When it comes to love languages, gift giving is not on the top of my list. When it comes to special occasions like Christmas, however, finding gifts for my loved ones—especially my kids—is something I truly enjoy. While I certainly want to give to charitable causes at this time of year and avoid getting swept up in the consumerism of our culture, I still want to let my loved ones know that I consider them special. I always hope to put smiles on their faces and special memories in their hearts.

At the same time, however, I can get caught up in the accumulation of cheap stuff. I tend to stock up early whenever I see good deals on items my kids might like—whether on clearance, during special sales, or at thrift stores and yard sales. Although this is good for the budget, it sometimes means that by the time I ask for the kids' Christmas requests, I've already purchased the majority of the things I intended to give. They still get plenty of gifts either way, but it might have been better if I had focused more on a few things they really wanted rather than an abundance of good bargains.

As I thought this over this year, I began to wonder. . . . How many of the gifts I've given do my kids actually remember? As much as I enjoy digging for “the perfect gift,” is it something that will be used for years or create a special memory, or is it something that will be easily accumulated and just as easily forgotten?

So I posed the question to my children: “What is a particularly memorable gift you've received, and why was it memorable?” The first answer on everyone's lips was the Nintendo Switch that we got our kids last year—a gift they had all requested but none had expected (probably in part because they know my tendency not to buy big-ticket items!). After that, they had more trouble identifying memorable gifts; they mentioned a few things I expected, but some that I had really looked forward to giving were conspicuously missing. They are still young, though, and I can't expect that they will remember everything. After all, I can only remember a few of the gifts I was given as a child.

I decided to expand my pool of survey participants. First, I asked my husband about things he had received as a child. Gift giving is at the very bottom of his love-language list, so I wasn't sure how he would answer. He had some trouble thinking of a special gift, but eventually he settled on a LEGO set that he got one year. LEGOs are (as we all know) quite expensive for toys, which made them a rare gift in his large family. They were also memorable, he said, because he played with them frequently.

I also polled my Facebook friends. I got about 20 different responses, but the themes were generally the same. One common answer was a gift that the person had been wanting for a while, especially one that had been financially out of reach for their family. These gifts were treasured, knowing that the recipient's parents had made sacrifices or a special effort to make sure they got what they wanted. Another answer (which often went with the first) was something they had truly not expected, so it was memorable for the big surprise. Yet another was something handmade, because they knew the giver had put a lot of time, effort, and love into the gift. (Sometimes this was the solution when a coveted item was financially out of reach.) And finally, several gifts mentioned were things that the recipient had used over and over again—whether a special toy, a treasured book, or a useful tool (like a laptop).

Looking over these themes, I can see how they apply well to all the gifts my kids and my husband mentioned. They are also true of the ones I personally remember. One year, something I really wanted was “Treasure Rocks,” plastic jewels encased in “rock” that would dissolve in water to reveal the treasure. In retrospect, my parents probably thought these were overpriced trash, but at the time, I thought they were the greatest! (That is until one of my sisters got one stuck up her nose, and then they were banned from the house . . . but that's a different story.)

One memorable unexpected gift was an American Girl doll. I knew how expensive it was, and I didn't fully expect that my parents would get it, especially since I was getting a bit old for dolls at the time. It was certainly a surprise seeing that unquestionably doll-shaped box under the tree and knowing what must have been inside! That doll was certainly a treasure, and one that I later passed on to my girls.

My family didn't often give homemade gifts, but one I will certainly remember making was a stuffed puppy I gave my daughter last year. I had made one for my son earlier in the year out of his old “special blanket,” and my daughter requested her own about three times a week from then on. Fortunately, this was one of the gifts she eventually mentioned as memorable, so the long-awaited effort did not go to waste!

And finally, my big gift one year when I was a teenager was an electric toothbrush. Not exactly glamorous or exciting, but quite valuable, and I literally used it every day for several years!

In short, it is not always the price of the item (whether expensive or a bargain) that seems to matter. It appears to be the amount of thought, effort, love, and sometimes sacrifice it takes to give a gift that someone will truly treasure or use again and again. I don't know whether this will aid anyone in their gift-buying or gift-making this year, but it's certainly been an educational exercise for me. I hope it will help me to focus better on gifts that will be memorable treasures for my kids! 

—Jessica