Not unlike the times of Our Lord, we live in the paradox of a world in disorder yet under the appearance of order. Beneath the veneer of optimism and prosperity, many people experience lives of trial and suffering due to the lifestyles of frenetic intemperance they have adopted.
Christmas is especially a time to address the paradoxes that haunt our postmodernity. Just as the Christ Child challenged the metrics of success of His time by being born in a manger, so also Christmas defies our world by proposing different criteria.
In making my list of gift suggestions, I cannot help but think of things that fight against our disordered culture. I want to suggest things that might serve to encourage and strengthen all those who fight the good fight. I would like that these things be extraordinary and unconventional.
Gift Challenges, Not Suggestions
Thus, my gift suggestions take the form of challenges that invite the recipient to introspection and reflection. I believe the present Culture War is not only about the burning social issues of the day. It is also about the overwhelming vulgarity, banality, and tastelessness of life that are consequences of a culture devoid of meaning and purpose.
Let these gift challenges help us make imaginative choices and encourage us in our fight against this unimaginative and ever-blander culture. Let them fill the void of the glowing screens. This is the time for wise gift decisions for the conservative (and thrifty) giver.
Challenge Number One: Let it be Something Tasteful or Refined
To counter the ever-growing vulgarity of life, buy a gift that is tasteful or refined. It need not be overly fancy or extremely expensive. By refined, I mean that which is not ordinary but has taste and style. It should even be useful to the person who is to receive it. Suffice it to be something that might replace the cheap, plastic, or ugly things that surround us in our daily lives. It should be something that adds a touch of formality that conveys the notion that some things in life are important. There is a hierarchy in life. We need to stop and take notice.
The item might be a tea kettle, coffee pot, or a glass goblet. Perhaps candlesticks for dinners or a tablecloth to add a special touch that elevates the ordinary. Let it be something elegant that will fight against the ripped jeans and t-shirt informality that tyrannizes the world. Let a good fountain pen turn the act of writing into an art.
Alas, so much has been lost in our days. Challenging gifts should also include a challenge to use the gift. It should include why it should be used and even the manner in which it can be used.
Challenge Number Two: Let It Be Beautiful
While we can give gifts that are useful to those who receive them, we should avoid the temptation of only getting those things that are practical. Beauty also has its role in our lives. So many things are not beautiful – gadgets, electronic devices, garish fashions, modern art, and other little monstrosities that live together with us.
There are beautiful things that have no corporal usefulness. They do not satisfy hunger, shelter us from storms, or provide warmth. They do not fill a practical purpose or make money. They are just beautiful.
God created beauty to satisfy the desires of the soul and draw us to Him, the Infinite Beauty. People cannot live without some beauty since it captivates and makes life worth living.
Thus, my challenge is to give a gift that is beautiful. Again, it need not be extravagant. It should be something that can be put in places where it can be frequently seen. It should capture the imagination of those receiving these gifts and excite wonder and admiration. This might be a decorative piece, jewelry, a painting, a statue, or a floral arrangement. Consider a beautiful book, album, or music recording.
It is enough that gifts be beautiful that they will serve to fight against the cult of ugliness that dominates so many places with crude and unsightly things.
Challenge Number Three: Let it be Dignified
We live in a culture that adores all that is childish, funny, and entertaining. People are encouraged to lower themselves to all that is casual, effortless, and careless. They think that happiness is found along the path of least resistance.
They fail to realize that all people carry within themselves great values and talents that are worthy of honor and esteem. The development of these abilities gives a person a special dignity and happiness that should be encouraged.
Thus, my challenge is to give something that will bring out the best in the person. Let it be a gift that will increase self-esteem and inspire the person to develop more. It can be a simple piece of elegant clothing or a token of gratitude for favors received. Gifts might include books to develop skills or improve one’s culture. A musical instrument or artistic accessory might also be considered.
In this way, we fight against the egalitarian metaphysics of our culture that creates the idea of the masses without identity or dignity. We avoid the fads and fashions that are so unimaginative and meaningless.
General Challenge: Let All These Things Speak to Us of God
All these challenges have one thing in common. Thus, my final general challenge is that all gifts should speak to us of God. Indeed, that is the very reason for the Christmas celebration: that we might recognize the coming of the Christ-Child Who is God-made-man.
Curiously, most of these gift suggestions can involve items that are not religious. They do not necessarily include religious statues, rosaries, or devotional items—although they could.
It is enough that these gifts be refined, beautiful, and dignified, to speak to us of God, Who is all that is most excellent and beautiful. Those who want to love God are sensitive to all things that are beautiful. Those who hate beauty are usually insensitive to God. That is why art develops so much in Christian civilization. It is also why those who would destroy Christian civilization seek to eliminate beauty from the world.
Thus, these gift challenges fit within the cultural fight of our times. These are also gifts that will stand out from others since they are connected to what Russell Kirk referred to as “the permanent things”: those norms of courage, duty, courtesy, justice, and charity that owe their existence and authority to a transcendent God. They are contrary to our neo-pagan postmodern times.
These more spiritual gifts will help us celebrate the greatest gift of Christmas, which is the coming of the Christ Child. This celebration requires that we be turned to all that is marvelous, merry, and innocent. It challenges our paradoxes and lead us to change our criteria for happiness which is not found in things, but at the manger where the Christ Child awaits us.
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The featured image is “Family at the Christmas Tree” (c.1860), and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.