I ran into some friends at Mass today and suggested that we get breakfast afterwards.
“But nowhere in a strip mall,” I cautioned. “We can’t park on Black Friday.”
They suggested Panera, which I pointed out was across from Best Buy, where you’ll find some of the worst Black Friday mania. I argued fruitlessly and finally insisted that we take one car so that when there was no parking we could stay together.
The lot was maybe a quarter full. Turns out Black Friday isn’t really a thing in Hollywood, Maryland.
If you’re anything like me, you’re avoiding malls like the plague today. That doesn’t keep your post-Thanksgiving mind from turning to Christmas shopping, though. And while I’m not so great at giving presents in general, I am pretty good when it comes to sacred gifts. So if you’ve got people on your list who love the Lord and want to love him more, read on!
If you’re a parent or a godparent (or an aunt or a family friend or whatever), your job is to get these little ones to heaven. I’m pretty convinced that (aside from teaching them to pray) storytelling and holy play are the ways to do it. So buy them incredible books (these are my favorites) and holy toys and teach them the wonder of a life following God.
My hands down, bar-none, buy-every-one-you-can-get favorites are my friend Lindsey’s beautiful blocks. I’ve told you about them before but she’s made some great improvements! Now the crafty among you can order the images and make your own blocks at a dramatic savings–if you get 12 people together for an order, each of you can make a full set1 for only $16.33 plus the cost of wood and shellac. That’s insane! She’s also got a great wooden Mass kit for your kids who like to play Mass.2 And from now through Monday, if you write Ora pro Papa in the notes section of your order (and pray for the Pope) you’ll get a free block! Hurry–last year she had to close her shop by December 8th and you don’t want to miss out.3
For book lovers:
My favorite book (yes, that is a terrifying thing to say, but I think it’s true) is On Being Catholic by Thomas Howard. His vocabulary is so ridiculous that I keep a dictionary close at hand when I read it, but it’s just beautiful. It’s the love letter of a convert to his Church and an excellent choice for someone who already loves being Catholic or a Protestant who’s open to learning more. It’s not hard-hitting apologetics, just poetry with truth at its heart.
For people who want to be saints:
My next favorite is The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ by St. Alphonsus Liguori (you can actually get it for 99 cents on Kindle but do be sure to get this translation). This book is so beautiful and challenging that I can’t read more than 5 minutes without needing to stop and pray. I once quit reading this book because I didn’t want to finish it but I missed it too much so when I did finish it I just started over again from the beginning. Buy it for yourself immediately, then throw a copy for a friend in, too.
For people who want to know the Saints:
I’m kind of obsessed with the Saints, which you probably know if you listen to my podcast at all. I’ve been getting more and more into them but my desperate love of them was really spurred on by these books: Modern Saints (volumes 1 and 2) by Ann Ball. I’ve been recommending them left, right, and center because the stories are short and well-written–to the point that I really have trouble putting them down.4 Anyone who likes Saints or stories or history should love these, and at 6 bucks used, what’s not to like?
For lovers of fiction:
The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas changed the way I pray, the way I speak, the way I evangelize. It was responsible for this post and for the best rosary of my life. It’s a novelized story of the centurion who crucified Jesus and what he suffered and learned afterwards and it’s simply captivating. The stories of the Gospel have never been so alive for me.
If you know a couple who love the Lord and are trying to raise kids who feel the same, there’s nothing better you can do than encourage them to pray together and with their kids. Trouble is, most Catholics aren’t sure how to do this. Amazon to the rescue! (To be fair, I haven’t had a chance to read either of these books, but they come highly recommended from sources I trust, so I’m buying them sight unseen and I think you should, too.)
- A Short Guide to Praying as a Family, by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, has information for beginners in prayer as well as suggestions for the more advanced. The pictures are beautiful–beautiful–and the one section I read (on praying as a couple) was fantastic.
- The Little Oratory gets incredible reviews, including from my friend Anamaria who writes book reviews for her diocesan paper and says it’s the only book she’s ever given 5 stars to. That’s enough for me.
I could go on and on about what books I love–and I have! Check out my suggestions here:
- Sacred art! Find an Etsy shop you like (these are sweet and rather whimsical), find beauties by the great masters and search for prints, or get yourself a real icon (these hand-written Orthodox ones are lovely). Surrounding your children (or just yourself) with the beauty of the faith is so important.
- Devotional jewelry–medals and crucifixes and chaplet bracelets–can be beautiful, particularly once you start finding creative stuff on Etsy. I especially love the vintage look over at this shop. Or go to Organic Mama and get a beautiful rosary bracelet for mom (with a prayer-marker so she can remember where she was when someone suddenly needed a drink) and a fantastic chewable one for her baby. I love that.
- Sacred music, for those who can only listen to “All I Want for Christmas Is You” so many times. The Benedictine nuns have some beautiful CDs for those with more traditional taste, while Matt Maher‘s a great choice if you like contemporary stuff. And my friend Joe is a legit Catholic hip hop artist.
For someone who has everything:
What about giving a real gift–one that you pick out specifically–that doesn’t technically go to the recipient? Some people will love being given a charitable donation, and here are some great ways to do it:
When I was a kid, we used to love giving to Heifer International, where you could send a gift of livestock to a family to get them on their feet. Going through the catalog and deciding between bunnies and a goat was thrilling for me, and I’m sure your kids will love it, too. It would make a great present for Grandma, or maybe as a Christmas gift you could give each child $10 to donate and they could pool their money to help others.
I don’t have a favorite charity for refugees yet, but the Catholic Near East Welfare Association does great work for those who are still in the Middle East and you can pick the region your donation serves.
But I’m an amateur at this–just throwing together a few favorites instead of shopping on Black Friday. You know who’s a pro? Jessica at Shower of Roses. Head over and see a few hundred more suggestions that will really finish up your shopping list.
- Select 72 images form the drop-down menu [↩]
- Pro tip for those whose girls want to play Mass: make or buy a costume beard and tell them they can pretend to be a priest as long as they’re wearing the beard. Avoids confusion. [↩]
- She pays me nothing for this. I’m just obsessed. Seriously, ask any one of my friends. I show this picture of St. Felicity like she’s my own child. [↩]
- She’s introduced me to so many new friends I’ve half a mind to hunt her down and thank her, though the books are 30 years old, so that might prove a challenge. [↩]
- I know they’ve been under fire in recent years, but the Bishops are satisfied with their explanation and so am I. [↩]