Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Our Holiday Traditions: A Christmas Eve present that never surprises

Every year, Jonetta and Geno allow their kids to open one present.

On Christmas Eve, Jonetta and Geno White allow their kids to open one present. These gifts are never a surprise. As they have for many years, every member of the family will receive matching Christmas pajamas.

The next morning all of them — Zenyia, 17; Geno Jr., 16; Gjianni, 15; and Geron, 10 — will wear their new pajamas. Even as most of the kids have become teenagers and more picky about fashion, they all don their holiday apparel. “We get fleece bottoms, things like that, so they’re cool enough,” Jonetta says with a laugh. “They better come down in those PJs!” In their holiday jammies the family gathers to open the rest of their gifts, including something unique each person has specially chosen for someone else. Later on Christmas Day they’ll change into nice clothes for a special family dinner.

When the kids were younger the Federal Way family started a tradition of putting names in a cup to see who would give a gift to whom. The gifts can be store-bought or handmade, but they must be meaningful, showing that the giver has thought about and tried to understand the recipient.

“We were giving them gifts, but they wanted to give something to each other or to us,” Jonetta says. “We try to get something the person would be surprised to get or that says, ‘You actually listen to me when I talk.’” It might be a book by a favorite author or something the recipient enjoys even if the giver doesn’t. One year the Whites’ daughter gave her brother a Transformers costume because he was really into them months after Halloween.

“My husband doesn’t like to hear me chew gum, but he once gave me a certain gum I like,” Jonetta says.

The family also makes time to give back to their community. They volunteer at the annual JDRF Gingerbread Village, which benefits the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The family chooses a day every year to greet visitors, thank donors, answer questions and spread awareness and holiday cheer. One of the children has juvenile diabetes, for which there is no cure, and the family wants to support the organization working to find one.

“The gingerbread village is so beautiful, but the best part is that we get to give back to a cause that is near and dear to our hearts,” Jonetta says.

Jonetta, who works in social services, and Geno, an IT director at Expedia, strive to create lasting memories for their family, especially as the children get older and busier. Both of their extended families live in Ohio, so their own holiday traditions are especially important to them.

“It helps us to celebrate in our own way,” Jonetta says. “We’re doing this together.”

This story was first published in December 2017.

Our Seattle’s Child Holiday Tradition: Silly or somber, elaborate or simple, every family creates their own unique ways of finding joy and warmth in the midst of winter.  Our Seattle’s Child holiday tradition is to gather stories about how families in our community celebrate their winter holidays and to share those traditions with you. 

We’d love to hear about your old — or new — family holiday traditions. Email us at if you’d like to share. 

Read about more of our family holiday traditions and holiday happenings here.

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