Making a List and Checking It Twice

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Dr. Amy Bost Henegar a preacher, writer and pastoral coach. She lives just outside of New York City with her energetic husband and her five, even more energetic, kids (ages preschool through high school). Amy loves the opportunity to partner with others in a thought-provoking, creative process, inspiring them to maximize their God-given potential. You can find her online at amybosthenegar.com (IG/Twitter @amybosthenegar)

We are so blessed to feature her on Gathering Around! Her article brings a fresh perspective to gift giving that I will be implementing myself!


Making A List and Checking It Twice
Dr. Amy Bost Henegar

When I was a child I couldn’t wait for the J.C. Penny catalogue to arrive in the mail. I still remember the way those thin pages felt in my fingers as I carefully searched each one and circled the toys I wanted for Christmas. The story is told that Santa Claus is the one who makes a list and checks it twice, but in my Christmas experience it was the children who made very detailed lists of what we wanted for Christmas and checked them multiple times to make sure nothing was missing.

My children make Christmas lists too. The younger ones ask me how to spell words for their paper and crayon lists. The older ones text me screenshots from Amazon. Last year, my nine year old daughter printed out pages and pages of items she had googled. Her “Christmas list” was made of  9.5x11 sheets of paper with brightly colored pictures and web addresses. As much as we try to emphasize the aspects of fun and family and faith, holidays in our culture are largely about presents and it’s not going to change any time soon.

Making a List and Checking It Twice

In a world where everything is becoming more and more instant, where immediate gratification is becoming the rule rather than the exception, we must continually remind ourselves and teach our children that holidays are not simply about getting good stuff. I confess that a part of me would like to get rid of the physical gifts all together. I usually include a “please, no gifts” note on birthday invitations. And I’ve often wondered what my five kids would think if they woke up Christmas morning and found only a “We’re going to Disneyland!” note by the Christmas tree. 

But there’s a part of me that is not ready to get rid of gifts. The mystery of a beautifully wrapped box with a surprise inside can be a wonderful part of human celebrations, for children and adults alike. So instead of getting rid of gifts, maybe we should learn how to do gifts well. Here are a few ideas.

Making a List and Checking It Twice

1. Remember what a gift is. A gift is “something bestowed or acquired without any particular effort by the recipient or without its being earned.” Thus the “naughty or nice” version of the Santa Claus story actually takes the toys out of the gift category and puts them into the payment category since children are being rewarded for good behavior. Real gifts are not earned but are given freely out of love. Keeping this in mind can shape our attitudes toward both the giving and the receiving of gifts. 

2. Reclaim the purpose of the lists. There are good reasons to continue the tradition of making Christmas lists. We want to give gifts that other people will be able to use. A list can help with this. But a list is not an order form. We must remind ourselves and our children that we are doing others a favor by providing a list of ideas. We are not outlining the items we expect to receive.  

3. Limit the focus of the lists. “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read” is a great place to start. Instead of coming to the list with an open slate, ready to list anything and everything you could possibly want, consider creating a few categories and choosing a few items in each category. 

Making a List and Checking It Twice

4. Consider the words that accompany giving gifts. Giving a good gift is hard work. It involves putting ourselves in another person’s shoes as we search for something that will be meaningful and appreciated. So when you give a gift, rather than immediately saying “if you don't like it you can return it,” consider sharing why you chose the particular gift for this particular person. Then simply say “I hope you find it useful/beautiful/enjoyable.”

5. Consider the words that accompany receiving gifts. When you receive a gift, speak only out of appreciation. If you find yourself thinking “what in the world am I going to do with this?” push that thought away and stick with gratitude. Perfect gifts do not exist and the value of a gift lies in the intentions of the giver. Neither giver nor receiver should expect perfection. Rather we should speak graciously to each other, communicating the love that the gift represents. 

If our practices are marked by grace, then gifts have the power to make our holiday celebrations more meaningful and more joyful. Giving with grace and receiving with gratitude creates a circle of connection which supports the rhythm of human relationships. And ultimately, that’s what meaningful holidays are all about. 


If you enjoyed this article be sure to check out some of our other holiday articles. There is one on reducing the stress that sometimes accompanies your to-do list.

Robin Evans wrote one about how to decorate for the holidays with little ones around.
And Jami Glenn wrote one about how a simple idea for Advent was so well received by her children that they took it and ran with it!.