The perfect gift

Though we’re usually frugal, at Christmas time John and I tend to throw caution aside and aim for big and memorable. Last year was worse than usual. Our new girls had only been here for a few months. They were still grieving and were not the easiest to parent because of it. During that tiring time, I used Christmas shopping as an excuse to get away from home for a few hours now and then. I also harbored the half-conscious thought that if Christmas was knock-their-socks-off wonderful, then they’d settle in and decide that here was better than Ethiopia after all.

Now that the girls have been home more than a year, things have settled down. Sure, there are flare-ups, such as this evening when I was warning kids lecturing cranky-as-all-get-out about poorly done jobs, and kids stomped to bed in peevish moods. But in general things are much easier.

Now I am thinking about the excess of last Christmas and wanting to shop more thoughtfully. With restraint, even. Granted, I already did a bunch of fast and dirty shopping on Friday. But there are plenty of people I haven’t covered yet, and I would love to come up with gifts that mean something to the receivers.

Today I got the fun of giving one gift early. It was so well received that it reminded me of the delight of giving something significant. Not money wise – that gift cost me $6, I think. But significant in the way it says something about the person, the things they love, and maybe even some of why the person is important to me.

A tall order? Yes.

Does it mean spending biuckets of money or time? Not necessarily.

But I do think it takes thought.

The ‘perfect’ gift could be something with monetary value. I am a book fanatic and would feel very ‘known’ if I was given a gift certificate to a bookstore. But I would also love a nice photo of one of my children, or a gift certificate for a home-cooked meal, or a letter from my grandma telling a story about her past, or a pot of herbs someone started me from seed.

I’m going to have to do some thinking on this. But this Christmas I aim to make gifts more about the person and less about the dollar value.

What about you? Is there a gift that someone could give you that would make you feel especially loved? Tell us about it. Maybe something that someone says will suggest the perfect idea for a gift for my loved ones.

Or yours.


  1. Kathrin from Germany says:

    Today when I woke up I found 24 little presents hanging on my door. One for each day until christams. My daugther must have put a lot of effort and thoughts in this. I had tears in my eyes and felt very loved. I had to wake her up and kiss and thank her.

  2. Handprints. Our children grow so quickly that a simple painted handprint splodged on a piece of paper (in a home-made cardboard frame if they’re feeling really creative!) would make time stop still in a simple way.

  3. Something made with love and time. The absolute best!

  4. Though I adore my time with my children, I covet alone time to reconnect with my husband these days. I know my two best girlfriends have been wishing for the same thing, so I’m giving them each the gift of an evening of free babysitting so they can spend a little time with their husbands.

  5. My best find of a gift for this season was wool yarn in the clearance bins at Michael’s. The 10 skeins of yarn cost me $15–and would have been $50 if at regular price. I’m just about done with the afghan and it’s for a wealthy member of the family. Someone who can buy ANYTHING they want—but handmade is definitely a good thing—‘specially in this case.

    The gift of time is always of value. I remember when I was in 4th grade, my dad gave me a promise of spending one hour a week with just me for our month of Christmas vacation. In a family of 5 kids who went away to boarding school it was awesome.

  6. One of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received was a small scrapbook that my friend had put together. Granted, it was a baby gift, but I am sure it could be done with just about any event in mind. She had all the pages done, all I needed to do was add photos, and/or writing if I so chose to. She must have put so much time into putting that together, and that truly touched my heart.

  7. My mother gave me the last hand-sewn, hand-quilted quilt that my grandmother made before she died. My mom knew that it would have special significance for me, and since I am my mom’s only daughter, things like that pass on to me. 🙂

    This year for my daughter, I got her a copy (mind you, it’s only a copy, but she won’t care) of a script of her favorite TV show with all the actors signature (again, a copy or otherwise I probably would have had to mortgage the house instead of finding this on ebay) and have a framed picture of the Brooklyn Bridge to go with it (the show is filmed in New York).

    For my step-daughter, who we are just becoming acquainted with due to ugly family circumstances, we have loaded a digital keyring with 60 pictures of her younger brother and sister (my biological children). The keyring was free with Pepsi points, but I know she will love this gift, to be able to see her little sister and brother all day even when she can’t see them in person.

  8. Well this year I am making ornaments for friends and families. They are easy and cheap to make but turn out beautifully. To make the ornaments you use equal parts of applesauce and cinnamon( I used 2c ea). This will make a dough, then roll out like you were making sugar cookies, cut out with your favorite cokie cutters, place on a baking sheet and dry them in an oven at 150 degrees for hours. Your house wil smell divine afterwards:)
    I bought a bunch of pretty ribbons (they were on sale at JoAnns for .79) and that’s it, a beautiful handmade gift that the reciever will remember you for everytime they put it on their tree:)
    P.S. Don’t forget to poke a hole with a straw through the ornament before you put them in the oven:)

  9. I’ve been spending the last week clearing stuff out of my house to send to charity. I have so much “stuff” cluttering my house that I don’t need. I no longer want to be burdened by my possessions. My favorite would be a gift in my name to World Vision or Half the Sky organization. My second favorite would be a gift card to a restaurant. 🙂 Just please don’t give me anything I have to keep in the house!

  10. I actually want to know where you got your title header done, I love it and it would be a great gift for my hubby, would also love something similar in a bumper sticker format.
    I am making chocolate dipped apples and brownie bonbons for gifts this year, with the kids of course, lots of messy fun!! Also using some of the kids art to frame a a bunch of pictures of hubby with the kids, just having it shrunk and printed at the copy shop.

  11. My sixteen year old daughter is requesting for Chanukah the same gift she requested for her birthday–a donation to Heifer International. She picks out the animal she thinks will be the most benefit.

    For my BD one year she called the a radio station that I listen to and asked them to play my favorite song. I loved it.

    One year my son made a complete and fancy Sabbath meal for us–as a mother’s day present. And he told me he was doing it about a week in advance–so I had all week to think about how I didn’t have to think about making a Sabbath dinner. That was almost as good as the meal.

  12. I have a question unrelated to the entry, thought maybe you or a reader could answer, please? Is Antique Mommy having technical difficulties, moving…? Just concerned – she had a lovely Thanksgiving post and then nothing for 4 days – says it has been disabled. I tried to think of another person in the “community” who had a link to her and remembered Owlhaven… Thanks so much…

  13. This is a great post (and the reader’s comments too)!

    I used to work at a Christian college and had a staff of student workers and we all grew very close throughout the year. One year I could not afford year end gifts, but wanted to show my appreciation of their hard work. So, I wrote them each a nice card describing all the things I appreciated about them and included pictures that I had cut out of the items that I would’ve bought them if I had had the money. 🙂 They loved it! As they each saw what i would’ve bought, they squealed with glee over the thought … I was actually surprised how well it went over. 🙂

  14. Michele Hiatt says:

    I recieved this gift last year and thought it was awesome.

    In a beautiful basket (that now sits in my kitchen for our mail)
    a loaf of freshly made bread
    a pkg of spagetti
    a jar of homemade sauce
    a small potted plant of basil

    We have done simple Christmas’ ever since I stopped working and stayed home to educate our children. It makes Christmas so pleasant.

  15. Michele Hiatt says:

    I recieved this gift last year and thought it was awesome.

    In a beautiful basket (that now sits in my kitchen for our mail)
    a loaf of freshly made bread
    a pkg of spagetti
    a jar of homemade sauce
    a small potted plant of basil

    We have done simple Christmas’ ever since I stopped working and stayed home to educate our children. It makes Christmas so pleasant.

  16. I am going to ask my grandma to make me one her holiday pies-walnut raisin pie. We are going to give a few sweet potato pies for gifts. Very cheap but I think they will be well received. I think anything homemade and/or significant is better than anything. A gift card to a grocery store is always a great gift especially during these times.

  17. I too would love something homemade or hand crafted, dish towels, or bathroom hand towels, things that I will use everyday and be reminded of who got me them with each use. Also a gift that would help others is always a good one for me.


  18. The best gift I have received EVER (and I mean it) was knitting needles, yarn, and my friend’s time… to the tune of 8 hours to teach me how to knit a blanket before our baby came home. AMAZING. So thoughtful, definitely not expensive but easily the best present of my life. I now have a skill that will take me well into my later years! (and my family will have warm necks for eternity) 🙂

  19. I know I ‘ve said this before, but I always appreciate honesty for encouragement! Just hearing how it was hard (and still is) and sometimes just needing to get away will “normalize” me once our china doll is home.

    I just today was having a conversation with a friend who was subtly trying to tell me how hard this was going to be. She has not adopted, but her sis in law has. I think she thinks my excitement is ignorant bliss. Although I don’t truely know what things will be like when she gets home…I have read enough of honest posts on what things COULD be like…and knowing is half the battle!

  20. I’m planning to make several “surprise balls” as gifts this year. I would love to receive one – it would show that the giver knows the kind of trinkets I love for crafting!

  21. I just want to thank Stephanie for that great ornament idea. I’d been looking for something like that, and those will be perfect!

    I love it when people burn me CDs of their favorite music, sometimes of artists or songs I’ve never heard of. I love to receive homemade baked goods. We got into a habit of exchanging tins full of homemade cookies and candies with our neighbors each year. It’s a lovely way to share Christmas joy with these people we spend so much of the year seeing and conversing with (and sharing cups of milk and sugar and eggs so often. haha!) But one of my favorite Christmas presents ever was a book given to me by a bit of a distant relative. It was her favorite so she shared a copy with me, just knowing I’d love it (and I did). But she wrote the sweetest inscription on the inside, encouraging me in my future. I still hold on dearly to that book. So much better than all of those generic gifts that people usually give (and spend too much on).

  22. One of my sisters gathered together several recipes that were favorites at gatherings during our childhood. Such as Aunt Ruth’s Corn Casserole, and a neighbor’s nut rolls.
    Sis knew that somebody had a copy of one or another, and so she wrote and phoned and managed to gather a couple dozen, typed them, then along with some old family photos, got copies of a nice booklet done at a self-serve copy shop.
    She says she didn’t spend much money, but I sure know the time that went into it.

    When it came in the mail I got all teary eyed, I’ll tell ya, and learned that everybody who got one really loves it.

  23. oh, another cool tradition that is happening with the ladies in our family is this…
    My grandmother (now deceased) used to wear a ring that was her mother’s engagement band (My great-grandmother). It had special significance to my G-ma because her mother died in her arms when she was only 17 yrs old. After my g-ma died in ’96, 1 of her 7 daughters (total 11 children) got that special ring. About 10 years later, that daughter (my aunt) was ready to share the ring. She started a journal and began a new tradition: giving the ring and the journal to one of the females in our family during a family function (like a passing on of the baton). The new recipient gets the ring for 6-12 months. In that time, the recipient uses the journal to write down any memories, family thoughts, ponderings, etc.
    It’s been a very solemn and joyful and tender tradition and the ring has journeyed through about 7 or 8 family members so far…we have lots more to go.

  24. i am a amateur sewer, but i had my son who was almost three finger paint (fabric paints) on a old white sheet. i chose fabrics in coordinating colors and made a lap quilt for my dad. he loves that ezekiel helped make it for him and it is practical.

  25. This Christmas I have to figure out how to “get ‘er done” on a budget of less than $100 for 4 people. That includes getting a tree, if we decide it’s important enough. Sigh. But, I keep thinking that this is a character-building exercise, right?

  26. Still adjusting to being a single mom of 2, the thing that would be greatest in the world would be any gift that would let me spend more time with my kids, and less time keeping up the house, cooking dinner, doing “stuff.” So a few frozen meals that I could pop in the oven, a certificate for a cleaning service to come over once or twice, or even a certificate from my sister to have her come over and do laundry or clean the house would be great.

    A few girls from work have asked about donating an hour of their PTO to me so that I can “store up” some PTO (I used almost all of mine for my adoption trip and FMLA.) It really doesn’t cost them anything, but knowing that I have PTO for days when I am sick (or my girls are sick!) offers such peace of mind.

    I have a gift for organizing (and minimizing) so for Christmas I am giving my friend a certificate to help her clean out and fix up her guest room. It will probably take a day or 2, but I know she will appreciate it for months (maybe years!) to come.

  27. Oh, another gift that my daughter just received for her birthday (similar to a gift mentioned by another commenter) was from my boyfriend to my oldest daughter (age 6.) She is adjusting to becoming a big sister and having some “moments” learning to share her Momma with her sister. For her birthday, my boyfriend give Abigail 8 certificates:

    one movie alone with Momma
    one movie alone with John (my boyfriend)
    one day with no chores (her chores are making the bed, setting the table, clearing the table, feeding the cat)
    one lunch/dinner alone with Momma
    one lunch/dinner alone with John
    one coupon to pick where we go out to dinner as a family (usually Momma gets to pick when we eat out!)
    one coupon to pick a movie to rent
    one coupon to pick a game to play as a family.

    Overall, the gift is not really expensive- knowing my daughter she will choose to eat at McDonalds, and we can go to the $2 theater for the movies, rent a movie for $1 from RexBox, etc. It’s just the idea that she gets to have a voice and make choices and spend time with each of us alone. Plus it is teaching her about the need to plan ahead (to arrange times for the outings, or to present her “coupon” when we are going out to eat.) She has told everyone about this gift, and she talks about using her certificates non-stop!

  28. I agree 100%!! That is what gift-giving is all about! I’m only 19 and i am already disgusted at the contradictory stress that the Christmas season can bring. I say CAN because I am fighting it lol. I’m getting my girlfriend two books. I can’t wait. I even got her dad that new More Information Than You Require book, it’s hilarious (I read a few pages) I got her mom a Chris Tomlin CD (she absolutely LOVED one of his albums so I’m getting her one she doesn’t have). Her family has just recently been tapping into their faith, and /it is cool to see. All of the sudden they’re all getting involved with their super sweet church (The one doing an Advent Conspiracy series starting this week). Oh and I bought those from Borders because I had $60 worth of Borders gift card from the past year of gifts lol. But usually I cannot think of “the perfect gift”! But I’m working on it, I refuse to give into Capitalistic Christmas!

  29. I would love to have my kids do a painting for our our kitchen.