What it is: It’s not really a game; this is more of a family tradition/activity. But it’s one that my family did for a good portion of my childhood, and one me and my siblings all looked forward to at Christmas time. It’s a fun gift-giving activity where, over the course of 12 days, you give gifts secretly to another family or friend. (We called it a ding-dong-ditch gift approach; I’ve also heard it called ring-and-run.) It’s a great way to feel the Christmas spirit of giving and service, and fun for kids, too.
Best for: Two families: your family to give the gifts and another family to receive them.
What you need: You’ll need 12 specialized gifts, one for each of the 12 days before Christmas. These can be highly variable or personalized depending on your family or the family you’re gifting to. You start with gift 12 on December 13 and work down from there to gift 1 on December 24 (one day until Christmas). When we did this tradition, we always used cute tags to mark each gift, and each tag had a number and said “Christmas is…” followed by a different noun, like “Christmas is joy” or “Christmas is love.” The last gift, gift number 1, always said “Christmas is Christ.”
On day 12, the gift would be 12 of something: maybe 12 oranges, or a dozen cookies. On day 11, it might be 11 small ornaments. On day 10, 10 candy canes, and so on. The exact gifts would vary by year and by the family we were giving them to, but one gift was always the same: on day 1, we gave a framed picture of Jesus Christ.
When we could, we matched the gift to the tag: for example, for “Christmas is giving” on day 4 we might give 4 rolls of wrapping paper. Not all of the days matched perfectly, but that was okay. Here’s a sample of what the tags and gifts might look like one year:
||Christmas is music
||A Christmas CD with 12 tracks
||Christmas is food
||Christmas is sharing
||10 candy canes
||Christmas is joy
||Christmas is decorations
||Christmas is friendship
||7 candy bars
||Christmas is service
||6 Christmas kitchen towels
||Christmas is family
||5 small toys
||Christmas is light
||4 nice candles
||Christmas is giving
||3 rolls of wrapping paper
||Christmas is love
||2 poinsettia plants
||Christmas is Christ
||A framed picture of Jesus Christ
Again, the gifts varied year by year. We kept the family in mind. A lot of times we gave useful gifts. Some other gift ideas might be any baked goods (cookies, brownies, fudge), food (Little Debbie snacks, bread, popcorn, cans of soup, fruit, 2-liter bottles of soda), small toys, hot chocolate mugs, pads of paper, Christmas decorations, gift-wrapping tape, cookie cutters… even rolls of paper towels (useful!). You can get creative and give gifts you think the family would like and use. And they don’t have to be big, either. Even small things (like tape for wrapping presents or hot chocolate mix) can be a special gift, especially because this family will be receiving one gift every day for 12 days.
A tip on the gifts that my mom shared with me: she always tried to gather, wrap, tag, and prepare the gifts all before December 13, before we even started. That way we weren’t scrambling around last-minute getting gifts together. And, after you’ve secretly dropped off gifts for 5 days, it’s not like you can all the sudden stop or put it off a day; the family will be expecting you! But, come to think of it…I can remember at least a couple times when we kind of missed a day and gave two gifts the next day, or dropped it super late at night and didn’t ring the bell so they’d just find it in the morning. But we were a busy family of six kids…of course we weren’t perfect.
The delivery: After you’ve prepared your gifts, you’re ready to deliver! Start on December 13 with gift 12 so you’ll end on December 24 with gift 1. To deliver the gifts secretly, go to your chosen family’s house each night, then choose one or two people to sneak the gift quietly up to the doorstep, ring the bell, and make a run for it! Don’t get caught! On Christmas Eve, you can go as a whole family, ring the doorbell, show who you are, and present your gift of Jesus Christ, maybe with a message or a Christmas carol.
Printables: So because this tradition really is so special to me, I wanted to make it easy for others to do it, too. So I made these free printables of the 12 “Christmas is…” tags. Click the picture to download the PDF.
Now because I think you really do need to customize the gifts/days based on your family and the family you’re giving the gifts to, I left the numbers separate (on the last page) so you can cut the numbers out and paste them on the tag you want to use for that day. For example, say you just happen to have a Christmas CD with 12 tracks ready to give. Glue the “12” number on “Christmas is Music” and you’re set. So, even though the tags you’re printing don’t look like this now, when you cut out the numbers and past them on, the tags will look like this:
I also included a page of blanks in case you want to write in your own ending to the sentence “Christmas is…” Also, I’d recommend printing these on card stock, or mounting them on colored card stock if you print on normal printer paper. It’s nicer that way.
Variations: There are lots of ways you could vary this tradition. If you don’t like the ding-dong-ditch aspect, just give the gifts to your family openly. Or you could even do it with cards long-distance through the mail.
As for the theme, you don’t have to do the “Christmas is…” tags. You could use the song “12 Days of Christmas” as your theme instead. We never did it that way, but Natalie at Chronicles of a Babywise Mom has some great ideas on how to do it. In the same post she also talks about another variation that we never did but that sounds really neat: having each gift over the 12 days be a different piece to a new Nativity set you buy for the family. That way you can also include scriptures about the Nativity story with each piece. I think that would be a neat variation to do.
Finally, I came across this story about a family that does the 12 Days of Christmas for their neighbors. It’s a neat, touching story about loving our neighbors – what I think Christmas is really all about.
My memories: What makes this tradition so special to me is the memories I have of it. Each December, we’d sit in a family meeting and choose one family to secretly give our 12 days of gifts to. It might be someone we knew needed some extra love. It might be one of our friends from school. It might be someone we knew well or someone we didn’t know that that well at all. But we’d all decide together on who the family would be.
My mom would prepare the gifts, and then, starting on December 13, we drove as a family after dark to our chosen family’s home. Dad parked down the street, a few houses away, usually with the headlights off. One or two of us (we took turns each night) would quietly get out of the car with the first gift, sneak up to the family’s door step, put the gift down, and sprint away. Whew, the adrenaline rush! Then we’d jump back in the car and quickly drive away, hoping we weren’t seen. Dad always circled around the block slowly before we cautiously drove in front of the house to make sure the gift was gone. It was great fun for us as kids, and always left us very excited, with lots of stories to share. Of course, we had to keep the secret from the family if we saw them during the day, which was always fun, too. I remember once when we did my friend’s family, I was driving her to her house one night and pretended I didn’t know the way, just to throw her off the trail…as if I didn’t know; we had been driving secretly to her house at night for days! Some families got really into trying to catch us, too, and it would get harder and harder to ding-dong-ditch their house. (I remember one particularly zealous family; we had to recruit neighbors and friends to drop off the gifts to them because they waited so diligently by the door and chased us down the street.) Sometimes we were discovered, but we always tried to keep our identity a secret until the last day, Christmas Eve, which was always the best day.
On Christmas Eve, we’d drive as a family, but this time we all got out of the car together, walked to the porch, and rang the doorbell. When they answered, we presented the last gift, the picture of the Savior Jesus Christ, and sometimes sang a carol (but…probably not that often; my family’s not particularly well-known for our singing). Then it was fun and neat to admit our secret identity and talk to our family face to face. We always left feeling good and happy inside. It was part of our Christmas traditions for many years.
I hope you enjoy! If you want to start this tradition this year, December 13 will be your first drop-off day: you still have time! Merry Christmas and, however you celebrate the season, I hope you can find the joy and happiness that come not just from playing games and having fun, but from giving to others.