It is that time of year when we rack our brains hunting for perfect holiday gifts. Far into the wee hours of darkness, we sit before the glow of a computer screen, entering parameters into search boxes, hoping to find leads for the most challenging demographic to buy for — babies and young toddlers.

It’s difficult finding gifts for preverbal people. Clothes are practical at any age, but what kid grows up and says, “Remember all the fun shirts and underwear Grandpa and Grandma gave?”

We even tried going to the source for ideas, getting down on the baby’s blanket and asking, “What would you like, Sweetheart?”

Sweetheart bats her big eyes, rolls into a ball and chews on her little sock.

It’s a sign. Clothes may be a good gift after all. Maybe Sweetheart would like socks — say, a few pairs flavoured like pureed sweet potatoes or green peas.

Of course, the greatest question is whether to give a gift that is fun or educational.

Go for fun and you score big with the children, thereby elevating your status in the highly competitive world of grandparenting.

Go for educational and you score big with the tot’s parents, who give an approving look that says, “Thanks for not rotting our children’s brains.”

The truth is, we already know what the most wonderful gift is for the younger set. We’ve seen it happen a hundred times. Someone helps a little one open a gift. Wrapping paper is tossed aside, the gift is studied and handled for a few moments, and it is tossed aside, too. The little one then reaches for the gift that delights — the empty box the gift came in.

Last year we gave one of the little girls a large doll that came in a cardboard box with a cellophane window. The real hit was when her preschool brother crawled into the box, positioned himself in the cellophane window, and his brother dragged him from room to room asking what people would pay.

Yes, it’s the empty box that is of intrigue. Could someone please turn off that annoying educational toy?

Look at her, wearing that box like a hat. She has made herself disappear and is giggling. What could be funnier than disappearing on a major family holiday (a question I often ask myself).

The hat grows passé and the box becomes a storage tub as the little one throws everything within reach into it.

The storage tub is emptied and the tot climbs into the box, now a means of transport. Siblings and cousins shove the box around the house, careening around corners, sliding across hardwoods and clipping door frames.

Meanwhile, a small ride toy that recites the alphabet and teaches how to count sits forsaken in a corner.

The tot now has her favourite blanket and is nesting in the box for a moment of calm. She casts us a wistful gaze that says, “When will you grown-ups ever learn?”

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