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Christmas in a pandemic: Focus on gifts that are practical, charitable or bring comfort

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Like so much during this extraordinary time of pandemic, celebrating the holidays with family and loved ones may take a little extra creativity this year, whether recipients are long-distance, socially distanced or under the same roof.

The gifts we give to those we love are, of course, always secondary to the true gift we celebrate during the Christmas season. But sharing tokens of affection and celebration can help spread joy and make the season brighter, especially in such a somber year in which we are surrounded by so much suffering and loss. 

This year especially, we may want the gifts we give to be more subdued, with a focus on the charitable, the practical and the comforting. A special nod goes to finding creative ways to give gifts of time. That could mean a DIY “gift coupon” from Dad, with a promise to make the kids a Saturday breakfast and take them out for a hike so Mom can sleep in or have a morning to herself to relax and de-stress. Or it could mean setting up a regular family game or trivia night, with scattered family members logged in to play remotely via Zoom or a multiplayer game app, to hang out together from wherever they may be, around the country or the world. 

Here are a few more suggestions to get your creative Christmas gift ideas flowing. 


A souper gift. Soup is one of the most practical gifts you can give — everyone needs to eat, and soup is warming, nutritious and economical — a great option whether you’re on a tight budget or not. Of course, you can find an assortment of dry packaged soups at the grocery store or websites such as soupsonline.com to make a gift basket. But for a personal touch, assemble a homemade soup kit of your own, by filling a large Mason-type jar with layers of different colored dried beans and a homemade spice packet. For instructions, search online for “friendship soup” or “bean soup recipe in a jar.” Attach a tag listing ingredients and instructions and tie it with a pretty ribbon or some twine. If you want to kick it up a notch, add a wide-mouth thermos, to carry homemade soup for a hot lunch that can be eaten in the car after a winter hike or outing.

Family holiday foods. If your grown kids or other loved ones can’t make it home this year for a holiday dinner featuring traditional family favorites, you can still share the feast. Some items, especially cookies and other desserts, can be made in advance, wrapped carefully and mailed as a care package. For hard-to-ship items, send a “virtual cookbook” with recipes to print out, so they can learn to make the cherished dishes themselves. Grocery delivery has become ubiquitous since the pandemic began, so if you can afford to splurge, you can shop online at their local grocery store and have all the ingredients delivered to their door. When the items arrive, make a date to virtually cook together on a Facetime or Skype call with cellphones set up on the kitchen counter. (Just keep the phone away from wet ingredients.)

Keep calm — and carry out. For friends or relatives who especially miss dinners out, gift certificates to their favorite neighborhood restaurant could make a great Christmas gift — call the restaurant and ask how to arrange it. It will be a double gift, because you’ll also be giving a boost to a small family-owned business struggling to survive the pandemic. 

A light in the darkness. For those who spend a lot of time on Zoom (and who doesn’t these days?) a small, inexpensive videoconferencing light may brighten your loved one’s workspace. There are styles that either stand on the desk behind the computer or clip onto the top of the laptop screen to light up dark faces that make many Zoomers look like they’re in a witness protection program. 

The m word. Yeah, masks. Maybe this goes without saying, but everyone needs more reusable cloth face masks, with your recipient’s favorite art, pattern or sports logo. It’s this year’s accessory.  


Warm and cozy. In a socially distanced world where hugs are on hold, we all need a little more comfort. So think about gifts that will make your loved one feel cozy and comforted this winter: hug-substitutes such as thick socks or slippers, a crocheted shawl (extra points if you make it yourself), flannel sheets and the like — high-touch items that are soft, smooth, warm, fuzzy. You get the idea. 

At-home spa day. “Self-care” seems to be this year’s social media buzzword, but some people need to be encouraged to take a little time for a mental health boost. Consider a fresh terrycloth bathrobe or slippers, along with several little packets of deep-treatment hair conditioner, facial masques (the pore-cleansing kind), hand lotions or scented hand soap, or a little kit with manicure supplies. A selection of herbal or green teas could up the relaxation factor. 

Music isn’t canceled. This is the year to share your favorite traditional or alternative Advent and Christmas music with friends and loved ones, whether via digital playlist or CD. Gregorian chant recordings also make a great gift and support monasteries and convents. One of the latest chant projects in the news is by a group of Benedictine nuns in Jouques, France, who recorded 7,000 hours of Gregorian plainchant, which is being released over several years in both free and paid versions via an app called Neumz .


Donate in their name. So many are in need in our area and around the world that this year’s most popular gift could be a donation to a cause near and dear to a loved one’s heart. Catholic Charities  and Catholic Relief Services are great places to start. On the Catholic Charities website, you can choose a specific program to support, from food pantries to migrant and refugee services to COVID-19 relief, and make a gift in the name of a friend or loved one.  

Fair trade gifts. You can also support artisans and farmers around the world by shopping online for beautiful handicrafts through SERRV International one of the first fair trade organizations in the world. 

Give locally. Community organizations and nonprofits depend on donations, especially this time of year. Many parishes and Knights of Columbus councils hold holiday charity drives for local groups or partner with organizations such as Cornerstones, the Arlington Community Foundation, and many others in counties throughout the diocese. If you need ideas, call your parish office or check your church bulletin to find out what holiday charity drives are going on this season in your area.



© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020