Christmas at Jess' house is chaotic, as everything else there seems to be. Ellie and Brenda both have boyfriends this year, and there is much haggling in the house over finding the money to buy the boys gifts when there is little enough to get the little girls what they want. On Christmas Eve, there is much squabbling among the sisters about when gifts will be opened, and Joyce Ann ends up bawling because there is no fireplace, so Santa will not be able to find his way. Christmas morning is no better. Although May Belle receives the Barbie she so desperately wanted, Joyce Ann quickly breaks the talking doll that is given to her. Brenda is jealous because Ellie had gotten something she wanted in her stocking, and Ellie feels compelled to flaunt the coveted gift in Brenda's face. With all good intentions, Mr. Aarons gets Jess an expensive toy car set which Jess didn't want and Mr. Aarons really couldn't afford. The family's Christmas experience is miserable, because each member misguidedly values money so highly, and there is so little of it to go around.
In contrast, Jess' gift exchange with Leslie on Christmas Eve Day is simple, sincere, and meaningful. Jess gives Leslie a puppy that some people were giving away for free, and Leslie gives Jess a lovely box of watercolors with brushes and a pad of heavy art paper. It does not matter that Leslie's gift is expensive and that Jess' is not; what is important is that both children have chosen their gifts with love and a true understanding of what would please the other. Jess and Leslie exchange their gifts in the peaceful sanctity of Terabithia, and the "glow" of the experience stays with Jess so that the chaos of his own family's celebration does not affect him (Chapter 6).