If you're anything like me, right about now you're probably making a list and checking it twice and realizing you have way too many Christmas gifts to buy. Some of this has to do with very hard-to-buy-for loved ones. (You know who you are.) But more of it has to do with the fact that I hate shopping malls, hate shopping in general, to be honest. If I could get everything at our local bookstore, and, believe me, I've tried, I would do it in a heartbeat. But it would look a little odd if I gave every person a book or stuffed animal.
So...We need to get creative, right? Well, the good news is that I've got some alternative gift ideas that will not require you to leave home. In fact, you don't have to leave the chair you're in right now. How's that for easy? And the gifts are better than anything you'll find at some lame-o super store.
I have to start with Monks' Bread made by the Trappists at the Abbey of the Genesee in western New York. When I went on retreat there last year, I loaded up my car with two dozen loaves of pure deliciousness -- everything from traditional white bread (see photo above) to sunflower with rolled oats to maple cinnamon, which makes the best dang French toast ever. There a few other varieties as well, each one better than the next.
For the coffee lover, head over to Mystic Monk Coffee. As you NSS regulars know, this is a favorite of mine. They have sampler sets and value packs, mugs, and sweatshirts. And there's a blend for every coffee lover on your list -- from the "light-bodied" Breakfast Blend for the coffee wimps, er, I mean, light-weights, um, never mind, to the Midnight Vigils Blend. If it can keep the Carmelite Monks of northern Wyoming awake for prayers in the middle of the night, it should keep you awake for the drive to work.
Trappist cheese (made by the monks of Gethsemani) or Trappist preserves (made by the monks at Spencer) or for any number of Trappist food items (like fudge) dipped and soaked and rolled in bourbon.
Close to my neck of the woods geographically but ever so slightly over the border theologically are the Orthodox Nuns of New Skete, who make kickin' cheesecake in oh so many flavors -- amaretto, chocolate, chocolate amaretto. You get the idea.
If you'd like something other than food, try the soaps and lotions made by the contemplative Dominican Nuns of Summit, N.J. They also sell Dominican books and medals, if you are so inclined.
If you're looking for something religious but you're not quite sure what, head to Monastery Greetings, where you'll find everything from the coffee and preserves mentioned above to prayer shawls, wind chimes, books, cds, incense and lots more.
Now, I've given you quite a few creative gift ideas, but equally important is to tell you what you should NOT buy: "Nativity Rubber Duckies." I'm not kidding. They actually make such a thing. Here's a photo, in case you don't believe me.
Why? Why, I ask you, would anyone need or want rubber duckies dressed as the Holy Family and assorted shepherds and magi? It's beyond bizarre. Almost as strange as the Maximilian Kolbe doll for children. Some things just shouldn't be toys. Enough said.
And this leads me to my next suggestion. Perhaps, if for any reason we feel compelled to buy something like a Nativity rubber duckies, we have simply purchased far too much. Perhaps we should reconsider Christmas and what our giving is all about. One organization, Redefine Christmas, is promoting that idea full force at its web site, which you can visit by clicking HERE. Redefine Christmas is all about giving gifts of charity. Maybe the person who already has everything doesn't need another sweater or tie. Maybe he'd get more satisfaction out of knowing that his gift helped someone who doesn't have enough money to buy food or who can't afford to give their children books. Check it out, and if you don't like any of their ideas, pick your favorite charity and strike out on your own.
Christmas shopping shouldn't be about checking off names on a list in record time. It should be about finding the perfect gift for someone special. And if you can do it without fighting someone for a parking space, even better.
But in the end, it's not about the gifts; it's about the Gift.