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My sweetest gifts came from tiny tender hearts

DREW SHANNON/The Globe and Mail

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Every year, our family laments the fact that we have no young children to evoke the special magic of a Christmas morning.

My best festive memory is the wide-eyed wonder with which our two daughters greeted every tiny treat in their stockings.

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And just as wondrous were the gifts they gave to us, with all the thought and care that young children solemnly bring to the act of picking out a present.

When I struggle to complete my Christmas shopping list, I think back to a particular birthday and a particular Christmas when my kids gave me the perfect presents.

Back when I was engaged, I was completely uninterested in the ritual of the diamond ring. However, several years into the marriage I was practically hounding my husband to correct this grievous error on his (my?) part. My birthday was coming up, and I continued to drop not-so-subtle hints about the missing diamond.

When my birthday arrived, it should have been no surprise that I received a ring – though it was certainly not the kind I had expected.

As I opened the small and suspiciously light box, there it lay. The diamond facets were carefully hand drawn on blue kraft paper, and the gold band was made of heavy brown cardboard, glistening under the reinforcement of several layers of transparent tape.

My elder daughter, Ashley, then 8, had heard my pleas and come through.

The ring fit perfectly. We still have a picture of me flashing it at the camera with an ecstatic, if goofy, grin stretching from ear to ear. Unfortunately, the ring itself was later lost when my jewellery box was stolen in a break-in.

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As I listed the items for the insurance claim, and received compensation, I sadly realized the box's most precious item was irreplaceable.

I have been luckier with Rachel's Christmas gift. Now over 20 years old, this gift still sits on my bedside table.

When Rachel was 3, my husband took her shopping for my Christmas present. During the drive to the store, he asked her what she planned to buy for me. After a couple of minutes of thought, she announced that she wanted to buy me a teddy bear.

My husband tried to dissuade her, gently suggesting alternative presents, the kinds of things "mummy would like."

But Rachel was not to be swerved from her mission, so he reluctantly took her up to the fourth-floor toy department of the downtown Simpson's store, continuing to point out all the other options along the way.

Once she reached the stuffed animals, she was initially overwhelmed – not by the choice before her, but by the heartbreaking evidence that all these animals would not find a home for Christmas. After hugging several of the toys and assuring them they would eventually be adopted, she carefully picked out a soft blue bear about 10 inches high. She insisted on helping to wrap it when they got home.

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What Rachel could not have known was that I had always wanted a bear.

I grew up in India, and teddy bears were not available in toy stores there at that time. It seemed to me that the protagonists in all the English children's books I read had teddy bears, while I was leading a truly deprived life.

When I opened the mysteriously lumpy parcel on Christmas morning, I experienced a rush of sheer delight at this uncannily perfect gift.

Patrick and I suspected that after a few days Rachel would want the bear for her own menagerie – that perhaps she had intended to buy it for her mom in the hope of getting it back for herself.

But we were completely wrong. She never once asked for the bear, and was happy about its pride of place in our bedroom. To Rachel, her own "Big Teddy" and his multitude of friends were of ultimate importance, and at some level she must have felt I needed at least one such friend of my own.

These days, Christmas and birthdays are different. Anxious to buy the right thing, we ask each other for wish lists. But from time to time, one of us suddenly comes up with that brilliant idea, where we decide that we know exactly what the other person wants.

The gift giver then typically walks around with a smug little smile, gives tantalizing but confusing clues, revelling in the knowledge that they have found or are making something perfect.

When the gift is unwrapped, they are usually right. It is a surprise but it is perfect. It's something the recipient didn't know they wanted until it was given to them.

And then I am reminded of my blue teddy bear and my diamond ring.

I marvel at the ease with which my young daughters translated their love into these precious gifts.

Kate Balsara-Pardoe lives in Toronto.

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