When I was little, I remember there being large store catalogs - Sears and JC Penney are the two companies that I remember sending out catalogs. I used those catalogs to help me generate a Christmas wish list.
Now, as a mom, I rely on the toy books that are sent out by Walmart, Target and Toys 'R Us to get input on what the kids would like for Christmas. Fortunately, we seem to wind up with two of each book, so I am able to give one of each to each child. They put their name on the front of the book and then start to explore.
When we first started this, they had a tendency to circle everything! This year, I made sure to tell them to only mark the things that they really want or they might wind up with the things that they only sort of want.
It took them a few weeks to fully identify and circle their wish list of toys and games, so it is good that the books come out in early November, giving them plenty of time to make their selections.
I usually have some level of idea of what they will get for Christmas, but want to make sure that those ideas are amongst the things that have been circled. For the most part, the things that they mark do not come as a surprise to me, but sometimes there are a few things that do surprise me.
Before I head out to shop, I reference their books to see what is on their wish list. This tool also works great because it allows me to more easily generate ideas to send out as lists to family members. Otherwise, I feel like the only ideas that I have are the things that I was planning to get or clothes.
Having the kids circle the items on their wish list works for me.