If anyone is wondering how to create joy this holiday season, the big box retailers have a message for you: Just buy something. Anything.

On the front of a recent sale circular for a major retailer, a huge headline proclaimed: BRING THE JOY. Within the many pages were enticing photos of all manner of stuff.

How about an $80 stuffed giraffe? Or a plastic “mini shopping mall” toy for $50? Or $150 for a miniature car your 3-year-old can drive?

The focus seemed to be on extravagant toys for very young children. Because, clearly, those are the ones who need the most joy, right?

What about the older kids – you know, the teenagers who sulk a lot and must stay connected to devices in order to breathe? To give them joy, you could buy a $300 game console – games extra, of course. Or a $200 scooter.

I’m sure a toddler would squeal in delight to find a four-foot giraffe under the Christmas tree. And most any teen would likely appreciate a new game station as a Hanukkah gift.

But do these things really bring joy? Further, does the giver find joy in spending a ton of money on “stuff” that might be tossed aside in a month? I don’t find that joyful at all.

Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with expensive gifts. Sure, I’d love to receive a pair of diamond earrings! And I wouldn’t discard them – ever.

I would know that the giver spent some thoughtful time visiting various stores, looking at many options, then carefully choosing the ones that are just right.

Of course, gift giving can be joyful as well. It seems to work best when the giver is on a mission to find the perfect gift for each person on the list. I used to get a big kick out of just being in Christmas Eve crowds, with less frenzied shoppers who are looking for that last-minute treat.

But really, isn’t joy more about togetherness, family time, visiting with friends? I have great memories of Christmases in the “old days,” when homemade gifts were common, when various family members – together again in the house in which we grew up – would stay up late, drinking mulled cider and telling stories.

I imagine this scenario happens often among families who have children returning home for the holidays from college, sometimes with friends, to spend days with mom and dad and siblings.

What about caroling? Last year, a Bluffton friend (who happens to be a really good singer) gathered some of her friends and serenaded the neighbors with Christmas songs on a walking tour.

Joy was clearly visible on the faces of the carolers as well as the families who came out of their homes to listen.

In these new days, I look forward to chilly evenings, with the fire pit blazing in the backyard, being surrounded by my husband and kids, a handful of good friends, a neighbor or two.

A pot of chili will be simmering on the stove inside. There might be a glass or two of wine or beer consumed.

And the conversations will seemingly never end.

Want to bring some joy to the Hummell house? Bring cookies! And maybe a bottle of wine. But you’d also have to plan to stay awhile and visit.

That’s where we find the joy: spending time with family and friends in a comfortable, relaxed setting.

Wishing you and yours a joyful holiday with those you love.