Jessie was two-years-old, it was December, I had a day off, and a credit card.When the forces of nature align like that family legends are born.I went crazy.I bought her clothes, I bought her duplos, I bought her Fisher Price sets, Little Tykes climbers, and a huge rubber ball.Twenty years later, my wife still shakes her head about the rubber ball.I bought her so many lavender outfits that she couldn’t possibly wear them all in one week.(Lavender was really big in the 80s for little girls.)

Christmas morning with our apartment filled with gifts, Jessie began the arduous task of opening her gifts.As she opened each lavender outfit—and pink, pink was also big for little girls in the 80s—she immediately put it on.She had at least five different outfits on, one on top of the other, when she lost control of her bladder and urinated through them all.

Fortunately, the foolhardiness of my actions that year serve as a permanent reminder that I am capable of succumbing to capitalistic impulses rather than Christian impulses at Christmas.

So, why did I do it?

I wanted to show my daughter love in a concrete way?Well, perhaps, but I have always been pretty good at showing my love to my children concretely through time spent with them and interest in their lives.So, no, probably not.

I was well-to-do, worked hard, and had money to spare?Definitely not. We paid for that Christmas for years to come.

She needed those things anyway?Oh, come on, who needs that many outfits?

So, why did I do it?I suspect that even as an American with a modest income (I was an educarer in a child care program and my wife earned only slightly more than I did at the not-for-profit where she worked), I had lost sight of what my children needed and of what Christmas represented.

Children don’t need much in the way of material possessions.

Children don’t need much in the way of material possessions.Yes, they need some clothes (lavender is an optional color), they need food, shelter, and a few toys are nice. But children really don’t need us to spend a lot of money on them.Honest.What they need is our unconditional love and our time.As someone educated in child development, I should have known better.

The “wants” are very normal from children especially around the end of the year when the marketing efforts of retailers go into overdrive and I am not opposed or exempt from taking part in a little “want-meeting” at Christmas.But, how do we encourage a value system that emphasizes needs vs. wants?

Please share your thoughts with us here and check back to see what ideas parents, teachers, grandparents, and others have.

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