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4 Things We Really Want for Christmas

Do you remember the TV show Supermarket Sweep? Contestants had several minutes to fill grocery carts with as much stuff as possible. But the winner wasn’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 won the game. 

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.

A group of people sitting and looking at the camera

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 we 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 designer clothes, 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. 

Relaxed and loving time with family

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.


  • Fill shoeboxes for 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 SamaritansPurse.org. Or 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 time alone with each of your children, putting together puzzles, making gifts, decorating the tree, baking, shopping, laughing, reading, or even playing video games.
  • Have someone in the family log on to FunFamilyCrafts.com to find a Christmas craft that uses only stuff you already have around the house. You won’t believe all the ideas.
  • 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.

Realistic gift expectations

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.


  • 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.
  • No new gifts. 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.
  • 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.

Evenly paced holiday season

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, organization is the only way to keep things evenly paced. 

  • Make meals ahead and freeze them. On those very busy days in mid-December, 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.

Reliable family traditions

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. 


  • 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.
  • 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—and bring that family homemade cookies to thank them for “brightening” your holiday season. 
  • 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.

Here’s the bottom line: 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.

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4 replies
  1. Linda says:

    You are right, Mary! Such great ideas and suggestions. This Christmas I am fighting for my life (I hate cancer!) and know that the most precious thing of all is time and traditions with family. Praying for more Christmases with my kids and grandkids! This one is going to be bitter-sweet. P.S. Just the other day my granddaughter (15 years old) was showing me some of the wonderful crafts we made together over the years, along with her brother. Then she told me that her schedule has eased up until after Christmas and she’s eager to come make something with me!!

  2. Kay Jones says:

    I have a Christmas club account at my bank. I have a preset amount transferred from my checking to this account every month. It can’t be withdrawn from during the year. I then stay within this limit. I also pay for subscriptions to things like Netflix throughout the year as an ongoing gift. We make a chicken tetrazzini on the 24th and let the flavors set up overnight. On Christmas day we pop it into the oven while we enjoy family time. A breakfast casserole is also prepared in advance. I worked in an OR for 40 years and when my children were young the older nurses took call Christmas day so we could be with our children. I was able to “pay it forward” by doing that when my children were grown. The best gift of Christmas is the gift of time.

  3. Mary says:

    We stop all the activity after dark, take a break and bundle up to go outside. We have prepared a tree from the pasture with lights. We get a breath of fresh air and sing carols together. We have a covered hallway in the barn where we go so we are not limited by most weather conditions. It is one of my favorite times of the day. As our grandchildren grow older they can really add to the singing.


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