I’ve slowly been refining my gift buying philosophy. We’ve done big Christmasses, little Christmasses, piles of cheap plastic from China, handcrafted gifts, big-ticket items and small. As I think about what to give the people I love, both for Christmas and at other times such as birthdays, I find myself wanting to be more intentional, and give fewer, better things rather than more cheap things.
Things like that can be really hard to come up with. And sometimes the kid just wants cheap plastic from China, and you can get it for a ridiculous steal on Black Friday or on sale in July, and it’s fine. But where possible, and when I can manage, I’m trying to up the quality and reduce the consumerism. Other goals include sending fewer dollars to corporations that use them to attack my faith and freedom, and fewer to enrich countries whose leaders run gulags.
Here are a few such favorite items I’ve found from artists, small businesses, craftsmen (and craftswomen), and the like. They’re arranged in no particular order. While I have personal relationships with one or two of the entrepreneurs mentioned, they have no idea I planned to mention them here and we have no financial relationship besides me buying their stuff at retail because I like it.
Feel welcome to ping me on Twitter if you also have recommendations in this vein. I’m always looking for ideas.
Christmons for Decorating and Heirlooms
Ad Crucem is a boutique Christian art company, and their selection of especially paintings include some striking original items. But I have to say my favorite of their offerings are the christmons. Christmons are basically decorations that involve historic symbols of Christ, hence the name.
Below is a nativity christmon perfect for a Christmas tree, but others in the collection would also make beautiful wedding, baptism, ordination, confirmation, Easter, or birthday gifts. They are of the right size and price to be included with a card in a small padded envelope.
The symbols are clear, strong, and beautiful. Just check out the strength of this Agnus Dei image:
Did I mention they’re on a 20 percent sale if you buy one of the collections starting at five pieces for $31? Plus free shipping on all orders to the continental USA. That just got me to buy a few more. They’re perfect for stashing away for gifts throughout the year. I don’t know how long this sale lasts but I’d imagine it’s going through this Thanksgiving week.
I also adore this fleur-de-lis cheese plate but haven’t bought it yet because, well, if I bought everything I like we’d be broke. Go make your wife, mom, or sister happy, though, and get it for her. It’s $14, you can’t beat that!
Canvas Reproductions of Famous Paintings
One gift I gave last year to a K-12 school was a set of these reproductions of master artists on canvas in beautiful frames. The Leonardo da Vinci I bought had some fading in the print but that is because the current original looks the same (da Vinci notoriously used experimental paints that have not always held up well through the centuries). I was very pleased with what came in the mail.
I’d thought before of just uploading a high-quality JPEG of a classic work during one of those JCPenney or Michaels canvas art sales, but that would have taken time, and I got these with three clicks plus beautiful frames instead of me hating my life resizing and cropping for two hours on my computer. The frames alone are worth the $145-$185 price tags.
But if you’re a budget shopper who doesn’t mind resizing on your screen for an hour, try that route. The canvas prints sales are also good this week from just about all the places that sell them.
These American Sculptors Have Got Your Literary Number
This. This, my friends, is an original bust of Flannery O’Connor. Every single reader friend of yours wants one. If they’re not Flannery fans, Mud House Art and Literature has got them covered, too. They’ve got Homer, Jane Austin, J.R.R. Tolkien, Bach, Dante, and more, in busts, half busts, bookends, magnets, even Christmas ornaments.
Prices range from $21 for a refrigerator magnet to $299 for a full bust. Get 10 percent off with the code “memoria” when you check out.
Mud House Art and Literature is two fellas working down in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They also publish books.
The Last Cast Iron Skillet They’ll Ever Need to Own
We bought this for a friend’s wedding last year: A U.S.-made Stargazer cast iron skillet. Stargazers have a forever warranty and are designed to not burn your hand and to pour sanely. They come in two sizes: 10.5-inch for $95 seasoned/$85 unseasoned; and 12-inch at $130 seasoned/$120 unseasoned.
Mary Adoring Christ, in Canvas and as Christmas Cards
I of course can’t resist sharing the Etsy shop of my friend and watercolors teacher. Her selections change based on what she’s working on. She started her original painting of Mary and Christ below next to me and another friend as we all slapped paint in a local rose garden.
You can get a 16×20 canvas print of it for $49. Imagine it as a focal point of a family altar or prayer corner, or as the centerpiece of your mantel decorations this Christmas. You can also get Christmas cards from Red Letter Design with the same images, plus several more, in sets of 40 or 15.
Other friends who run a boutique Christian press, Emmanuel Press, produce Christmas cards I’ve used now for years, and they update their selections each year with new commissions from working artists or designs that newly incorporate classic sacred art. The quality and richness they present is impossible to find in a mass-produced card.
Here are a few of my favorites. A small wood reproduction of the Russian holy family triptych, which is famous throughout Orthodox Christendom, is mounted on our family’s playroom wall.
Sacred Art Is for Everyone and Almost Everywhere
Religious art lifts my thoughts heavenward throughout my day, and the Lord knows I need that. So I’ve been trying to slowly add more of it to our home. I hit the jackpot this summer by finding the booth of this mother who works in watercolors. Samantha’s handle is Pleasantly Crafted. I own the piece below (and need its reminder multiple times a day) and bought several of the striking framed “solo gratia” calligraphy prints in the rich gold and purple for myself and as gifts.
Her prices are modest and her work beautiful. I believe she also does custom work, so contact her for calligraphy and more (details on her Etsy and Facebook). A lot of her things (she has a huge number of designs) are not on her Etsy shop right now, so if you see something you like in her Instagram feed, ask her about it! And here is her fresh Christmas card design for this season, also available to frame:
If you are interested in sacred art, and supporting working artists even as a small-time patron, page through the Catholic Artists Directory.
I found that through Theology of Home, a cottage enterprise by a trio of lovely Catholic ladies, several of whom have written excellent material for The Federalist. Check out their custom-scented candles. I like the idea of the smell of victory.
Even though I am not a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox believer, all Christians share in the artistic tradition they continue to preserve, which is undeniably beautiful and worth supporting. It’s millennia better than the Precious Moments and Thomas Kinkaide-ware of the typical evangelical mall. An Orthodox priest gave me my first icon and I can’t wait to add more. They’re not hard to find, in any price range, and would be a lovely gift for any believer who has good taste.
Small Presses Revive Classic Children’s Books
These two small publishers reprint beautiful old children’s books: The Good and the Beautiful and Living Book Press. Both also offer low prices, so you can afford to buy a boatload (which I just did for my kids for Christmas — I get them books for every occasion).
The former reprints the books with very appealing covers and sometimes illustrations, which is absolutely effective at getting kids interested. They definitely judge books by the cover. Sometimes I will dress up an old book with a new cover just to snooker them.
Living Book Press tends to print the books with their original illustrations, another nice touch. I basically buy every new book they put out as soon as they get a new one off the press — the prices range from $6 to $12 usually so it’s a very cheap habit. And it keeps my kids in books, which is the important thing. Way cheaper and better than supplying a video game habit. Use coupon code “nostress” (without the quote marks) UNTIL Friday for 10 percent off.
Here are a few recommended titles to start you off, excluding obvious classics you should be aware of like “Kidnapped” and “Heidi.” “Fifty Famous Stories Retold,” by James Baldwin. We spent the summer reading through that book before bed together, a story or two at a time. “The King of the Golden River,” by John Ruskin. This is impossible to find for $6 anywhere else. “This Country of Ours,” by Henrietta Marshall. This is a truly wonderful older children’s history of the United States. I read it for my own edification. It’s best fit for middle school and up, unless you’re reading aloud to younger children.
“The Story Book of Science,” by Jean Fabre. This book uses a frame narrative of a grandfather telling stories to his grandchildren. Some people like that and some people find it artificial. Depends on you and your child. If it works for you, this is an excellent book and aptly titled. “The Story of the Illiad,” by Alfred Church. This is a child-level retelling of the classic. Church does excellent retellings of Greek myths and his books are often very hard to find in good condition at a decent price.
Then from The Good and the Beautiful there’s a bevy of history and historical fiction, at all reading levels and subjects of interest: “Abraham Lincoln,” by Wilbur Fisk Gordy, a 1917 biography; “Boy of the Pyramids: A Mystery of Ancient Egypt,” by Ruth Fosdick Jones; “Men of Iron,” by Howard Pyle; “The Adventures of Philippe: A Story of Old Quebec,” by Gwendolyn Bowers; “Prudence Crandall,” by Elizabeth Yates; and “The Journey of Ching Lai,” by Eleanor Frances Lattimore.
The only complaint I have about both presses is that I’d like to buy hardcover editions of their reprints. I know those cost more but they also hold up much better to little kids’ hands. I might be able to keep them for the grandkids that way. If you care about that, like me, you might invest in some softcover contact paper like libraries use to keep your softcovers lasting longer. You can get a roll at Demco.
Note: It requires VERY careful hands to apply that stuff without totally mangling the book. Maybe try it on a few garbage books you got at the thrift store to get the hang of it. But it does help preserve your books.
Leather That Looks Good and Lasts Forever
If you haven’t heard about Saddleback Leather and drooled over their stuff ever since, head on over there and try to keep your greed in check by planning to give their goods to other people. Basically anything they offer is the right gift for any man in your life. They have some things for women, too, but really, this is a man store. All handmade in the United States and with a 100-year warranty.
When we were poor early in our marriage, I pinched and hid freelancing money from my husband for months to buy him this one, which he can hand down to whatever lucky son sucks up enough to get it. If you’re not looking to drop $719, their wallets are a great anyman gift and much more affordable.
Wearable Embroidery Is Beautiful
This mother of two embroiders primarily baby slings but also other lovely items that would make beautiful gifts. Here’s her Etsy shop. Don’t you wish you could do that? Wow.
Everybody Needs a Winter Beanie
This Etsy link sent by a friend is to handmade unisex beanies in a rainbow of colors. You could almost get this gift for anyone, and it’s only $20.
Silhouettes of Loved Ones to Adorn the Walls
Federalist writer R.H. says of this papercraft duo, “I just took profile snaps of each of my five children and they sent me digital files. I love them — made a framed gallery for myself, but also since I own the digitals I plan on making little ornaments too.” Basically every mother ever wants one of these of her kids.
Bookmark This One for Next Year
This crafter’s personalized family embroidery schedule is full through the rest of the year, she says on Instagram, but these stitched family portraits would also be perfect for an anniversary, birthday, or family reunion gift.
Ideas from Other Federalistas for Meaningful Gifts
- I do thematic gifts, and this year my theme is gratitude. I ordered a book called “Letters For A Year Of Gratitude” from here and am giving one to all the women in my family (along with 52 stamps, additional stationary and pens). That way each week for the entire year we are all accountable for sending someone an old fashioned, hand-written, thankfulness letter. I also love that it’s interactive and you can tear out each letter and envelope from the book.
- Commission a painting of a meaningful place or moment. My grandmother-in-law painted me the chapel we got married in and I love it.
- I suggest finding a local calligrapher to make a pretty version of a favorite poem or piece of text and then frame it nicely. It’s something personal, special, and it’s not the sort of thing most people would ever get for themselves.
- If you live in Colorado, check out the Chocolate Therapist. I now wish I lived in Colorado.