The Most Memorable Gifts of All

The true purpose of presents is to strengthen bonds.

receiving a gift

“Some of the most meaningful gifts are those that are spontaneous and not related to any specific holiday,” says Linda Mayes, MD, chair of the Yale Medicine Child Study Center.

Of anyone on your holiday list, your child is probably the person you most want to make smile. Whether it’s a science kit, toy truck, electronic, or book, the presents you pick can show children that you’re listening to them and that you care about their interests.

“At its deepest level, giving a gift is basically saying to someone, ‘I've been thinking about you, I care about you, and I want to give you something that I think you will like,’” says Linda Mayes, MD, chair of the Yale Medicine Child Study Center. “But in a sense parents perform another function—they give because they care about their child. And, in the very action, they teach their child about gift-giving.”

What you might not realize as you shop this holiday season is that giving gifts to children actually helps them become givers, she explains. They learn the importance of being empathic, caring, helpful, and to really be interested in other people. “Sometimes, if you start modeling thoughtful gift-giving early,” she says, “children who are getting an allowance will spontaneously buy someone a gift with their own money.”

Below, we gathered examples of fondly remembered gifts that left a lasting impression on a few of our Yale Medicine doctors. “On one hand, what gives these gifts meaning is that someone was thinking about the receiver enough that they caught something about their interest,” says Dr. Mayes. “But, I think why some objects themselves remain so present in our memories is because of the caring they represent.” 

A mini skeleton spurred his career interest in orthopedics

“I loved dinosaur bones,” says David Frumberg, MD, a Yale Medicine orthopedist. “A toy skeleton was a Hanukkah gift that really got me interested in body structure and anatomy. My parents returned that skeleton to me before my first day of work at Yale, where, as an orthopedist, I apply anatomy every day to help my patients overcome challenges in how their body functions. It stands tall atop a bookshelf in my office, surrounded by thick textbooks and complicated surgical fixators and tools. It is a reminder that among all the complexity of orthopedic surgery, anatomy and fun are equally important.”

A video gaming system left a lasting impression about commitment

“I distinctly remember getting my first video game console as a kid,” says Yale Medicine neurologist Paul Fu, MD. “It was a Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and the first game I played was with my dad. We were playing Super Mario World, and on the first two levels I just kept dying. I threw the controller down and said, ‘I'm not gonna play this anymore.’ I remember my dad looking at me and saying, ‘You can't give up that easily. Good things are only achieved if you continue working at it.’ Something about that sunk in. I kept playing, and I got better at it, even better than him! That was a crowning achievement for me then. It was also a life lesson I carry with me today about the value of hard work.” 

Aluminum trucks shape values (and offer insights into urology)

“I worked construction as a teenager,” says Yale Medicine urologist Joseph Brito, MD. “The company was my grandfather's, and they worked on water pipes underground—the running joke being that now I do the same thing as a urologist. When I was a little kid, though, I used to play with these aluminum trucks in my grandfather’s office, and I loved it. There was a sense of belonging that came with that experience, as well as lots of lessons on hard work and the importance of earning your position in the world. Fast forward 30 years, my grandfather passed away, and my wife and I moved into his house only to find these trucks had been kept all those years. We recently gave our 3-year-old daughter one of these trucks, and continue teaching those lessons about the importance of work ethic, appreciating what you have, and the efforts of those who came before.” 

A gift that inspires insight and compassion

“The holidays are always a special time for my family,” says Yale Medicine neurosurgeon Arianne Boylan, MD. “My parents gave us a love of Christmas because of what it means to enjoy being together with family and friends, experiencing traditions, and giving to those around us. I think that translates into my job, too. Sometimes we see people whose families are going through a terrible time in the context of a trauma or a cancer diagnosis. So, while it wasn’t wrapped in a box under the Christmas tree, I am grateful my parents gave us the gift of recognizing the value of family. This has helped me realize the significance of what a family suffers when a loved one is hurt. By focusing on both the patient and his or her family, I fully appreciate the aspects of care that go beyond the medication we're giving or the surgery we're performing.”

A book connects a curious mind to science

“I was in the fourth grade,” recalls Dr. Mayes, “and there was a science teacher who invited our class to come to her sixth-grade class to do a science experiment. Unbeknownst to me, she brought a science book to my mom that she wanted me to have. She was thinking about me, and she was thinking that I might be interested in science. To me the book itself was as important as what was in the book. It was an act of caring from the teacher. I think that is what giving is all about.”

For healthful holiday giving ideas, click here.