It’s the thought that counts—and it’s in the freezer


Finding the joy in receiving gifts is easy, of course.

But one of my favorite memories from my childhood is finding the perfect gifts for my family members. I remember walking with my brothers and sisters to McCrory’s and Caldor’s to pick out just the right items, and then hiding them carefully until Christmas.

This year I decided our boys—who are 5 and 3—were old enough to get in on the fun. And I also want them to understand that we put thought into the presents we give.

Encouraging them to think of gifts for their father was easy.

“Cover your ears, Baba,” Leo announced one night at dinner. “Mama,” he whispered, “let’s give Baba a whole container of pistachio ice cream.”

So on Christmas morning his father unwrapped a box of ice cream cones and a note directing him to the freezer where he found a gallon of his favorite.

Daniel needed a little more prompting, but when he said he wanted to take Baba to the car wash, it was easy enough to convince him to wrap a package of sponges for his father and include a note.

I also wanted the boys to think of their relatives.

Neither one of our boys cares much about baked goods, but they love crafts. So we decided to make ornaments for the aunts, uncles, and grandparents we would be seeing over the holidays.

I wanted each of them to experience the pleasure of placing his very own gift in someone’s hands.

Leo and Daniel had a wonderful time painting the ornaments.

After the ornaments were dry, each boy selected which one would be given to which person.

“Grandma likes bells,” Leo said. “And what is Aunt Treasa and Uncle George’s most favorite thing? I think they want the angel because she is wearing a dress.”

They even helped me wrap some of them.

And it was a highlight of Christmas for me to watch them dancing up to people to hand them the packages containing their own creations. They even saw the ornaments hanging on the tree.

But the best gift of the season was the one that cost us the least.

A few weeks ago, as we were driving to school, I asked Leo and Daniel whether they had any ideas for gifts for their teachers.

There was silence.

I suggested to Daniel that one of his teachers, who often drinks hot tea—one of his favorite drinks—might like tea for Christmas. He liked that idea, especially since his teachers threw a tea party to celebrate his third birthday.

Then I reminded Daniel that he had been helping his other teacher collect sticks on the playground for her craft business.

“Would you like to give her sticks?” I asked.

“Great idea, Mama,” he said—in one of the most clearly articulated statements I had heard him say.

So for weeks whenever we were outside, Daniel would pick a stick or two and add them to our pile in the car. He never liked the straight ones I suggested we choose. His were always bent.

Last week we tied ribbons around the bunch of sticks—which were pointing every which way—and put them in a gift bag. Just in case this was a ridiculous idea, I inserted a gift card, too.

I had some last-minute doubts—I come from a family where we give gifts with the price tag on so the recipient can appreciate how cheap it was—but it was Daniel’s gift, and he was so proud.

He and Leo carried the gift bag in, and Daniel’s teacher’s face lit up.

“Oh!” she said. “You brought me sticks!”

As it turned out, no student had ever given her sticks before, even though she has walked the playground with many preschoolers searching for just the right ones.

She pulled them out of the bag to look at them. “And you picked the ones that make great reindeer antlers!”

Daniel just beamed.

So, pistachio ice cream, a car wash, sticks, and inexpensive ornaments weren’t on my original list of gifts we were going to give this Christmas. But somehow I have the feeling that they will always be part of our memories of this holiday.

Maybe next year I can even convince our two little cheerful givers to give gifts to each other.

Ho ho ho.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.