it IS better to give… if you’re not being told what to give

The Christmas book currently getting the most airplay at our house is The Poky Little Puppy’s First Christmas. My seven- and four-year-olds have been settling in each afternoon for several readings in a row. Yesterday, I was just finishing up my third time through.

MOMMY: “It was only his first Christmas, but Poky had already learned that the best gifts of all–are the ones you give.”

Maggie, hearing this as if for the first time, lifted her head from my shoulder and whipped  around to face me.

MAGGIE: WHAT? What you say Mommy?

MOMMY: “The best gifts of all are the ones you give.”

Maggie looked at me with furrowed brow, wondering how I (and Poky) could possibly have been led so astray when the truth was so obvious.

MAGGIE: (very gently) Mommy. No. They’re not.

She may have a point.

Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year, but every year it seems to get more complicated. Right now I have a “Christmas 2011” spreadsheet that I’m checking twice against and a “Christmas 2011 Our Kids” Google Doc, updated daily with Evernote clips and highlights and shipped-tos and not-yet-receiveds. I feel like I’ve been elf-on-the-shelfing it full time since Thanksgiving, and I’m still not done.

And yet it should be easier than ever. Thanks to Amazon’s Universal Wish List (of which I was an extremely early adopter and total evangelist) I know exactly what my brothers and sisters want, my nieces and nephews, even my father-in-law. (Everyone except my husband, the Hardest Person to Buy For In the Whole World, but that is a story for another day.) All this is supposed to my life easier as a gift-giver, and it has, but something is missing.

I’m missing being a gift-giver who gets to choose her gifts.

According to the New York Times, gift registries for Christmas are seriously trending upward. And not everyone is happy about that– not even Dana Holmes, editor-in-chief of, who says that

wish lists should be saved for the kids and for the teenagers… Once you’re an adult, you should be willing to see what other people want to give you and see how they perceive you.

I’m with Dana.

The gifts I enjoy giving, whether to my babysitter or to my children, are the things I see when I’m out shopping, in the real world, and think, That’s perfect. They’ll love it. Watching someone open something they had no idea they’d wanted– that’s the joy of giving. It’s hard to get that warm-and-fuzzy feeling when it’s a bunch of adults in holiday sweaters handing one another the gift certificates they said they wanted because they were at a loss to think of much else.

Back to the Poky Little Puppy, who in an O.Henry turn of events, gives his skunk friend Herman the only present he got for Christmas: a beautiful old rubber boot that becomes Herman’s new home. No registry, just generosity of spirit. Inspired by Poky, I took the kids to our neighborhood toy store, and let them pick out Christmas presents for ten of their cousins. We left the wish lists at home. The kids darted about and shouted across the store and found things that they thought were absolute treasures, such as this sound machine featuring farts and burps  for a sixth-grade boy.

The best part is, my kids have three more days of trying it out in demo mode before we give it away. Is that not the merriest of Christmases?

What’s your take on gift registries for this time of year: lifesavers? or party poopers?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

sarah o. December 21, 2011 at 5:26 pm

somewhat unrelated, but now the “poky little puppy” song is in my head.  i don’t remember the words, but i still know the tune.  i loved my poky little puppy books when i was a kid!


Angela December 21, 2011 at 5:54 pm

serious party poopers. hand down. it actually makes me NOT want to buy them that….


Katy @ Experienced Bad Mom December 21, 2011 at 6:27 pm

I’m sort of confused as to why we teach our kids to make a list for Santa when we don’t do that as adults. Why not? I’m game for making a list of 20 things I want and seeing what the various Santas in my life decide to give me!

That said, we do exchange names in my family and have a $50 limit. And every year, no matter who I get, they always tell me what they want, and I always tell whoever gets me what I want. That’s not too exciting.

Merry Christmas everyone, no matter what your gift-giving style may be!


Wenmei December 21, 2011 at 7:16 pm

I enjoy picking out special gifts for the people close to me, but I became a huge fan of gift lists once I got married.  My husband’s family does a Secret Santa name draw at Thanksgiving, and you are responsible for the ONLY gift that person will receive from family that year.  The first year I joined in, the average amount of money spent on each gift was $300!  Imagine being the new kid on the block and having to spend $300 on the only gift your new brother-in-law (who lives 1000 miles away and you’ve only met once) will receive!  As the first “newbie” to join the family tradition, I requested that we share “suggestions” with the whole family.  The only other person who agreed was the poor brother who got me that year.  However, as more wives have been added to the family, it’s become standard to share wish lists.

I do still pick out personal gifts for those near and dear to me.  🙂


Mollie December 22, 2011 at 9:51 pm

Based on my shopping experience this season, I conclude: it’s fun and easy to shop for kids, even without a list. (Even clothes-shopping is easier – you just have to know the kid’s age!) It’s a lot harder to shop for adults, which is why I vote YES on the wish-list-for-grownups phenomenon, with the condition that you, the gifter, always have license to go off-list if you’re inspired to do so. I’m definitely most excited to give the gifts I picked out on my own, the ones that feel less like a transaction and more like an expression of generosity motivated by affection. But when inspiration didn’t strike, having lists and suggestions saved me a lot of stress, and probably saved some giftees from getting something they don’t like or want. Or a(nother) nice sweater.


MarinkaNYC December 31, 2011 at 9:41 am

I’m pro list.  But every once in a while it’s nice to find that special something that’s not on the list and go rogue.


Adkeif January 3, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Lists are great for weddings and new babies.  I don’t really like them for birthdays and Christmas.  I want people to pick something out for me based on how well they know me or the fact that they actually listened to me throughout the year when I mention, “I could really use…” or “I’d love to have…”  Last year my husband bought me something that he remembered me commenting on when we walked through Crate and Barrel.  I had totally forgotten that I’d seen the thing, much less said I liked it!  It was such a great curprise!  Even though it was something I didn’t “need” it was so much fun to receive


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