family solving jigsaw puzzle at table

Four Things We Really Want for Christmas

Remember the TV game show,  Supermarket Sweep? Contestants have several minutes to fill grocery carts with as much stuff as possible. But the winner isn’t determined by the quantity of stuff jammed into the cart, but by the total monetary value at checkout. The contestant with the biggest tab wins the game. 


supermarketsweep 2

The strategy is simple. Pass up the low-value stuff and load up on what’s going to pay off big at the checkout. Smart contestants had a plan of action and knew exactly where to head the minute that clock started ticking.

Christmas is like that. Once the season begins we start filling our “shopping carts.” We have lots of choices. What we choose will either pay off in terms of happiness, satisfaction, and pleasant holiday memories—or we’ll get negative results of dissatisfaction and disappointment fueled by guilt, obligation, and trying to meet others’ expectations.

What you end up with when it’s all put away for another year will depend on the choices you make between now and then.

Measuring Holiday Value

In their book Unplug the Christmas Machine, authors Jo Robinson and Jean C. Staeheli say that while children may be quick to tell their parents they want the latest electronic gear, and brand-name toys for Christmas, underneath here’s what they really want: 

1. Relaxed and loving time with family 

2. Realistic expectations about gifts

3. An evenly paced holiday season

4. Reliable family traditions


Underneath I think that’s what adults want, too. 

Just imagine how the holidays might look this year if we have the courage to hold each of our choices and holiday decisions against the measuring stick of the four things we really do want for Christmas. 

1. Relaxed and Loving Time with Family

Modern family of four reading Christmas fairy tales

If you’re looking for a big payoff in terms of happiness this holiday season, this is where you want to concentrate your efforts. That’s because experts tell us that happiness is the process of enjoying what you’re doing.

Happiness is found in our relationships, our free time, our family, and our lives. The secret here is to schedule those blocks of family time in the same way you would an important meeting with a client or lunch with a friend.

Write it on the calendar. Find at least four places on your December calendar to enter something like “Family Time” or whatever makes sense to you. Do it now and do it in ink. It’s that important.

  • Discover and then fill a need

Operation Christmas Child, an organization that distributes gifts to children in desperate situations around the world. For specific information on how to get involved, go to While it may be late this year for that specific opportunity, find a similar situation right in your own community. Help your children open their eyes to the needs of so many less fortunate this holiday season.

  • Spend alone time with each child

Spend time alone with each of your children, putting together puzzles, making gifts, decorating the tree, baking, shopping, laughing, reading, or even playing video games.

  • Craft together

Have someone in the family log on to to find a Christmas craft that uses only stuff you already have around the house. You won’t believe all the ideas.

  • Visit someone who is lonely

Call a local retirement center or nursing home and ask a staff member the names of several residents who rarely have visitors or mail. “Adopt” them for the holidays by sending a Christmas card or paying a personal visit. Take the kids. Let them experience the joy of giving to others.

2. Realistic Gift Expectations

Shopaholic - Attractive brunette woman looking at her receipt - overspending

No one can determine what this means for your specific situation. But it’s safe to say if your gift plans require you to go into debt, it’s not realistic. If it means sixty gifts per child, that’s not realistic. If it means feeling obligated to exchange gifts with all of your extended family, that too may be unrealistic for you this year. 

Now is the right time to decide what is right for you and your family. Set boundaries when it comes to both giving and receiving gifts. Realistic gifts for you might be simple, handmade gifts from your kitchen.

  • Make it yourself

Even if you’re not particularly crafty, you can assemble wonderful consumable gifts from your kitchen that will not clutter others’ lives with more stuff.

The idea is that you can only give something you already have that another person would enjoy as well. Each year come up with a new guideline that everyone approves. 

If you have very young children, arrange with other families to swap toys instead of everyone buying new ones this year. Clean them up, wrap them up, and the kids will be none the wiser.

  • Gifts of service

Some families include service to others as part of their holiday gift-giving. Make coupon books that family members can redeem for services such as car washing, making a favorite meal, or cleaning the garage. Physical labor never goes out of style.

3. Evenly Paced Holiday Season

Christmas menu plan. Background for writing the Christmas menu. Top view

I know this is probably the last thing you want to hear right now, but it’s true: You’ve got to get organized. No matter how simple or complex your holidays are, organization is the only way to keep things evenly paced. 

  • Make and freeze meals ahead

On those very busy days in the next weeks, you’ll stay relaxed and stress-free knowing that dinner will be on the table just like usual. Right! Your family is used to that, right?

You’re going to laugh because this sounds way too simple but so useful that it bears repeating. Get one envelope for each person on your gift list. Write that person’s name and the amount you plan to spend on the front. Put the cash in the envelope. When you go shopping in retail stores, take the envelopes—not your checkbook or plastic. When an envelope empties, stop shopping.

4. Reliable Family Traditions

family solving jigsaw puzzle at table

Traditions give families assurance that even in an uncertain and changing world, there are some things they can count on to be the same. Anything you do in the same way at the same time, year after year counts as a tradition. Whatever it is, even if you’ve done it once but plan to do it again, it counts as a tradition. 

Make a list of your family’s best traditions. Talk about them, treat them with a sense of respect and joy, and add to them. Repeat often and in time they will become trusted anchors in your lives. 

  • Heritage

Honor your family’s heritage by teaching your kids how to make the foods of that country or region. Learn the songs and customs of that culture.

  • Surprise!

As Christmas draws nearer, go out into your community to look at the lights. You can do this on a night close to Christmas. Everyone gets ready for bed (PJs on, teeth brushed), then the whole family piles into the car for your family’s Annual Christmas Lights, Pajama Caper Drive. Take blankets along to it cozy. Only the adults know the exact time this will happen! Choose your favorite house—everyone in the family gets a vote for their very favorite. Find a way to thank that family for “brightening” your holiday season. 

  • Light their rooms

When no one is looking, Santa’s elves string Christmas lights in the kids’ rooms. No matter how many times you do this, it will still be the best surprise.


What we really want for Christmas—kids and adults too—can’t be bought in a store. Sure, the gifts are fun and exciting but they will soon fade. It’s the memories of your times together and the family traditions you experience that will last a lifetime.


QUESTION: Do you have ideas to add? Use the comments area below. Please keep it positive,  helpful, and on-topic.

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Updated and republished: 11-11-23


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7 replies
  1. Lori Hatcher says:

    This is the loveliest Christmas post I’ve seen. So many great ideas. Sweet, simple, and all about the spirit of Christmas. Well done

  2. Alice says:

    Many work places have a Secret Santa event. At one of my former jobs, we decided to do this instead. Everyone contributed the set $ amount and gave it to charity. We chose a nearby children’s hospital.

  3. Theresa Hardy says:

    I wrote down favorite memories I had with someone and put them on little slips of paper in a jar. When they needed a pick-me-up they could grab one to be reminded of how much they are loved.

  4. Teri says:

    Merry Christmas Mary! and thanks for all you do to help make things more beautiful, cost effective and convenient for all of us throughout the year. I cannot tell you how many of your ideas have helped me throughout the decades! God bless you and your family.

  5. Lina Miller says:

    One of our favorite Christmas Day traditions is each person waking up to a stack of library books. The books have been requested by each family member, but “Santa” augments the collection with books pertinent to each person’s interests. Since all our extended family lives far away, Christmas Day involves eating leftover Christmas Eve food and reading in our jammies.


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