What is the Perfect Christmas Gift?
This is the kind of question my husband asks for a living. He’s a tutor at Thomas Aquinas College, and at the beginning of every class, he asks an opening question like the one we’re asking now. And, as it sometimes happens in my husband’s classes, we could give the correct answer to our question straight out of the chute, but, not to answer a question with another question, then where would we be?
Actually, when that happens at the beginning of an hour and a half class in which the whole time is devoted to answering the question, though it looks like there would be nothing left to talk about, the conversation often continues without a break. Sometimes, no one believes the person who instantly hit on the right answer; other times, it takes a lot of back and forth before the meaning of the answer is clear, or the evidence for it.
So what about our own question?
When we ask, “What is the perfect Christmas gift?” we can do no better than answer it as soon as possible. Plenty of us spend an inordinate amount of Advent anticipating what we’ll give, shopping for what we’ll give, and wondering what the recipients will make of what we give, and it would save a lot of grief if we could instantly decide on the perfect gift and simply give it to everyone on our list.
The good news is that the answer isn’t hard to find.
The perfect Christmas gift?
The Father gave Him to us, and we can do no better than imitate the Giver of all good and perfect gifts. The Infant Jesus is the very reason we give each other gifts at Christmas time, so why not recognize that not only is He “the reason for the season,” but He’s actually the one real gift we need to give and get?
And now you can see how answering the question first thing doesn’t necessarily end the conversation, because in this case, the practical problem immediately arises: How in the world do we give Jesus?
Despite the attraction of “one size fits all,” I find with gifts that the personality of both giver and receiver makes a huge difference in whether the gift brings the joy and pleasure we hope it will. And just like Christmas music and Christmas food, our tastes are different. I have friends who don’t listen to Christmas carols until December 25, preferring to steep themselves in the lovely strains of Advent hymns until the Big Day.
Then there’s my younger son, who can’t wait until several radio stations devote themselves entirely to Christmas music, sacred and secular, starting somewhere around the day before Thanksgiving! And as to food, well one man’s long awaited fruit cake is another man’s re-gift.
And so, once again, how to best give baby Jesus? Here are several practical suggestions, divided into two main categories.
For many, we can give Jesus in obvious ways:
+ In a spiritual bouquet, like those I gave one year to my godchildren. I offered up Masses, Rosaries, and Divine Mercy Chaplets for their intentions, and sent them each a card with this spiritual gift. I felt funny not having some perfect store-bought item for them, and yet my prayers gave all of us little Jesus in a new and deeper way.
+ By giving a Rosary or Miraculous Medal, a statue or other religious gift, whether handmade, bought locally or online, from a layperson or religious order or even from amazon.com if that’s your preferred way.
+ By giving a favorite spiritual book, classic or contemporary, second hand or brand new. This can be a book you’ve read that changed your life, an old favorite like I Believe in Love. Or it might be a book you’re confident will bring the recipient closer to Jesus, like Marcel Van’s Conversations or Fr. Michael Gaitley’s books 33 Days to Morning Glory and 33 Days to Merciful Love. Or it might be something you’ve wanted to read, a book everyone’s been talking about lately, like In Sinu Jesu. I’ve found Jesus more often in books than anywhere else except the tabernacle, and tabernacles are too heavy to make really great gifts!
+ Finally, you can give Jesus by praying for a miracle for someone. This Advent I’ve been sharing a prayer request for a 13-year-old boy named Finn who’s been in the throes of a mysterious illness for some time now, unable to walk or speak, and yet clinging to Jesus and the Saints with unshaken faith, hope, and love. At his devoted parents’ request, we’re asking Servant of God Marcel Van (St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus’ little Vietnamese spiritual brother) to obtain from the Infant Jesus a miraculous Christmas healing for Finn. This will be a gift for Finn and a gift for Marcel, as the hope is to advance his cause to sainthood by bringing Jesus’ healing to one particularly dear child.
But what about those people in your life to whom you would like to give Jesus, but you know that, for one reason or another, it makes more sense to give Him in a hidden way?
Perhaps you’re giving a gift to someone who doesn’t share the richness of the Faith, or who already has plenty of religious items (that doesn’t usually stop me from giving another, but you may be more moderate than I am!), or maybe you know it would be more fun for the person on your list to get something culinary or sporting or just plain random.
If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that little Jesus wants you to give with joy—He loves a cheerful giver—and His Holy Spirit will inspire you to give all sorts of interesting things that will bring the recipients Jesus because the gifts come with your love, which is equally His! St. Paul’s advice applies perfectly here:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
And, we might add, give these things! Here are some ideas, then, for perfect gifts that give Jesus in a less obvious way, but give Him nonetheless:
+ A gift card or coupon for time spent together, say going out for coffee or ice cream or a movie
+ Something for the home, something either lovely or delicious
+ Returning to my favorite gift, books, once again we find a huge range of possibilities: new or used, classic or contemporary, fiction or non-fiction. How about a perennial pleaser, a Jane Austen or P.G. Wodehouse novel, or something set in our own day that will make the reader laugh and forget his troubles? I have a novel perfect for all ages: The Paradise Project, a Catholic romantic comedy which has been enjoyed by readers who aren’t yet teens, and equally by those who’ve been reading for decades!
+ Finally, you may know just what’s on your recipient’s wish list, and if it’s something smaller than a horse (that was usually on my list as a child), and something you’re able to give, then you may already have the perfect gift at your fingertips. Conrad Baars, following St. Thomas Aquinas, has taught me that the delight we feel when our desires for the good are satisfied—that is, when we get the good thing we’ve desired and hoped to possess—this joy is an authentic gift from God, and prepares us for the joys of Heaven!
Whatever you end up giving, be assured that if you ask Him, Jesus will go to the recipient too, because He wouldn’t have it any other way. And my gift to you? I’m asking little Jesus to give you the grace to follow this other advice, more of a command really, that St. Paul gave the Philippians and the Church repeatedly gives to us in her Advent liturgies:
Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again, rejoice! Let everyone see how gentle you are. The Lord is near. Dismiss all anxiety from your minds. Present your needs to God in every form of prayer and in petitions full of gratitude. Then the peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4: 4-7)
If, with Our Lady’s help, we follow St. Paul’s advice, we can give ideal gifts to everyone we meet these next few weeks, the kind of gifts everyone needs. Because perhaps the best way to give Jesus for Christmas is in all simplicity, without spending a dime, giving Him as Mother Teresa did: namely, with a smile.