Surely not before breakfast? Because if you do, such behaviour is “considered a big vulgar and unbridled”, according to high society magazine Tatler.
Instead, it is considered more acceptable to wait until “that lull between the morning church service and lunch”, which is a lovely idea if you live at Downton Abbey and have servants preparing your lunch. Those of us who don’t are unlikely to experience any kind of lull before Christmas dinner (to give it its proper name, served in theory at 2pm, in practice well after The Queen).
In our family, we open presents at around 6am (four hours after I have finished helping Santa position them correctly), armed with a wakey-wakey cup of tea and a black plastic bag (the husband has some sort of wrapping paper phobia). All very downmarket, no doubt, but who has breakfast when there are Christmas presents to be opened?
More useful Christmas etiquette advice comes from Tatler in the form of what to say if you don’t like your presents. It suggests: “How fun!” or perhaps “Oh wow – I saw this in a magazine”, although my favourites have to be: “This is too much.” and “This is too generous – you must absolutely never get me a present again.” Tone of voice has to be spot on or these responses could be taken the wrong way.
My own advice is that, when opening a gift in the presence of the actual gift-giver, it’s a good idea to keep your face looking serious and slightly sombre, and then immediately smile at your first glimpse of it. That way, it will look as if you are lighting up at the correct moment, and that’s all anyone will notice. No need to thank me.
If I run a little short of Christmas etiquette this year, it will be because it’s at our house for the first time ever, which means I will be cooking a proper Christmas dinner, for the first time ever.
How hard can it be to cook turkey and all the trimmings for 15 people? I’ve been buying helpful magazines and watching Jamie and Nigella, but I’m not sure they are familiar with families that insist on a minimum of seven Yorkshire puddings and 12 roast potatoes each. As for the gravy, let’s just say that the “considered acceptable” rule that it should be ladled carefully over only the meat, and nothing else on the plate, will not be adhered to. I’ll be making sure I have a least four litres to hand, and that volume of M&S turkey gravy doesn’t come cheap. In fact, I’m buying it all ready-prepared.
Happy etiquette-free Christmas.