The excellence of a gift lies in its relevance rather than its value. – Charles Dudley Warner

“What would you like for Christmas?” My oldest daughter’s text was pretty clear, but the question brought distant memories to the surface. I remember when I was a little boy, eager to hear these words from my parents. Do not mistake yourself ; I had exceptional childhood Christmases growing up. It’s just that my mom never once asked for what I wanted at this age.

It was certainly not for lack of trying on my part. It all started in November when the Sears Christmas Catalog arrived in our mailbox. I spent hours browsing the beautiful toy section, pen from my father’s desk in hand, carefully marking my sideburns with an erratic circle. I remember my perennial favorite being the toy soldiers, complete sets with tilting forts. Far West, civil war, revolutionary war, Vikings; I was fascinated. The sets included over 100 pieces, which made my head spin in anticipated glory. Alas, no set has ever been available.

As I got older, I stepped up my game. I would be more strategic economically, looking at prices and only selecting items that I thought were feasible with the family budget. I also started initialing my circles, just in case she thought it was something my brother or sister wanted. Always nothing. But I never ran out of great gifts: train sets, BB-gun, ping pong table, archery set, my parents scored every vacation. Looking back, I realize that my mom valued the art of surprise as a key part of Christmas magic.

As the kids got older, Christmas gifts started to become more transactional. Why buy a tie or socks you neither needed nor wanted, when a book you wanted shows up exactly on Christmas Day? It didn’t stop my mom at first, however. As an adult, she started buying me warm clothes for the cold Arkansas winters she imagined I was suffering from. (My mom lived in Florida.) The only problem was that she never seemed able to remember that I wore a size large in men’s shirts, so the XL flannel shirts got worse every year. I solved this dilemma by complimenting her on her knives and cooking utensils. Soon after, I had a kitchen that a great chef could be proud of.

Spending Christmas with adult children brings a whole new set of problems. At this age, the real answer to the question “What do you want for Christmas?” tends to be a new Jeep or a trip to Tahiti, items clearly out of reach for my kids’ budgets. I used to ask for movies or music, but with the advent of streaming it’s over. So how do I answer my daughter’s question?

Shopping with my wife this weekend, we rounded a busy shopping street corner where I passed two young men engaged in eager conversation. “Guess what I got this weekend? he asked his companion with breathless impatience. ” I’ve no idea. What ? Said the other man. Slowing down my speed, I strained my ears to the side, eager to hear what it was. “A pass for the playground!” He declared proudly. “Wow!” replied the friend, repeating the words with admiration. “A pass for the playground.”

Now dear reader, to be completely transparent I don’t know exactly what this is but for some reason I really want one. The possibilities seem endless. Mission accomplished; I’m texting my daughter.

Merry Christmas and may you be as generous to others as you would like with Santa Claus.