When my parents were first married, my dad was enlisted in the Army. They lived far away from family and had no money, and so letter-writing was the way they kept in touch. For months, my grandmother sent letters several times a week, instructing my parents (her son and daughter-in-law): “For healthy children, drink a quart of milk every day.” These letters piled up in my parents’ newlywed apartment until my dad finally wrote back: “Drinking gallons of milk every week. Still no babies. Send further instructions.” She never mentioned it again. She wasn’t the type to waste a stamp on information that everybody already knew, i.e., “you’re a cheeky smartass.”

While my grandmother was bordering on creepy with her reproductive advice, I’m sure there were plenty of times after my parents had all four of their children that they wished for “further instructions.” All parents do. Or we’re so overwhelmed by instructions that we can’t parse through the sea of advice for the good stuff.

There’s no shortage of well-meaning advice about how to celebrate Christmas and make it meaningful in a Christian family. We’ve kind of figured out what works for us, and accidentally stumbled upon our own magic.

Last year, I wrote about how our family almost didn’t “do” Santa and why we chose to include the jolly old elf in our family celebrations after all. Through the years, we’ve found ways to make more Santa more meaningful, and I don’t mean by making Santa appear at the manger or assigning a reindeer to carry Mary to Bethlehem.

We don’t do the naughty/nice paradigm. Not that we don’t reward good behavior and remove privileges for less-than-stellar behavior, but it’s not part of our Christmas narrative. And Santa and God aren’t exactly linked, but we’re not going to have Santa creeping around and practicing the opposite of our family faith narrative, either. This has evolved naturally over the years, without a ton of serious reflection on our parts. But generally, the Spirit has moved us to find ways to make Christmas magical without sacrificing our self-imposed high-mindedness.

When our oldest asked about the Elf on the Shelf, we improvised quickly and deputized three wise men from a woolen Nativity scene to travel through our house and look for the Star of Bethlehem. And last year, when the children wanted Gatorade and gum for Christmas, it was Santa who delivered them. Our youngest was dying for a variety of Gatorade flavors to try. I wanted nothing less than that. Gatorade is the kind of thing at our house that gets sipped for a few minutes and then left to make a table sticky, only to get drained and recycled half a day later. Stick to water, and keep it in the kitchen, you hooligans. Gum falls in the same category. I don’t know any mom who wants more gum in her life. Neither of things are inherently harmful, but they’re not on my shopping list.

Imagine their surprise when Santa delivered a Costco-sized flat of Gatorade last year in every flavor imaginable. The stockings were filled with a dozen packages of pink, bubble-gum flavored chewing gum. (NASTY.) My children know that no parent would engage in such an indulgent display of grace and generosity.

The thing I love about children is that sometimes their wishes are so ridiculously simple, and they can be so easy to please. Gum and Gatorade set the big guy back maybe $20 last year, but they brought so much joy to our Christmas morning. This year, I’ve heard a rumor that noise putty and camouflage face paint will make an appearance in the stockings. There is nothing about camo or face paint that appeals to me, but I have to admit that I can’t wait to see the reaction it brings.

The Easter Bunny was even more of a stretch than Santa, but I wanted to infect my kids with the same enthusiasm I have for Easter. This past year’s Easter theme was replacing the broken and lost items of our lives. My kids are wise to the fact that no parent wants to replace the dozens of water bottles that they’ve scattered throughout several ZIP codes, and that their parents in particular aren’t keen on replacing a broken, but beloved, Einstein bobblehead. All of those items showed up courtesy of the Paschal Rodent last year (his Secret Service code name, obvs).

Gum and Gatorade may not seem like they have anything to do with the Christ child. But they represent the kind of outrageous generosity that Christmas brings to our lives, and the way that only God can bring us the objects of our hearts’ desire. When my sister dismissed herself from our family life a few decades ago, I didn’t know I needed more older sisters in my life. Everywhere we’ve lived, though, God has brought wise women into my life who happen to be exactly her age. This kind of unexpected gift is exactly the glimpse of Heaven’s grace that I want my children to experience.

Even though the world of parenting is not short on advice, it can feel like we are raising our children in a world that is short on magic. This world is hard enough and a little dry, and so our magic can feel like an almost necessary breath of fresh air and a refreshing sip of water during this dark season. I want to remind our children of the beautiful words in the liturgy of the Episcopal Church — that we are “heirs through hope” of God’s everlasting kingdom. And if hope looks like Gatorade and camo face paint, then sign me up.