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  • Writer's pictureLaura

Social anxiety: Five tips to overcome the awkwardness of opening Christmas presents.

Christmas is coming, the goose isn’t on the agenda this year. I don’t know about you but I think we’re pretty much done with that.

We already know what’s coming, that Christmas is noisy, disruptive to routines and generally exhausting for those of us who like a quieter life. So instead, let’s talk about something that many of us find awkward but seldom speak about. The joy of opening presents in front of people…

You know the feeling. That moment when all eyes are on you. You are the centre of the stage and you need to give your best performance when that shiny, patterned object is passed your way.

But they say it’s not all about the presents, right? Perhaps not but we’ve been doing this for years now and it doesn’t get any easier.

Firstly, being stared at is embarrassing. Secondly, surprises are uncomfortable…

A man holding out a Christmas present in front of a Christmas tree.

It’s your turn…

If we are to do gifts at Christmas, then surely it should be acceptable to retreat off somewhere as a dog does with a bone. That would be a great solution right? Sure, but it isn’t how present opening works. Because the gift of giving is reciprocal and people love to watch others’ reactions.

We know that we should be thankful as not everyone receives a gift at Christmas, but that doesn’t take away from feeling awkward when one comes your way. Most people mean well but there is a high emotional emphasis placed upon giving the right gift. Look around you right now, what does almost every advertisement say?

Feeling awkward about opening presents and finding the right reaction can be difficult. Just as difficult as being the person who didn’t get the right reaction to the gift they spent a long time making or being the latecomer who doesn’t receive anything aside from sheepish looks and ‘Oh, I think yours must have gone missing’.

So here are some tips to avoid embarrassment and awkwardness – all without upsetting the present giver:

1. Watch other introverts in your family.

My nan perfected avoiding present opening years ago. I remember childhood Christmases when her gifts would end up in a different room or down the side of the sofa. I still don’t quite know how she mastered it, but she managed to eliminate herself from collective present opening year after year. It became a norm that she opened hers later.

We can learn a lot from our family introverts – they’ve been navigating this stuff for years.

2. Take a decoy gift.

This one has been tried and tested a few times. You hear the dreaded ‘This one is for you!’, or ‘Can’t wait to see your face with this one’.

This is your cue to bring out the decoy gift. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive or extravagant, in fact, the less so the better as it doesn’t end up being a ‘competitor’ gift if that’s the kind of thing that happens in your family.

The key to mastering this is when the emphasis is placed on you, divert the attention to someone else through the decoy by saying, ‘Well actually, I can’t wait to see your face with this one – just a little surprise’. More often than not people will be happy to open gifts simultaneously, but failing that you can insist that the surprise (decoy) takes centre stage, while you open yours with less attention placed on it.

3. Children and pets will save you

Children are always going to take centre stage at Christmas. No adult in the world is going to take the attention away from those lit-up faces, still imbued with the magic of Christmas. This one relates to the decoy strategy but is even more effective, as adult present openings can be taken or left, but no one wants to miss a child present opening.

If there are no children present, apply the same strategy to pets. Pets are useful as they take longer to open gifts and it’s funny to watch. Alternative entertainment takes place while you resort to nan’s strategy and get hiding your gifts. A carrier or gift bag is a good gathering tool to hide presents for a later and more private opening.

A small white dog with a Christmas present on a rug

Pets are our friends and saviours during these moments..

If there are no pets or children then you might be a little bit screwed – but rest assured decoys still work.

4. Humour presents are actually easier to Navigate.

If you receive a gift that is humour based the good news is that this is actually much easier. Why? Because chances are it hasn’t cost a lot and doesn’t have great sentiment such as jewellery or something that’s been contributed towards by half the family.

The bad news about humour presents is that they are based on someone else’s humour. No introvert in the land wants to receive a fancy dress garment or something that requires a performance for everyone in the room. That said, if it’s someone you know well, the chances are that you already know their humour so you can prepare.

Some joke gifts are easy to negotiate. You simply pass them back and say, ‘I think this one’s on you to demonstrate’. If it’s something more personalised to you then it’s okay to just say, ‘well this is a bit awkward’.

The great thing about humour gifts is that they are less serious and sentimental, and more about the joke within the moment. There’s less masking involved as you can admit defeat with these.

My mother gifts me something like this every single year and guess what? This year I know she’s my gift giver in the family Secret Santa, so without a doubt, I’ll have one of these pinned on me. I’ll let you know how it goes (depending on what it is of course).

5. Embrace being the outsider

A final tip, what you will receive (if anything) is very much based on where you are doing Christmas. If you are an outsider to the group, such as the new boyfriend/girlfriend visiting your partner’s family for the first time or spending Christmas with someone else’s family then it can seem more intense.

But actually, being the outsider at Christmas has its benefits.

Firstly, if you are someone outside of the family or still getting to know them, then you are probably going to receive a ‘safe gift’, along the lines of chocolates or an Amazon gift card. Safe gifts are easier to manage as you can give the standard, ‘These are my favourites’ or ‘Oh this will be really useful, thank you’.

Secondly, you may find that prospective new family members want to make a positive impression on the newcomer without making their family look too weird, so the usual quirks and humour gifts might take a backseat. Until next year anyway.

A final note on this one. If you are the outsider who isn’t going through a getting-to-know-you phase (e.g. a neighbour or distant friend), then you might see a safe one come your way or you may not receive one at all. Whilst it can feel awkward watching others opening their presents whilst you’re sat on the sidelines, you can rest easy knowing that you don’t have to open anything yourself. If it’s really awkward you can offer to make drinks, watch the food or even go off and eat the food while it’s all going on. Remember pets too, the cat is always a willing recipient for your attention. The ultimate Christmas friend.

So, being the outsider is actually the best role in the house.

A close up photo of a glittery Christmas present

That one best not be mine..

Whatever your circumstances this year, I hope you find some downtime and peace away from the less enjoyable parts of Christmas (such as opening gifts). We know it’s a tough time of year for many people and for all sorts of reasons, so I hope that this post brings you solidarity, support and some light relief.

That’s all from me for now as I’m off to wrap some final presents. I truly hate it and I’m always mocked for it, but that’s a story for another day.

Merry Christmas to all who are socially awkward out there, and solidarity always x

p.s. If I’ve missed anything here and you have your own tried and tested strategy, feel free to comment below or chat with us on Twitter 🙂


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