meant they were calling me saying, “New Year’s Eve Gift!”, “New Year’s Gift!”, and “Valentine’s Gift!” Plus the inevitable “I gotcha!” I suppose that means that the Christmas Eve Gift Game was fun, and they just wanted to keep on having fun.

However, one grandson is a true competitor and doesn’t like to lose. Christmas Eve morning this year I had already been caught off guard by my younger daughter, so when Competitor Grandson rang in, I was ready. I immediately shouted out, “Christmas Eve Gift!” as he was shouting the greeting also. “Nonny, I said ‘Christmas Eve Gift’ before you did.” “No, you didn’t. We were saying it at the same time.” “No, Nonny. I started saying it first.” “It was a tie,” I replied. But insistent Competitor Grandson wouldn’t give in; he was certain he was the winner.   

Even my oldest grandson who lives many miles away and is out on his own texted me in the early afternoon of Christmas Eve this year. His text read, “I’m sure I didn’t win but CHRISTMAS EVE GIFT!” This led to an exchange of back and forth texting which was much appreciated on my part. I have always made time for my grandchildren and now they continue to make time for me.

A Not So Random Greeting: Carlisle Family Memories
Connie Carlisle Polley, 2021
ConnieCarlislePolley.com
NonnyDay.com

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