I picked up a call from an unfamiliar local number. It was someone organizing to give toys to needy families. “We picked your family,” she said happily. I stumbled and stuttered over myself a little as I tried to be gracious while also clear: We do not need or want the beautifully wrapped, ready-made Christmas morning her group had envisioned for our kids. “Thank you so much for thinking of us, but we try to downplay the whole presents part of Christmas,” I managed. “But I know there are lots of people who would really appreciate your generosity.”

The whole presents part of Christmas kind of seems like the biggest part of it, right? The average American plans to spend more than $900 on gifts this holiday season. That is planned spending, which we know is vulnerable to the last minute “oooh” factor, as well as the mistake of bringing your children with you to the store.

In our house, we have been buying 50-cent mugs at Goodwill all year long. We are going to make toffee, fill mugs with toffee, wrap them in brown paper and leave it at that. With our families and co-workers, we do Yankee Swaps and Secret Santas, where it is “the thought” that counts — not grabbing the must-have toy of the year. This year, I understand that the hot toy is something called a Hatchanimal. It costs $60 (if you can find it), breaks out of its shell and then matures over a few days, learning from you as you take care of it. It is super adorable, and I am sure all three of my kids would love it enthusiastically, forsaking all other objects to be near it. That is, until they are distracted by dinner, a visitor or a particularly awesome cardboard box. That’s how quickly the beloved Hatchanimal becomes yesterday’s news.

For the first time, my four-and-a-half-year-old son Seamus is excited about Santa. He used to think the bearded old gent was something out of a nightmare and stayed far away. Last weekend, however, he marched right up to a Santa at a holiday festival and started chatting about how he would be in Michigan, not Connecticut, this year. Our affable son told the jolly elf that he would leave out cookies for him “on a plate with milk for you! And carrots for your reindeers too.” Seamus then sat down for the obligatory photo and kept right on talking.

“I have had very good behavior, right Mommy?” He grinned up at me like he was not the one who had taken to yelling “I am ignoring you,” when called for dinner. He and Santa chatted on, but they never got to the heart of the transaction — presents. Seamus didn’t ask for anything and this Santa (probably because it was at a Heifer International fair and all about giving not getting) didn’t offer. They shook hands and parted as friends, with Seamus calling, “See you soon, Santa” as we walked away. I could not have been happier if I scripted the whole encounter myself.