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Making Your List: The Magic Santa Shopping Guide (part 1)


It is time to hug your inner Clause.

Christmas is a complex, multi-layered Masterpiece — a magical heist of crazy-making proportions.

For me, the shopping is driven by these basic strategic aims:

     1.  Thriftily spend as little $ as possible

     2.  Approximately & creatively honour their lists where reasonable

     3.  Rigorously bolster their Belief in our uniquely awesome Santa mythology

     4.  Check it all twice & thrice to ensure equality, fairness, and joy for all


Then…..we move beyond the basic to the sublime.

(This is where I really start to get my jollies!)

     5.  Maximum Play Activation — deliver goods that will sustainably produce Wonder for the whole year!

     6.  Gifting their Future Selves — seeing beyond what they think they want & calling forth their emerging greatness

     7.  Doing all of the above with magical, otherworldly charm — it’s all in the delivery baby!

The supreme goal is to hit the Sweet Spot jackpot:

maximum wonder from minimum ‘stuff.’ 

To accomplish this I use a little sleight of hand that I fondly call:


You see, it is a fine line to walk as a magical being –  as Santa incarnate.  You have to nail that perfect balance of satisfying/enchanting the child without spoiling the child.

Easy?  By no means!

My children still talk about one year when Santa didn’t bring them anything, just one gift for dad — a book.

(I don’t know where they got that perception but obviously they were less than thrilled with their lot)

Doing Christmas with an insane amount of intentionality may not be your cup of tea, but either way you’re bound to get some darn interesting ideas here… read on!

Let’s take a peek under the tree of Christmas Past for a bit of inspiration — at some of the gifts I’ve given over the years!

Keep in mind:

“What inner capacity

(what inner gift)

is dear Saint Nick honouring and calling forth?”

Gifts can be symbolic.  Prophetic.

Tools declare “You are a Workman.”  A helper.  A fixer.

Used tools like these I found at the Antique Mall carry the essence and energy

of a former owner — some mysterious great grandfather Man.

These wrenches have not been overly ‘useful’ as wrenches

but Brayden holds them reverently

(and they show up creatively in play because they are magnetic!)

An old toolbox has an intoxicating vibe.

And is infinitely useful (awesome Lego carrier).

A few years ago Brayden received his

filled with work gloves, rope, pulley, blocks, flashlight, and toolbelt.

I love retro implements of every kind.

Antique Malls, thrift stores, and grandma’s house are great places to pick up

utensils that emanate that real homemaker ju ju!


(is there such a thing as too many rolling pins?)

You can fully equip an epic play kitchen for Christmas,

or — better yet — let it evolve by adding a few new items each year.

Kitchen tools go great with a special batch of homemade

Christmas peppermint essential oil playdough.


Santa delivered our play kitchen so many years ago

and it has been the priceless centerpiece of soooooooo much play.

(my dad affixed the oven knobs)

I am a sucker for anything with character.

Most of the gifts that this Santa brings are pre-loved.

Which flies in the face of “Value” as it is commonly understood (new = better)

Not necessarily so!

It’s another one of those invisible ‘essences’ I talk about —

Declaring to my child that they are one of a kind, rare, maybe even a bit flawed —

A great treasure to be sought.

I also choose toys with open-ended play power.

I run them through my own inner imagination tester —

Can this thing be used at least 3 different ways?

A rum-pum-pum drum is totally classic —

Great for 1. dance parties, 2. little hills for guys to climb, 3. little caves when on its side

Magical Underwhelm has a lot to do with the presentation.

Santa has never in 10 years brought anything with ‘store-bought’ packaging —

no plastic wrappers or styrofoam casing or twist ties to undo or batteries to insert.

Ours is such a very old, old-fashioned Santa.

He has never even used scotch tape or paper wrapping.

I want my children to have this image of Santa’s Workshop that is utterly enchanting.

So the toys look like they have been fashioned by Elves.

This Santa also does a lot of her shopping during the summer at garage sales.

i.e. $5 wooden choo choo train.

The Antique Mall is my absolute favorite.

It’s hazardous to my wallet at times,

but nothing beats an authentic old world item that still exudes


Now that’s a real gift.

The sense of being cherished, valued, worth keeping…

A thing that has resisted the garbage dump for some 50 years.

The very opposite of a throw away plastic toy.

A thing that has been well used and loved

carries that essence

and gives that essence to the child.


Antique stores are the perfect place to find that unique

cradle, high chair, desk, or other playhouse furnishings.



Then I usually make them a few things —

Or gift them the raw materials to make their own creations.


(I order my bulk raw wood materials from Casey’s Wood Products )


These odd tidbits I just got from the Re-use Centre for free….such fun!

And Santa often brings a new broom or shovel just to re-emphasize that

Work is also a Gift.

Unique furnishings are a great way to divert the Christmas budget

towards useful/beautiful things.

I could go on and on, but let’s get back to the central question.

Who is my child becoming?

And how can I draw that out in a way that ignites wonder and gratitude

even though they are getting LESS?

I call it Magical Underwhelm

because it’s a bit like hitting a magic formula

bang on

when you succeed.

Tricky.  Risky.  Could backfire…

But somehow worth doing, no matter how wonky it gets.

It’s important to me.

To exalt the strange and unique precious items in this world,

to resist the onslaught of cookie cutter commercialism,

to curb the insatiable greed of always getting what they want…

and instead fill their stockings with underwhelming oddities and surprising delights!


Parents, I invite you,

as I lead by experiment and push the Christmas envelope —

why not play around with your own hows and whys?

I dare you to make a new list


and check it twice.


You still have time

and permission

to make some quick returns if necessary!

(I hope you’ve been keeping your receipts!  I actually went to Toys R Us on Black Friday and spent $150, then came to my senses and returned all of it!  Ha ha.  I am not immune to the Crazy either!!)

I am going to help you

reverse engineer

your Christmas list.

In my next post.

Stay tuned!





  • Dana

    Oh I love you! Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  • K.C

    I love this post so much!!

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Pingback: Checking it Twice: The Magic Santa Shopping Guide (part 2) – Parent By Magic on December 14, 2016