December 11, 2023 | Twigs for the Nest

Gifts for the Good Life

by Katharine Savage

Gifts are some of life’s greatest storytellers. Similar to the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, the gifts we give our children create an incarnational picture of what we believe the best life is, even if we don’t realize it. A gift speaks about what to think on when school is not in session, what to enjoy when everyday life feels difficult, or what to do with precious extra time. Now fill in the blank with the most popular gifts marketed to our kids. Flashy, plastic, bits of amusement and pop culture, ready to indulge fashionable passions or feed a paper-thin sense of identity. What message are our gifts sending to our children? Is it the one we intend to send? 

Over the past eighteen years, my husband and I have talked a lot about what kinds of gifts to give our three children. It is not that we always shun a modern gadget that could be useful, but we would never put it in the “gift” category. We want the gifts we give to our children to tell them about the kind of person we want them to become. We want our gifts to lift their spirits and expand their imaginations. You may be familiar with the idea of framing gift giving for children around four categories: something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read. We coach our children on how to populate these categories each year.

Something you want:

Since desires have to be trained, we put up the “bowling lane” bumpers on lists of wants until the child shows some wisdom. First, only pick one or two. Second, ask questions such as: will it help build lasting friendships, will it be ripe for donation or replacement in a year, will it be a good use of leisure time, will it feed my ego (“I will feel cool if I have this item”)? Lastly, it must be beautiful. One time my son put a LEGO set on his list. I am happy to purchase special LEGO sets, but that one was obnoxious and ugly. I encouraged him to choose a “beautiful” one and gave him principles for evaluating them. Even I can see the symmetry and elegance of the Jedi Starfighter. We also encourage our children to consider bigger experiences to enjoy or beautiful performances to attend because they meet our vision with an added benefit of not creating clutter!

Something you need:

It would be very easy for me to meet every one of my children’s needs before they even realize they have a need, but as children grow up they need opportunities to actually feel what is missing. I have noticed that the adults I respect most have experienced some sort of material privation. Increasingly as my children have aged, I have held myself back from anticipating what they need before they express it. It is a good process for them to differentiate between wants and needs, as well as learn to articulate needs appropriately. It also makes receiving needs more enjoyable when receiving higher-quality versions bring special delight to the everyday items, even after the Christmas season has ended.

Something to wear:

This category is important because it gives us an opportunity to help our children reflect on what or who they are trying to imitate and why. Even daily clothing is like a costume. It helps us put on a persona; it comes with a certain posture. We laughed when my former neighbor, who owned the dry cleaners, called one of my jackets a “boss lady jacket” since I had bought it for a national speaking engagement. It obviously carried some kind of authority of its own. One of my children enjoys clothes with a historical flair. There are many beautiful cuts and textures encapsulated in that style which I am happy to support, but we have also had conversations about not using historically-inspired dress either as a vehicle for romanticized nostalgia or an escape from the calling of life in reality. On the other hand, for our other children I have bought Eagles jerseys for some cheerful, local spirit. This category is broad, but the shepherding conversations are incredibly valuable.

Something to read:

This category gives wonderful opportunities not just to get books that might encourage or inspire our children but also to get unique copies of those books. One of my children will always ask for a vintage copy of a personally beloved book that represents a special time from that year. One child is more of a crafter than a leisurely reader, but loves to curl up with a lovely Christmas picture book by the tree. For these, I love a little hole-in-the-wall used bookstore in the Italian Market named Molly’s Books and Records. Molly knows good children’s books and how to find ones with value. I have found first-edition, signed copies of books by regional children’s author Marguerite D’Angeli, and Molly has helped me find selections for a child who is now quite ahead of me in understanding which versions are best. 

Gift-giving is a journey with significance! Amid all the wish lists and sales and “what should I get them” questions from relatives, consider the message of the gift. Ultimately, all good gifts are an invitation to reflect God’s glory – whether in building a LEGO project, savoring a performance, or glimpsing visions of beauty in the pages of a good book. 

Merry Christmas!