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Makin’ the Lists!

My child had worked so hard on her list that year that I couldn’t bear the thought of watching her hand it over to Santa. 

Things might be a bit more high-tech these days – what with magical elf communications – but back in the day, my kids delivered their lists to our Santa in person. This was the Santa at Willow Lawn, of course. 

Lindsey’s list was a multi-media work of art. She had been cutting, coloring, and making edits since right after her October birthday. That’s basically how the holiday list-making process went in our family. If the kids didn’t receive a gift for their fall birthdays, the item bumped to the Santa wish list. Lindsey’s featured full-color illustrations, a paragraph of copy for each item explaining why it was a good fit, and the store where, presumably, Santa or one of the elves could pick up the gift if it wasn’t available in the workshop.

As Santa’s assistant in the holiday trenches, it had always been my mission to get a good look at the official lists before they were given to Santa at the annual visit. Lindsey, however, seemed determined to keep this list under wraps. As the baby, she was the only one of the women-children to make a Santa-specific list that year, the older sisters having figured out who was really responsible for bringing things like charm bracelets, boots, and North Face jackets on Christmas morning.    

Many parents might get a little panicked this time of year when their kids start making lists that are a mile long. I’m pretty sure you’ve seen the guided list concept, but I’m going to expand on it a bit. First, let me be crystal clear: This is not my idea. As far as I know, it wasn’t even around when my kids were younger. But I really like it, especially because it makes gift-finding and giving easier for families. 

Using this framework, ask your older kids to list options under each category:

1) Something I want: AirPods, Polaroid camera, Vans

2) Something I need: art supplies, phone case, film for the Polaroid camera

3) Something to wear: hoodie, baseball cap, soccer cleats, mascara

4) Something to read: real books or audio books, magazine subscription, journal 

Maybe you’re in a place where you can afford something from every category. Maybe not. With this exercise, you are helping your kids set limits. It’s up to you to establish a family limit and stick to it. And remember, you are not a bad person if you give your child a gift card. Every parent who has tried to pick out clothing at Urban Outfitters or American Eagle should be afforded this grace. (Yes, this is me – I need the grace!)

It’s also important to help kids understand there’s more to the holiday season than getting gifts. Have your kids make a give list, too. If they’re having a hard time thinking of ways to give and who to give to, you can offer suggestions. Can you make gifts for friends? Can you do a special project around the house for Mimi? Can you write a note to go with the gift card we’re giving your teacher? What can we do as a family to give to our community?

If your kids are a little older, you might devise a system of family gifting that creates focus and lets them give from the heart without spending a lot of money. You can create your own categories for this: 

Something from a farmer’s market or craft fair for a parent: cards, honey, jam

Something a friend can eat: brownies, cookies, candy 

Something from a second-hand store for a sibling: clothing, home décor, a toss pillow

Something made with love at home for a grandparent: artwork, dinner, a poem or song

There are so many ways to give during the holiday season. Sometimes kids need extra help figuring that out, especially when they’ve been seeing influencers hawk expensive toys, gifts, and gadgets on social media from such a young age.

So back to Lindsey’s spectacular Christmas list. How did I manage to get a closer look at it that year? It occurred to me that Santa was a celebrity and as such, we should ask for his autograph. When she handed him the list, he gushed about her creativity, thanked her for suggesting that the elves could find GoGo My Walkin’ Pup at Target, and carefully reviewed the list before he signed it and gave it right back to her. 

For the record, Santa did not bring GoGo the Walkin’ Pup to Lindsey that year, but she did pretty well. And I also discovered why she tried to keep the list secret in the first place. At the bottom of the page, she had written: Please bring love, hugs, and surprises for my family. 

For me, that was a gift – discovering that my baby’s wish list for Santa had some heartfelt give in it, too. 

Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family, including husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director. You can read Karen’s take on parenting her three daughters – Sam, Robin, and Lindsey, also known as the women-children – in the Editor’s Voice.
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