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The Best Christmas Gift

By Dan Bauer, Contributor, 12/21/22, 9:45AM CST


Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in Lockroom Logic are solely those of Dan Bauer and do not reflect the opinions of Wisconsin Prep Hockey or its partners. Dan presents his opinions based upon his lifetime of teaching and coaching experience and we present them unedited.

Now more than ever, Christmas has become the season of giving and for those still under the magic spell of Santa the season of receiving gifts.  Few moments in life can eclipse the tree lights sparkling in the wide-eyes of a child on Christmas morning.  The culmination of weeks of waiting and trying so hard to behave are unleashed in a special moment on that morning.  At our house we went to sleep on Christmas Eve without a tree on site, only to wake to a magical morning that swept us away to a day unlike any other.  We were very fortunate because Santa never disappointed us.

My parents made Christmas a holiday that had no equal.  As a traditionalist, I felt obligated to carry on the family tradition.  I now get to enjoy putting together the same holiday theatre for my grandchildren.  We will be fortunate again this year to host a nearly complete family guest list.  

As Christmas approaches ever year our family circulates Christmas Lists as everyone maneuvers to find that perfect gift.  Each year I am informed that I am one of the most difficult to buy for, partly because I apparently “buy whatever I want”, which isn’t entirely untrue.  I don’t consider myself a hoarder, but I have a small closet in my office that may qualify.  I will admit I do love my wooden hockey sticks, my bobbleheads and my Packer’s memorabilia.  The magnet on our refrigerator says it best, “It’s not really hoarding if you have cool stuff”.   I think we can all secretly agree on that.

In all fairness, my Christmas list is the same every year, and number one on my list is to have everyone home.  Each year that becomes a more difficult challenge.  Life has way of filling up daily calendars with more than we can handle.  Finding time for phone calls or visits often seems an impossible task.  Hearing Harry Chapin’s The Cat’s in the Cradle has given all of us pause as we journey through life’s busy agenda.  It wasn’t until the passing of my Dad that I realized just how coveted those visits were.  As I flipped through his calendar book/journal, I noticed many blank pages, sprinkled with appointment reminders.  The only entries were those days when one of his kids or grandkids had paid a visit.  You could almost see the joy jumping from the words on those pages.  The lump in my throat and the tears welling up in my eyes told me I hadn’t visited enough.

Now as I enter the absurdity of the Medicare age I really understand how he felt.  And at the same time I know why he and my mother were adamant about telling me not to worry about visiting, that they understood.  They had been through this same journey with their parents.  Your life and your family have to take precedent and they understood that as I do now.

As my parents aged I realized that they didn’t need another tie or apron any more than I need more hockey sticks.  They needed visits and phone calls and more grandkids.  And I thought they needed one more thing, validation that they mattered, that they did so many things right that I can’t even remember what they did wrong.  Other than our children, who are often over-praised for doing things that were once just expected, as adults we often don’t get enough positive feedback to fill our buckets.  We all understand that you can’t take the material gifts with you, but I believe you can take the gifts inside your heart.  When your life slows down, you get time to look back at it and I think each of us wants to know that what we did mattered.  Only a fool would tire of hearing that.

None of this is meant to make my children or anybody feel guilty, because the truth is no matter how many times you visit loved ones, when they are gone it will not seem like it was enough.  My grandmother started telling us at about age sixty that this would be her last Christmas.  It wasn’t until thirty-some years later that she was right.  The fact is none of are getting out alive and none of us know our checkout date.

You could send me around the world or buy me a new car, but truthfully none of those would compare to a Christmas dinner with overflow into the kids table in the next room or a Fourth of July gathering around the fire pit without any empty seats.  Join me for another father-daughter/son/grandkid breakfast or family vacation or send me your kids for a week.  I unapologetically love being at home more than anywhere else, but Home Alone for the holidays would be tragic in a way unlike the movie by the same name.  Thankfully, my children understand the comfort and joy that being home with all them brings to my wife and I, just as I understand that at some point Christmas at our house may look very different.   

Time is our most useful resource and I would argue spending it with those you love the most is the wisest use of it.  Don’t overestimate money and believe it is more valuable than your time.   
As a child we gave our parents little handcrafted gift cards of time, I will do the dishes or bring you breakfast in bed.  They were the best gifts you could give as a child and they are still the best, because time is not only our most useful resource, but also our most precious.

When those special holidays arrive, instead of reaching for your credit card to buy another gift, think about deleting something from your calendar and add a visit to the calendar of someone you love.  The perfect gift you have been searching for is available to all of us. There is no waiting in line or worrying if it will be delivered on time and it is free of charge.

A simple gift will be appreciated; your gift of time will be cherished.  

Merry Christmas all!

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Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI. You can contact him at

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