The first time I was told I had to play a game in order to get my Christmas presents I was annoyed. Isn’t it enough that I was good (well, mostly) for the entire year? Isn’t life the game you play to get the prize of Christmas presents? Now I had to figure out clues to determine which of the anonymously wrapped gifts under the tree was mine. How unfair.

I had a tough relationship with games in the first place. As a child I was what you’d call a sore winner. It’s like a sore loser but instead of getting mopey if I lost, I would become smug and gloat if I won. This is offputting and annoying for fellow players. Nobody wanted me to play their reindeer games, so I didn’t want to play them either.

My family loved playing board games. I claimed they gave me a headache.

Now there were board games at Christmas and not the ones waiting to be unwrapped. My mother said it was a way to stretch out the morning and make the presents last. Sure, if only one present is opened every 15 minutes, Christmas morning lasts right up until Christmas dinner.

There was the time my sister and I came downstairs to find only one large box. We unwrapped it to discover it was full of smaller, individually wrapped boxes. Then we set about breaking the code of which wrapping paper matched which recipient. There are never names on the gifts.

Another time, we had to answer a Trivial Pursuit question. If we answered correctly, we chose a gift from under the tree. There was a memory game where you had to find the matching stickers on presents and a scavenger hunt with a clue hidden in the advent calendar. We sat inside a circle made of presents and spun a dial to select which gift would next be opened. Once each present was wrapped multiple times the intended recipient changing with each layer.

It’s unclear when I began looking forward to the game as much as the presents. Somewhere in the past fifteen years I lost my mean streak. I practiced being gracious. I enjoyed the mornings spent sitting on the floor, drinking hot chocolate, or more recently mimosas, and trying to recall who designed the Chrysler building (William Van Alen) in hopes of unwrapping the big box in the corner (a snowboard). I liked that I was still opening presents late into the afternoon. The prize of the game was less the gifts and more the satisfaction of selecting which parcel would be opened next. Now I eagerly look forward to watching my sister unwrapping a gift, in part because I want her to open her presents before I open all of mine, but mostly I just like to see the way her face lights up when she’s excited.

Christmas morning in my family is a competition and I think I’m on a winning streak.