Christmas is coming. You’re spiritually ready. You took the kids to confession and went too. You have been lighting the Advent candles and doing just a bit of spiritual reading (not as much as you originally planned or hoped, but you’re doing OK).  You’ve given food to the poor, and are keeping the season Christ-centered for the family. The nativity set went up last week. And the lights are up outside too. Okay, they’re not up but they’re on their way up as the box in which they are stored has been pulled out and is sitting near the front door. Overall, things have been going pretty well. You even have had the foresight to purchase a few gifts, but now it’s time to think of your spouse. What can you get her? What does she really want?

First, let’s be frank and get some “don’ts” out of the way:

I know you are a helpful guy and want to assist your wife in her job at home, but please do not get her a vacuum cleaner for Christmas. I repeat, do not get her a vacuum for Christmas, nor pots and pans, nor other common household items that plug in and which you think might be useful for her ‘work’. Exceptions to this are items that demonstrate your care and concern for her personal likes and interests – a gourmet coffee machine (if she is a coffee-drinker), a bread or pasta maker (if she has mentioned she wants one). The slight distinction between these electrical appliances is critical. She will see the former as tools for her work (which they are) and the latter as your attention to her comfort and likes (which it is).  You will be perceived as thoughtful and sensitive with the latter choices. With the former, she will politely say “Thank you.” And look off into the distance. If you absolutely feel compelled to purchase a sweeper, then go ahead. But just make sure you address the card to the whole family. That way everyone can join in the excitement on Christmas morning.

Still confused? Here’s another example: A set of practical sturdy white dinner plates is ill-advised. A set of four delicate prettily decorated tea plates (which don’t have to cost much, by the way- I know how you think-) is a better idea. Choose a lovely design that is the same color of her eyes (and don’t forget to tell her this). This gift will garner gratitude and excitement reminiscent of the memories of your early dating. Remember, it’s all nuance.  You know. Like the difference between a basic Verizon cell phone and an Apple 32GB iPhone4 or an Ipod Touch, without the cost concern.

Also, please don’t even glance at the display of “As Seen on TV” merchandise with her in mind. She does not want a Snuggie from you. Not even a pink one. And never, ever entertain the thought of purchasing for her any type of elasticized clothing, even if she just had a baby—especially if she has just had a baby–  even if a salesperson guarantees that she will be thrilled with stretchy-waist, ‘mom’ jeans in a designer style and color. No, no, no!  Those will not be tears of joy you see on Christmas morning.

Other things to avoid: gift certificates to car washes, the grocery store (this should be obvious), and some place that YOU want to go but she may not (ex: pro-football game, unless she is a huge fan.) Nothing for her car please. It’s simply a vehicle to get her from one place to another. If she wants to accessorize it herself, she will. But she probably won’t. And you shouldn’t. Unless it’s not Christmas and you want to do it for no reason, in which case she probably won’t mind. Candy is fine, but not the kind from the check-out lane in the grocery store. She’ll know in an instant that it was an afterthought. If you absolutely have to get her stocking stuffer from the grocery store, at least go down the candy aisle. If you’re in a pinch, red and green foiled, chocolate Hershey kisses will do, but only if you wrap them and only if you get the extra, extra large bag. OK, I take that back. You don’t have to wrap them.

Anyway, the point is, she loves you and wants to know that you thought about her and that she is important enough to you that you took some time in selecting a gift for her. She’s with you on this- it’s the thought, not cost that counts.

Now let’s look at what your wife really wants for Christmas:

1. She wants everyone to get along. Really. She wants no bickering among siblings, no arguing when she reminds children of their kitchen duties. She wants a Christmas full of happy memories. She remembers these as a series of snapshots in her brain: The family in their Christmas best singing carols at Mass on Christmas Eve. The kiss you plant on her neck as prepares a holiday meal. Sitting on the sofa in her robe, first thing Christmas morning, with your toddler snuggling in her lap (which brings me to a point- please do not videotape or photograph her first thing in the morning in her pajamas unless you have her explicit permission. Most likely she wants to remember this in her mind not in the family photo album or on your Facebook page under “Christmas photos.” ) The truth is, much of a mother’s positive identity comes from her family. She wants calm, harmony. Peace. Call a little family meeting. Try to lead this peace in the family. It’s really a gift for everyone.

2. She wants to be thought of. She wants to know she is special. Think back to the days you dated. I’m sure you’ll come up with something.

3. She wants you to be a strong, loving spiritual leader. In a tumultuous world, this is a year-round gift.

4. She wants help. She wants you to pitch in. Chances are pretty good that if there are children in the house, then she is sleep-deprived. Offer her a Saturday morning to sleep through the night or sleep in (don’t worry, ‘sleep in’ for moms probably means she will wake up at a leisurely 8:00 am. But that’s heaven to her. Trust me.)

Were you looking for a more physical gift suggestion? Well, I don’t have one. The truth is she simply wants you- your time and your devotion. Do without the “don’ts”, consider the “do’s” and come up with something original. Any thoughtful token of your love and any action that is family-building are sure to be winners. Remember your past. Think of your future. You know what to do. Now go be Santa.

Theresa Thomas’s favorite Christmas present was an engagement ring from her husband, given to her after Midnight Mass, December 25, 1986, in front of a roaring fire and after her future husband had asked her father’s permission. A vacuum cleaner was under her Christmas tree one year, but Santa was smart enough not to put just her name on the tag. She thinks you can’t go wrong if you buy your wife her latest book, “Stories for the Homeschool Heart” here:  And she would love to see your comments below on what you think husbands really want for Christmas.

This article originally appeared in Today’s Catholic News.

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