September 30, 2020

iMonk Holiday Gift Guide

I will be taking the rest of November off from writing, well, at least for Internet Monk. (I have a project to write for school, but that’s another matter.) At any rate, because I won’t have a chance to do this for another thirty days or so, and because some of the things on the following list have to be ordered ahead of time, I thought I would share some suggestions for gifts for the upcoming holidays.

I don’t know about you, but I love planning, buying, and giving gifts when I am able to do so, especially at Christmas time. But sometimes it’s hard to find just the right gift. Maybe this will start to prime the pump for some of you.

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First, here are five quality gifts you might want to consider for friends and loved ones this year. They are not expensive, just special and interesting.

1. A rosary from Alan Creech.
Long time friend of Internet Monk Alan Creech makes attractive handcrafted rosaries and prayer beads that will be treasured by anyone who receives them. Those of you who haven’t yet tried prayer beads as an aid to prayer may want to read Michael Spencer’s “Post-Evangelicals and the Path of Catholic Spirituality,” or “My Gear” (part one and part two), as well as Chaplain Mike’s “How I Pray for My Family and Friends,” Martha of Ireland’s “The Mysteries of the Rosary,” and a piece that Alan Creech himself wrote for us, “A Rosary by any Other Name.”

2. A Li Bien Christmas ornament.
Several years ago, I discovered the art of Li Bien (“inside”) when friends of ours returned from China and gave us a beautiful painted glass globe. The globe had a small opening on the bottom, where, we were told, an artist inserted fine brushes and used them to paint the glass on the inside. The art was so intricate and detailed that we were astounded at the artist’s skill. Then we found that Pier One Imports sold Li Bien ornaments for Christmas, and a Mercer gift-giving tradition was born. These lovely ornaments can be bought at Pier One, come in a lovely gift box, and are sure to provide a smile of delight from anyone who receives one as a thoughtful gift.

3. Strat-O-Matic Baseball Game
In my childhood, I spent many hours enjoying games I could play by myself. One of my favorites was Strat-O-Matic Baseball, a tabletop game that uses statistics from the previous year of Major League Baseball to provide a realistic “fantasy baseball” experience. You can even get teams from years gone by and All Star teams to create your own competitions between eras. I bought a set for my grandson last year, and this winter we will be enjoying baseball even when we can’t play catch or feel the green grass of the diamond beneath our feet. Strat-O-Matic also has editions for other sports.

4. Kentucky Bourbon Fudge from Gethsemani
Don’t even ask Jeff Dunn — this handmade fudge from the Trappist monks at Gethsemani Abbey is so sinfully good that I couldn’t bear to take any home after my retreat last year. I was afraid of undoing an entire week of devotion with one bite. It comes in eight delicious flavors: Chocolate Bourbon, Butter Walnut Bourbon, Chocolate Walnut, Mint Julep Bourbon, Peanut Butter, Red Raspberry, Natural Dark Chocolate, Lemon Drop. Oh my.

5. A unique gift from Ten Thousand Villages
In my opinion the best gift shop in Indianapolis is Global Gifts, a store that features the products of Ten Thousand Villages. The mission of Ten Thousand Villages is to create opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to our markets through long-term fair trading relationships. Product sales help pay for food, education, healthcare and housing for artisans who would otherwise be unemployed or underemployed. And the gifts are amazing. We have started our own collection of nativity sets from around the world, and you will find everything from clothing to food products to household items — all handcrafted — and unlike anything mass-produced. If you don’t have a Ten Thousand Villages store near you, check out their website.

Second, here are some ways of giving gifts that contribute to helping others and good causes.

1. World Vision Gift Catalog.
World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. World Vision serves close to 100 million people in nearly 100 countries around the world. They serve all people, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender. Their gift catalog enables givers to choose from unique gifts such as sheep and other animals, clean water, education, medical care, and hunger relief. One can also sponsor a child or give regularly in other ways.

2. Advent Conspiracy.
The mantra of Advent Conspiracy is (1) Worship fully, (2) Spend less, (3) Give more, (4) Love all. If you go to the AC website, you will find more than opportunities to give. You will also discover a whole new way of thinking about and practicing Christmas. Two of the projects you can learn about at the AC website, which deserve wide support, are Living Water International, which works to help provide clean water for the more than a billion people around the world who do not have access to it, and International Justice Mission, which works to end human trafficking and to provide care for its victims.

3. American Red Cross.
Super storm Sandy, that wreaked such devastation on the east coast of the U.S., reminds us again of the crucial role the Red Cross plays in times of disaster to give care, shelter, and hope to those in need. They also support America’s military families, provide health/safety training and education, make it possible for people to give lifesaving blood, and prepare communities to be ready for disasters. A donation to the Red Cross helps keep a necessary infrastructure of care in place and available for times of need.

4. Angel Tree.
Angel Tree is a ministry of Prison Fellowship that connects incarcerated parents with their children through the delivery of Christmas gifts. The support of those who give to Angel Tree makes it possible for local churches to deliver gifts and the Gospel to children in the name of their incarcerated parent. If you are not part of a church that participates in Angel Tree, you can give donations through their website.


5. Scott Rolen’s Enis Furley Foundation.
A few years ago, while involved in providing support to a friend whose son was terminally ill, I met Scott Rolen, who also came to be an encouragement to the family. At that time he was playing for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team; in recent years he has played for the Cincinnati Reds. In 1999 Scott had a vision to brighten the lives of children and their families who are dealing with illness, hardship and other special needs. He started Camp Emma Lou and a program that also provides once in a lifetime sports experiences for children and families in distress. I just learned that my friend and his wife will be moving to a location near the camp and volunteering there as a way to give back for all the support they received in their time of need, and I want to encourage others to support this fine program also. Giving to help needy children is always a good way to remember the one who became a helpless Baby that we might be saved and healed forever.



  1. Too early, I’m still eating Halloween candy.

    • Go for the fudge, Boaz.

    • I stopped at a local Target store after work on Halloween to pick up some candy for the Trick or Treaters, and they had already started putting the Christmas signs up all over the store. It used to be they would at least wait until the day after, but apparently now that’s too late.

  2. Can I have a vote for “Mere Churchianity”?

  3. As an alternative to buying the Li Bien ornament, you can make a simple version of your own. This doubles as a fun craft for your kids to do as well as inexpensive gifts that your kids can give to relatives.

    Buy some clear Christmas ornament globes from your local craft store. Add a few drops of tempura paints of different colors inside a globe and swirl them around the globe to create cool patterns. Drain out the excess paint. and let dry.

    The kids love the crafts, and the adults love the hand made present.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      Brilliant! I have a three- and an almost-five-year old. They love doing crafts, and would love doing these as Christmas gifts.

  4. It must be I have a case of mild dyslexia, because I thought you were touting a Bin Laden ornament. 😉

  5. Of course you could buy your grandson NHL 13 from EA sports, and have some quality time you could both enjoy. 😀

  6. The Kentucky Bourbon Fudge looks good, but, unfortunately, I probably won’t be buying many gifts (if any) this Christmas. Forgiving me for bemoaning out loud, but I just got laid off from my job, I don’t have any money backed up as a cushion, and I was already about a month behind on my bills when this happened.
    Please pray that God provides — because if He doesn’t, I’m sunk.

    • You’re in my prayers, humanslug. We went through that a few years ago. God did provide, but it wasn’t fun. At least, the provision was fun, but the stretches of desperation in between were less so.

      • Thanks, Damaris.
        The Lord has always come through for me in the past, so I shouldn’t be worried — but it’s hard not to be.
        On the other hand, I don’t have anyone relying on me — no wife or children — so if God sees fit to level this life I’ve built for myself to the ground, then hopefully I’ll find the grace to thank Him for the freedom and the chance at new beginnings that will bring.

  7. Would you care to ad a reflection on the inspiring story of the Christmas truce?
    Oh Holy Night: The Peace of 1914 amazon, b and n, or Evangel Press

  8. Heifer International is also a great charity to donate to as a gift in someone’s name. They are working to end world hunger and poverty by providing families with animals that will help them have a steady source of food and income. Worth checking out!