We spend so much time around here thinking about the best gifts to give to those we love, that sometimes we forget about ourselves and our own gifts! (Is that a mom thing?) So we asked a few of our writers and editors to spend a little time thinking about the most memorable holiday gifts they’ve received over the years, those gifts big and small that brought them joy, and to share them here.

Oof, what memories.

From Allison’s unexpected surprise from Santa, to Jane’s beginning of a Christmas tradition, to Kristen’s gift that meant so much more than the gift itself, we hope our stories serve as a reminder for us all that sometimes it’s the little things that bring us the most joy.

And it’s always, always about the thought, whatever the price tag.


Kristen: A Sleeping Bag That was More Than a Sleeping Bag
I can only imagine how difficult the first Christmas was for my parents after my sister had passed away. I was only 4 then, so I know that as much as they were grieving, they really tried to make it a special day for me.

I still remember the way all the gifts looked under the tree, but one in particular caught my eye.

Our most memorable Christmas gifts of all time | cool mom picks

The biggest gift sat off to the side, and when I ripped it open, I found what I thought was a huge box of crayons. Turns out, it was actually a sleeping bag that looked like a crayon box. It wasn’t something that I had asked for, but it was just so cool that I couldn’t help but be excited.

I never actually went camping with it, but that didn’t matter. I slept with it every single night, for many years to come. Even at 4, I knew that what might have looked like a sleeping bag to anyone else represented something incredibly special to me.


Delilah: The Beginning of Something Bigger
I was not always the fancy lady I am now.

Back in 2001, I moved to Clemson while my boyfriend was in grad school. I had no job, no insurance, no money, no friends. We were living in a one-bedroom apartment where we sometimes struggled to pay the phone bill.

Our most special holiday gift stories: Cool Mom Picks

That year, my husband-to-be gave me a diamond tennis bracelet, my first real piece of jewelry. My grandmother took me for a manicure and told me she approved of him, and I found many excuses to waggle my arm when visiting his family for the holidays.

The next year, we married.

We’re still together and I couldn’t be happier. And even though he’s gifted me several meaningful pieces of jewelry since, that simple tennis bracelet remains a symbol of his love and the promise of our future together.


Liz: “Pick Out Any One Thing.”
When I was in middle school, my grandfather offered to take me on a very special one-on-one, Grandpa-Liz Hanukkah shopping trip, just he and I.

This wasn’t any old holiday shopping trip. We were heading to the one and only F.A.O. Schwartz, which was like Santa’s very own workshop right in the heart of midtown Manhattan. When we arrived, I was granted the ultimate 11-year-old fantasy: the ability to pick out any one thing at all in the entire store.

“Anything? At all? Like…this?” I asked, pointing to some massive, ridiculously overpriced stuffed giraffe that marked the entrance.

“Anything at all,” he said.

“Like…this full-size electronic keyboard? Or this collectible set of 12 dolls from around the world,” I asked, sizing up what seemed to be the most outrageous offerings on the shelves.

“Anything at all,” he said.

After browsing and poking, picking things up and putting them back down (probably driving the salespeople nuts in the process) I didn’t go for the most pricey item at all, surprising even myself. It somehow didn’t seem right to do that.

Instead, I selected a (only somewhat indulgent) shiny, fancy, beeping, booping, newfangled handheld Coleco Football electronic game that I thought was the greatest, coolest, most techiest thing of all time — and okay, knowing it would make my brother just a wee bit jealous.

Coleco Electronic Quarterback: One of our favorite holiday gifts from our own childhoods.

Looking back, it’s clear that what made that trip so special wasn’t even the gift itself; although I played with that Coleco Electronic Quarterback until I my fingers tensed up with Video Game Claw Syndrome.

What was special was the acknowledgment of my pending adulthood, as my grandfather gave me the freedom to make a choice without criticism or judgment or even much guidance. What was special was my education about accepting gifts with grace, and the understanding that “pick anything” doesn’t have to mean absolutely anything. What was special was our day alone, one-on-one, Grandpa and Liz, on the last Hanukkah we ever had together.

Jeana: Sometimes Brand Names Matter

One of the most memorable gifts I received on Christmas morning brings me back to my childhood. Long before iPods and iPhones, all I wanted was a Sony Walkman — the big, clunky cassette player with the auto reverse function. I had hinted at it for months leading up to the big morning, but knowing how expensive it was, never banked on getting one.

You can only imagine the thrill I experienced when I ripped open the wrapping paper and saw the big letters S-O-N-Y on the box.

Sony Walkman Wm2: Reflections of our favorite Christmas gifts ever.

Adding to the excitement, was the next gift: Madonna’s True Blue cassette. I sat on the couch and listened to those songs over and over again. In fact I can still sing every line of Papa Don’t Preach.


Some of our favorite memorable holiday gifts found at JCPenney
to bring to life the joy of giving.

Our sponsor JCPenney has so many fantastic gift items for everyone on your list at great prices, that it’s easy to find that one incredibly special, thoughtful gift that brings you both joy. They’ve even got a Gift Hub of JCPenney Gifts Worth Giving to help you find gifts by price, by category, or recipient in just a few clicks.

Here are just a few that we think are extra fabulous. Maybe they’ll even become part of your own friends’ and families’ stories about their most memorable gift ever.

Our picks for memorable Christmas gifts from JCPenney in every price range | Cool Mom Picks for JCP

Left to right, top to bottom:

Engraveable Sterling Cufflink Set | Archer Classic 4/4 Size Acoustic Guitar

Aqua di Parma Colonia Essenza | Spode Musical Santa Snow Globe |
Crosley Deluxe Portable Turntable

North Pole Junction Christmas Train Set | Kurt Adler Star Lighted Tree Topper |
Sterling Love Charm Bracelet

And be sure to take advantage of JCPenney’s Lowest Price Guarantee: If you find a lower current advertised price on an identical item available at JCPenney, you can bring that ad to a JCPenney store within 14 days and they’ll do more than match it — they’ll beat that price by 5%.



Allison: Santa Doing the Impossible
When I was about 8 years old, I got, oh yes, a Cabbage Patch Kid. There was nothing in the world I wanted more than a real one, with hair and eyes just like mine. Even if it meant my parents had to go to the ends of the earth and back to find one. But Santa was magical and I believed he could make it happen.

My mother still loves to tell me the story… how I ran down the stairs with my favorite torn-to-shreds Teddy and that the moment I saw my Cabbage Patch doll under the tree, I screamed and cried, tossed my Teddy (sorry, Teddy!) and grabbed that doll and never let go.

Vintage 1980s Cabbage Patch doll on Etsy: One of our most memorable holiday gifts of our childhoods.

I’m not sure what ever happened to her, unfortunately, but I’ve always kept the memory and that wonderful childhood feeling that Santa is everything.


Jane: Counting Backward to 1
The first year my in-laws were married, they sawed off the trunk of their Christmas tree and marked it with a 1. They continued to do this every Christmas, commemorating each year they celebrated — even the particularly stressful ones!

(See: number 14.)

Although my father-in-law passed away right before number 43, the numbers keep coming.

Holiday Traditions: Christmas Tree Souvenir


Holiday Traditions: Christmas tree trunk souvenirs.

On the first Christmas I shared with my husband, he handed me a terribly wrapped, bumpy little thing. To my surprise, he had saved the bit of trunk that was cut from our tree and marked it with a little 1.

I still love seeing the small 1 and remembering the tree we squeezed into our 500 square foot apartment. Yes, it’s a bit sappy, but unwrapping each of the logs — and adding a new one — is now my favorite part of decorating each year.


Georgette: Bad Reputation…Amazing Gift
New Jersey, 1989, and all I wanted for Christmas was a cherry red electric Kramer guitar and a kick ass amp to go with it. I had big dreams (and even bigger hair) to be the next Joan Jett.

Joan Jett Bad Reputation

I begged my parents, they explained that it was too expensive and they couldn’t make it happen. I pouted, I sulked — I was 16, after all — and that Christmas morning, I didn’t wake up early to rush to open presents like I did all the years past.

When I finally did get up, that cherry red electric Kramer guitar, propped up against that kick ass amp, greeted me in all its glory. It shone brighter than the lights on the tree and so did my parents’ faces. I never made it into a rock band, in fact I gave up on lessons just a few months later much to my parents dismay, but that guitar is the most memorable, and meaningful, holiday present I ever received.


Stacie: Ciao, Mi Amore
Before my husband was my husband, we lived together and had celebrated a couple of anti-climactic Christmases in that time. The year before we got married, I knew I had to fill him in on how important Christmas was to me for the years to come. So I explained that even though the exchange of Christmas gifts wasn’t a big deal to him, it was to me.

I made it clear that it wasn’t about blockbuster gifts, but rather some special thought, or some way to do for each other something we might normally not do.

That year (despite my assurances that it wasn’t the price tag that mattered) he surprised me with a couple’s trip to Rome, Italy! But that wasn’t even the most thoughtful part.

Vintage map of rome on Etsy

He had taken the time to contact my employer, collaborated on dates that I could reasonably take off from work, and coordinated the entire itinerary, plane tickets and all. He had done every drop of planning and I knew he put so much thought into it, which is was what made it so special for me.

Ah, life before kids.

Thanks so much to our sponsor JCPenney who is offering so much #JoyWorthGiving this holiday season, lots on sale. Plus, they’ve launched their Lowest Price Guarantee: If you find a lower current advertised price on an identical item available at JCPenney, you can bring that ad to a JCPenney store within 14 days and they’ll do more than match it — they’ll beat that price by 5%.


Photo credits:
Gifts Under the Tree, Andrew Neel for Unsplash
Wrapped Gift, Annie Spratt for Unsplash
Numbered Logs © Jane Sweeney reprinted with permission
Coleco Game By Keith Pomakis, Creative Commons BY-SA 2.5
Vintage 1980s Cabbage Patch Doll for sale by Nona’s Collectibles, Etsy
Walkman WM 2 Casette Player via Sony
Vintage Map of Rome on Canvas for sale by Seaphloor, Etsy
Joan Jett Vinyl EP for sale on Amazon

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