Social & Emotional Development

Kids Wrote to Highlights and Shared What They Really Want for the Holidays

By: Christine Burke
Little boy holding a gift with gold wrapping paper in the snow.
5 minutes to read
Ages 3+
Critical Thinking
Social Emotional

One blustery November morning on the day before Thanksgiving many years ago found me deep in the preparations for our annual Thanksgiving dinner. As I chopped potatoes and sautéed vegetables, I could feel the warmth of our fireplace in the family room. I had lit a holiday-scented candle that competed with the smell of a pumpkin pie in the oven and my eyes watered from the chopped onions on the butcher block. 

To complete the mood, I indulged in the sounds of Christmas carols (yes, a few weeks early). With Bing Crosby crooning in the background, the sounds of my young kids trudging up the driveway floated through the frosted windowpanes.  

As I often did, I braced for the barrage that comes with school-aged kids finally arriving home for some holiday rest and relaxation. Backpacks were abandoned in the doorway, excited chatter about Thanksgiving crafts at school ensued and winter coats were tossed on the floor next to wet snow boots.  

I absentmindedly herded the kids into the kitchen, eager to get back to my now-likely burned Brussels sprouts on the stove. But I nearly tripped over my then 7-year-old daughter when she stopped suddenly in the middle of the kitchen.  

She had closed her eyes, face tilted toward the ceiling, and she was taking a deep breath in through her still chilly nose. Her shoulders relaxed, her little face breathing in the smells and sights of my very messy kitchen.  

And her face lit up. 

“This place smells exactly how I hoped it would. I have waited all year for the kitchen to smell like this! I was hoping the whole time on the bus that I would smell pumpkin pie when I got home,” she beamed. 

Later, as she and her brother snuggled on the couch with hot cocoa and their favorite Christmas movie, I took a mental picture of what felt like a snippet of our family’s version of “perfection.” It was the calm before the holiday storm, and it was cozy. 

Did the boiling potatoes overflow shortly after? Of course. 

Did I nearly burn the green bean casserole while defending the UPS guy from our overzealous shih-tzu as he made a delivery of recently ordered gifts? Absolutely. 

Did I spend the next several days entertaining 20 people for various Thanksgiving-related meals? Indeed. 

But, through all the hustle and bustle, I thought about my daughter’s face when she arrived home during my preparations. I don’t remember what was on her Christmas list that year, but I do remember the bliss on her face. 

The way she anticipated the smell of pumpkin pie made me realize that the holidays are so much more for kids than the tangible gifts people give them over the holidays. 

Every year, Highlights receives thousands of letters from kids around the world, telling us their thoughts, dreams and hopes. And yes, they tell us about the toys they hope to find on their favorite holiday, too.  

Here at Highlights, we believe that there are so many ways to holiday and that the celebrations and cherished traditions we hold dear turn moments into memories. 

In fact, in 2022, kids have written to Highlights that these gifts are on the top of their holiday wish lists: 


Hover Board 

Magic Kit 


Art Kit 


Mountain bike 

But a deeper look into the letters from our Highlights readers reveals that, while kids still love toys and games, many of our readers write that deeper connections with their families top their wish lists. Kids have written to us to talk about their favorite holiday traditions and the joy that comes when a parent suddenly has a free afternoon off during the holiday season.  

Here’s a snippet of what kids told Highlights about the holidays this year: 

“I am looking forward to going around and helping homeless people during the holiday. I help pass out food and toys to kids. It makes me feel great.” 

“This Christmas we are going to my grandma’s house. We haven’t been in two years and this year I will be able to help make her famous Christmas pie.” 

“During Christmas holiday both my mom and dad take off of work and spend A LOT of time with us. We play games and watch movies and cook yummy food.”  -Aiden, 10

“Every Christmas morning we eat my dad’s French toast. We help put it together the night before because it has to set overnight. In the morning I help put it in the oven and we eat it while opening our presents.”  -Addison

“My mom is letting me help pick out our caroling songs this year. I am so excited!!” 

“I want to visit my big sister for Christmas. She went to college and I get to see her on zoom but it is not the same and now I don’t know if she is coming home for Christmas so I want us to go to her.”  -Benji

Here at Highlights, we believe that there are so many ways to holiday and that the celebrations and cherished traditions we hold dear turn moments into memories. 

When parents give gifts that encourage curiosity, boost creativity and build confidence, you are fostering those connections by offering opportunities for children to learn more about themselves.  

So, as you are hustling through the bustle of yet another busy holiday season, remember that sometimes, the biggest and best gifts might just come in the form of a homemade pumpkin pie with a side of whipped cream. 

From Hidden Pictures scenes to puffy sticker puzzles and more, there are so many ways to play and make memories together this holiday season!

Author Christine Burke
By: Christine Burke

Christine Burke is the Digital Parenting Editor for Highlights Parents. She’s the owner of the popular blog, Keeper of The Fruit Loops, and her work has been featured on Today Parenting, Scary Mommy, Your Teen for Parents and other parenting sites. She resides in Pennsylvania with her husband, two teens, and a needy shih tzu.