Healthy Holiday Gift Giving: The Want, Need, Wear, Read Guide [PLUS One Addition]

Day 2: Healthy Holiday Gift Giving crop

“That’s it, Samuel, use the puffy coat . . . pull the cap down low and put on these sunglasses. Joel, you be lookout and make sure no one sees either of you,” I heard my oldest son, Matt, instruct his brothers. As a mother of five children, 6-18 years old at the time, I could imagine at least 15 things a conversation like this could lead to, many of which I’d rather not know about.

Over a decade ago, I started an article I’d written for Family Fun magazine with this cloak and dagger paragraph. Always fans of the Want, Need, Wear and Read approach to gift giving (more on that to come), early on in our parenting, my husband, Mark, and I had added a fifth element, Share. It meant that though for many holiday seasons, our children were engaged in a mysterious endeavour, with far reaching effects in both their lives and the lives of others around us, it wasn’t anything Mark and I were concerned about. Truth be told, we were in on the conspiracy – our annual Twelve Days of Christmas giving spree.

The last few years there has been a lot of talk about a simplified, potentially more cost effective and ideally a more-in-line with the reason for our celebratory season’s gift-giving guide.

Giving gifts to each other that fall under the categories of a gift that the recipient WANTS, a gift that they NEED, a gift to WEAR and a gift to READ makes choosing gifts simpler, can more easily keep holiday budgets on track, encourages appreciation for receiving even the essentials like new PJs or socks, fosters a love for the written word and, with the WANT item, allows for that magical sense of “oh my goodness, that’s exactly what I was hoping for!” jumping up and down glee that makes for great home videos!

Adding a SHARE item to the list, however, is, in my opinion, the “pièce de résistance” of gift giving. By providing our children and ourselves the opportunity to share our time, energy and resources with someone in need of that gift, our ability to be generous increases. And with that expansion comes back, pressed down, full measure to us, increased awareness of others’ situations, increased compassion, increased understanding and increased contentment.

Not a bad return for helping organize toy giveaways, filling stockings for an in-need single-parent family or packaging up a dozen anonymous gifts representing the lyrics of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and secretly delivering them each day from December 13-24th.

Mark and I had hoped that our fun and creative tradition (that included things like a frozen chicken in a box decorated with paper pears, a dove-shaped ornament, gold-coloured napkin rings and a ballerina calendar) would help our children understand that it really is more blessed to give than to receive. As we completed our final delivery each year and we’d see our kids head down the hallway to stash the puffy coat and sunglasses, already discussing who should get the Twelve Days gift next year, we realized it was working!

How are you choosing a healthy attitude of giving this holiday season? Share with us in the comments below!


  1. Carla Tuhacek

    Our family has been doing the Twelve Days deliveries for years as well. Now I tend to do it with a group of people, each taking one day. We’ve had a blast with it. I just delivered a Star Wars themed “Ten Lord Vaders a Leaping” last night. I was searching for Brenda Wollenberg’s article online when I came across your blog. I thought you might like the expanded list we’ve compiled from years of doing this with creative folks:

    A partridge in a pear tree
    Juicy pears and picture of partridge, Tree advent calendar, Partridge ornament, 12 Days of Christmas Book, tree photo ornament plus pears and partridge, Mini tree decorated with pears & partridge, Partridge family CD, Cards or notepaper with pears or partridges, Beaded fruit, Pear body cream, grocery card (“in case you run out of pears”), 12 Days of Christmas ornaments (Target), Pear pie, paper whites in Partridge planter, Asian pear tea, chocolate covered pears, pear jelly bellys, pear and blackberry drops, pearanormal body lotion, pear soap, pear candle, Sinckers “TREE” candy,

    Two turtledoves
    A box of chocolate turtles, Dove chocolates and a stuffed animal turtle, A dove Christmas tree ornament, Turtleneck sweater, Dove bath stuff, BeBe Winans CD with dove of peace on cover, musical talking turtle, necklace with dove charm, Dove soap, dove tea towel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

    Three French Hens
    Anything French (croissants, brie, maps, flag, cheese, chicken cordon bleu, French Roast Coffee, French vanilla cappucino), Book of French poetry/art, Chicken figurines, French bread/dipping oil, Rotisserie chickens, French manicure set, French dip, French cookies, French flags on everything, Chick-fil-a certificate, McDonalds giftcard for French Fries, Perfume, anything French Vanilla, Ratatouille or Chicken Run video (tape cartoon bubbles on case saying “Bon Jour” etc), gift card from HENnigs, Little Red Hen book, French cookbook, Novel “French Toast”, French roast coffee, France Travel book, toy chickens with construction paper berets,

    Four calling birds
    Birdseed and bird feeder, Eagles stuff, Long distance calling card, Hollister or American Eagle shirt (or other clothes with bird on it), Candy cell phones with paper wings and beaks taped on, puzzle with birds,stuffed bird that plays Christmas song, bird mug, bird journal, “Are you my Mother?” book, anything with a bird on it, birdseed ornament. Directions to a bird sanctuary and a disposable camera to record sightings.
    “In the shadow of Thy wings i sing for joy!”

    Five golden rings
    Bangle bracelets, Doughnuts, Bagels, ring pops, Gold colored wreath, Napkin Rings, danish ring, candle ring, ring dings, calendar of golden places, gold coins, donut stacking rings toy, peach rings, gold paper chain,

    Six geese a-laying
    Carton of eggs decorated with bow, Goose tea towels/oven mitt, Christmas goose ornament, Easter eggs stuffed with Christmas candy, Goose shaped sugar cookies, Something made of down, Nativity in an egg from Ten Thousand Villages, Fleece blanket for “laying” on, Herbal pillow and lavender pillow spray, challah bread (egg), egg noodles, blueberry preserves with “gooseberry” written instead, Rocher chocolates (look like golden eggs), eggnog, Mother Goose book, makings for omelets, cookbook of egg recipes, white chocolate/reeses pieces center fried eggs, moose munch (add G=goose munch)

    Seven swans a swimming
    Tickets to Elmwood park zoo (or Kidstuff book with Elmwood Zoo page marked), Grocery gift card for SWANson dinners, Cream puff swans, Book/video (Swan Lake, Swan Lake Barbie, Trumpet of the Swans, Swan Princess, Ugly Duckling), Swan potholders or towels, Origami swans made of gift certificates, Bubble bath and rubber duckie with note “our swan is in the ugly duckling stage”), Bubble bath for “swimming” in, Cake decorated with 7 swans!, Swan Thieves by Kostova, Trumpeter Swan by EBWhite, stuffed swans

    Eight maids a-milking
    Milk product (eggnog, choc milk, pudding) in insulated bag, Dairy farm gift card, Maid service, Toy cow or anything black/white cow pattern, Cowtails/Malted milk balls/Milky Way, Bath milk bubble bath, Old Maid card game, Body butter cream, Milk and Honey hand soap, Body milk lotion, Udder balm, Milk bones for the doggy, farm animal puzzle, lip balm, Milk Duds, cow creamer, black and white scarf

    Nine ladies dancing
    Nutcracker CD, Angelina Ballerina, tickets to the nutcracker or Radio city, Ballerina calendar, Ballerina outfit, Doll in tutu, Pirouette wafer cookies and coffee, Socks for the dancing feet, Ballet flats, Dance Dance Revolution, Movie tickets “If you don’t want to take your ladies dancing, you can teak them to a movie!”, Target/iTunes card “Buy some tunes to dance to), Pedicure gift certificate “for those tired dancing feet”, a tin of pirouette cookies, dance lessons.

    Ten lords a-leaping
    Lord of the rings book or video, Lord of the Beans Veggie Tales DVD, Blockbuster gift certificate to get video of Riverdance/Lord of the Rings, Frog Prince book, Coffee to keep the Lord’s a leaping, stuffed frog (Fully Rely On God), Leapster game, froggy pjs, froggy slippers, anything with LORD on it, Skyzone gift card to get leaping! 10 Lord Vadars a Leaping (Anything Star Wars)

    Eleven pipers piping
    Kazoo or child’s flute, Harmonica, CD of bagpipe or flute music, Coffee or tea to be served piping hot, Klutz pipecleaner book, Bubble pipes, WAWA gift card for piping hot coffee, Bugles snacks, slide whistles, piping kit for decorating cookies.

    Twelve drummers drumming
    Toy drum, Drum containers full of cooking supplies (Flour, chocolate chips, sugar, coffee, nuts), Cans of food made to look like drums (Top each with a circle of kraft paper and a rubber band… attach Q-tip drumsticks to small cans), Popcorn drum, 12 Frozen “Drumstick “ treats, Chicken drumsticks in an electric frying pan with a favorite recipe, gingerbread house/gingerbread man kits and then having small “drum” containers of icing, gumdrops, m&ms, necco wafers, etc. to decorate, a movie basket for one of the days with videos, popcorn and candy… or even movie tickets to go out (i.e.. “Is all that drumming driving you crazy? Why not go to the movies.”) , Christmas tunes on steel drums, bucket of drumsticks, nutcracker with drum, drum basket full of movie snacks with the DVDs for Drumline, Oceans 12 or Cheaper by the Dozen.

  2. Brenda Wollenberg

    Hi Carla . . . thanks soooo much for your extensive additional suggestions for a “12 Day” giving spree post! I love your creative ideas and especially love the way you have been using a “team” approach to the giving. Might as well spread the joy of this fun way of giving to as many people as possible!


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