One of my favorite Christmas songs is "The Little Drummer Boy."

As the song goes, a little drummer boy wanted to give the baby Jesus a gift. But he was poor, with nothing fit for a king. So he offered what gift he had--his talent for playing the drum.

I was reminded of the essence of this song by Robert Garcia of Herndon, who answered my call in an earlier column for the best holiday gifts that people gave or got that didn't cost anything.

About 12 years ago, Garcia said, his effort to go into business for himself was a total bust and he found himself broke at Christmas.

"I just had to give something to my mother," he wrote. "I decided that I would give her my most precious possession at the time--a Lladro figurine of a builder at a construction site. It took a lot to give that thing away. But once she opened it on Christmas morning, it meant as much to her as it previously did to me. We both cried. I don't think I will ever be able to give anyone as meaningful a Christmas gift as that one."

In asking readers for examples of non-purchased gifts, my intent wasn't to write an anti-consumerism column (I like giving and getting Christmas presents) but to illustrate that the most precious gifts in life often aren't found at a shopping mall. I was overwhelmed by the creativity and love expressed by so many people.

"The best gift I ever gave was secretly learning one of my father's favorite pieces of music," wrote Patti Schacht of Oakton. "He was particularly fond of Debussy's 'Clair de Lune,' which his grandmother used to play when he was a little boy. Over the weeks before Christmas, I practiced and practiced."

Schacht, who was 14 at the time, played the piano composition for her father Christmas morning. "He was moved as I had never seen him," she said.

Gloria White, who lives in Mitchellville, still clings to a Christmas gift her daughter, Lory, gave her. It was a shoe box.

"For about two years, she collected pretty magazine pictures and pasted them onto a large, sturdy shoe box to form a collage," White said. "When she gave me the box as a gift, I knew how much time had gone into making it, so I appreciated it for that reason. I immediately put it to good use as my bill box."

Speaking of useful gifts, Elizabeth A. Gaston has her neighbor to thank for one of the best. Her friend got the idea after the two of them had been discussing gardening.

"The following December . . . while we were at church our farmer neighbor deposited the most wonderful pile of his finest sheep dung on our side of the fence," said Gaston who lives in Ligonier, Pa. "He then 'gift-wrapped' it by placing a huge red bow on the fence post and a large, red and green 'Merry Christmas' sign directly in front. The very sight of the pile truly warmed my heart."

The best gift Jack Lane of Falls Church said he ever got was from one of his kindergarten students. Lane said he tore off what was obviously leftover wrapping paper and found an empty cardboard-cylinder ribbon spool.

" 'It's to hold your pencil,' " Lane recalled the little girl saying. "I will never forget little Tri and the gift she found, wrapped and gave all by herself."

Maggie Dawson remembers a gift she got from her 5-year-old brother. In her family of four boys and four girls, they draw names at Christmas, for obvious reasons.

"I had the unfortunate luck of having my youngest brother draw my name three years in a row," wrote the Silver Spring resident. "That third year he gave me a pink yarn stuffed octopus with juice stains on it. It was all wrapped up. It was his favorite stuffed animal. I knew he loved it. Even at the greedy age of 10, I was touched by his generosity and understanding of the season."

Doug Wilburn, who lives in Fairfax, won't ever forget the present he received in 1966 while serving in Vietnam.

"Somehow a program that had schoolchildren write servicemen found my battalion," Wilburn said. "We were each given a small plastic net bag, the kind we carried marbles in when we were kids."

Included in the bag were 10 small Christmas cards with handwritten notes.

"Each had some message for us, like 'Do you have chimneys there?' " Wilburn said. "All wished us a merry Christmas and all told us in varying forms to be careful, my favorite being 'I hope you are still alive when you get my card.' "

But Wilburn said he is reminded of one message each Christmas Eve. It was the last card he read. It said: "How will Santa find you there?"

"Not to worry," Wilburn said he thought. "He had."

While Michelle Singletary welcomes comments and column ideas, she cannot offer specific personal financial advice. Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or by e-mail to singletarym@washpost.com. She will be discussing today's column on the "Insight" program with Herman Washington tomorrow at 6:40 p.m. on WHUR (96.3-FM), and again Tuesday at 2 p.m. at washingtonpost.com/liveonline.

More Holiday Gift IdeasThat Show You Care

It's easy to become caught up in the consumerism of the holidays, but many people have found ways to give presents you can't get at the mall. Here are just a few more holiday gift ideas:

* Thomas W. Crews, an Air Force Korean War veteran now living in Silver Spring, got the best Christmas gift while serving in Japan. A brother sent him a tape recording of a segment of the Christmas celebration at home. "I heard the voices of my dad, mother, sisters, brothers, nieces and in-laws. It was a very moving experience for me."

* Michael LeBoeuf of Paradise Valley, Ariz., says his best gift was a personalized calendar from his wife. The calendar depicted something the two of them had done in that same month the previous year with a variety of pictures of people, places, pets and friends. "I loved it so much that she makes it a yearly project and presents me with a new calendar every Christmas," he said.

* Mitzi Yater of Bethesda decided one year to quit smoking as her Christmas gift to her family.

* During one financially tight holiday, Fran Jolles of Wheaton took a deck of playing cards and turned each card into a coupon for a friend. Some cards were redeemable for a kiss or hug. One card was good for a round-trip airport ride, another for a favorite home-cooked meal. Still another card promised a good old-fashioned pillow fight.

* Several people believe there is no better present than a visit to family and friends. Barbara Holleb of Springfield remembers one lonely Hanukah night that was brightened by a visit from a neighbor. "That Hanukah and many times since have been warmed by the kindness of neighbors who have given the greatest gift of all--their thoughtfulness and their presence," Holleb said.