Stage one: the Ulti-Shop, might begin months (or even up to a year for the hardy bargain shoppers) with lots of thought about what to buy, when to buy, how to secret the items away until Christmas Day.
Stage two: Sorting, Prepping, and Wrapping. For us this all had to be done in stages, short pockets of time when Toddleator is asleep or somehow distracted enough to be unaware of her surroundings.
Stage three, my favorite, the Eve: Assembling and Arranging. Whatever has arrived in a box "some assembly required" is expertly put together, all gifts are displayed just so under/around the twinkling tree. As I carefully pulled down the wrapped packages from the top of a closet, I was struck suddenly with the certainty that hundreds of thousands of other parents were quite possibly doing the exact same thing. We're all collectively involved with the ritual ceremony that keeps the spirit of Christmas, St Nicholas or Santa Claus, ALIVE.
This spirit is thriving at our house. I was only able to give a couple of toys to 'Tots' this year, I always love to shop for anonymous toy gifts. Fiona enjoyed picking out gifts "for Papa" and then tried over and over to give them to Gary, encouraging him to open them. It was easier to explain to her the "wait until Christmas" rule with gifts that she was giving to Papa, rather than trying to talk her out of unwrapping gifts that she somehow knows are hers. The Rocking Horse that I restored for her was a huge hit this morning, she immediately wanted to ride it, named it Vikki-Pony.
I do NOT recommend contracting a stomach flu within a week of Christmas. First, it can seriously throw off any semblance of schedule. Second, well, it's just NOT fun to vomit for 12 hours straight, then spend the next 48 recovering. I was completely stressed out trying to get the food shopping sorted out, the rocking horse finished, the house chores caught up (still not), gifts ready...it was insanity.
ALL that aside, the ham-that-wasn't-really-a-ham turned out fantastic. My raspberry mousse chocolate bombe is also delicious. Fiona has enough toys to keep her completely occupied for days, and Gary & I enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.
I can only hope that everyone on the planet has as much beauty, health, & happiness.