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We shouldn’t complain. After all, the Lord himself spent his first Christmas in a barn/stable/cave/guest room—opinions differ. Whatever the venue, it involved livestock and probably smelled bad. Granted, an angel choir sang, but the magi didn’t even arrive with gifts until a couple years later. So honestly: how hard will it be for us to spend our Christmas on the sofa?

Even so, we could all use a little holiday cheer at the end of this truly awful year. And since we still have to buy presents—the world is falling to pieces we must still get each other gifts—here are some suggestions. No need for bricks-and-mortar shopping. These are actually available from online retailers. Well, some of them are.

Cardboard Cutout You
Mom and Dad still want you to come! The pandemic is overblown! Over 300,000 people have died in the US, but don’t live in fear: come visit for the holidays! Well, you can tell Mom and Dad that “you” will indeed be present. And “you” will have lost a great deal of weight. And they are free to hug “you” all they want. Send ‘em a full-size cardboard cutout of you for only $131.99 plus tax and shipping. (Fun fact: these things are called “standees.”) This plan also works, of course, if you are the older (and at-risk!) parent whose children insist that the grandchildren simply must see you—or it wouldn’t be Christmas!

Meanwhile, to round out your own festive but guest-deprived Christmas dinner table: go down to the local movie theater—pound hard on the front door as they’re probably not open—and offer to take a few of their film star “standees” off their hands. Theaters are losing millions right now and they probably wouldn’t mind selling off some assets for cheap. This year, you could be celebrating Christmas with Wonder Woman, Queen Elsa, and Pikachu.   

Life-Size Yard Deer
No, not the twinkly kind. We’re talking realistic, life-size members of the Cervidae family. Remember back in March during the first quarantine, when we were all cowering in our homes and meanwhile, all over the world, emboldened wildlife took to our streets and partied? Well, why not commemorate that one tiny, lovely thing about this lousy year?

You can buy quite a handsome and lifelike reindeer for a mere $1365. It’s a good price, trust me: I saw a similar one at my local garden store for $1500. Come to think of it, why stop with deer? You could create an endangered species creche in your yard. Remember to include a tiger, perhaps with a little effigy of Carole Baskin’s ex-husband in its mouth. And of course, you will need a plushie “enchanting” pangolin. If we had left this poor fellow’s relatives alone in the first place, we might have been spared this whole pandemic.

Note: If it rains or snows, you’ll have to haul the whole menagerie inside. Non-living creatures are not waterproof. But hey, now you can play Noah’s Ark! If anyone understood being stuck inside for a long time in “uncertain times,” it was Noah.

Worship Resources for Zoom Church
Speaking of plushies, did you know you can get a plushie Book of Common Prayer? Yes! Actually, this item was so popular (it was a fundraiser for Plainsong Farm) that it is now sold out. Clearly there is demand, not only because plushie prayer books are adorable, but also because now that we’re all worshiping on our sofas, we need worship books that can safely handle getting squashed between cushions. I hereby challenge the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship to commission plushie Psalter Hymnals, plushie Lift Up Your Hearts, and of course plushie Calvin’s Institutes. We could collect ‘em all and scatter them like throw pillows. And think of the fresh, new revenue stream to support the Lord’s work!

Pandemic Jammies: A Liturgical Collection
We’ve all been “going to work” in our pajamas for months, throwing on some half-decent upper-body ensemble for Zoom calls while keeping our bottom half swathed in comfy jammie pants or sweats. I am quite surprised that no one has yet come up with comfy cotton knits that look like church clothes.

Sure, you can buy these ridiculous “suitjamas” for $119.95. You can buy a lame tuxedo t-shirt for $24.44. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m thinking of head-to-toe comfy jammies that look like you got dressed up for church. That way, you can still roll out of bed, make your coffee, hit the couch and turn on Zoom worship—and actually put your video on for once!

Think of the possibilities for worship leaders, too. Why should they have to get properly dressed when the parishioners are all lounging in sleepwear? Clergy need pajama sets that look like liturgical vestments—or whatever pastors wear in your corner of the kingdom.

High church versions could be fittingly seasonal, with purple “stoles” for Advent, green for Ordinary Time, etc., with matching-color masks, of course. For an older generation of megachurch evangelists, we’ll need pajamas with tops that look like Hawaiian shirts and bottoms that look like khaki shorts. For the hip young pastor set, we’ll need “the theobrogian collection”: long-sleeved t-shirts that “show off” pretend bare arms festooned with tattoos in Hebrew. Don’t forget the faux-beard masks to make sure that, even masked up, pastor dude is sporting the latest facial hair trend.

For That Difficult Relative
What to do for that relative you still love but have stopped following on Facebook because they have tumbled down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole? Well, for $10.16, you can send them the perfect gift: a tin foil hat. As the product description says, it “protects against ‘them’ doing ‘that thing.’”

Also available in a dandy shower-cap version that might actually be practical.

Too passive-aggressive? Look, we’ve got some pent-up rage to deal with here, OK?

Theologian Card Game
For $12.45, you can get the theologian in your life a deck of cards that says “I [heart] Theologians” on the back. That’s nice, but I have something much better in mind. We need an actual theologian game in which players earn points for matching theologians’ signature theological mottos (on one side of the card) with their dreadful human failings (on the other).

Luther (side 1): “Here I stand, I can do no other.”
Luther (side 2): I have a potty mouth and like to call the Pope nasty names.

Barth (side 1): “Let God be God.”
Barth (side 2): Charlotte, dear, would you mind working on these footnotes?

Tillich (side 1): “God is the Ground of Being.”
Tillich (side 2): I philander like crazy but so does my wife.

Augustine (side 1): “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
Augustine (side 2): I think women are misbegotten men, not the image of God on their own.

Calvin (side 1): “Wisdom consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”
Calvin (side 2): Look, Servetus, I’m sorry, man, but….

We will of course need a “fallen evangelist” expansion set. Those guys might need to have their failings listed on both sides of the card.

Advent Calendar for the Pets
Since our pets have been “coming to church” with us by hanging around while we “attend” services online, we now have a whole population of duly evangelized dogs and cats. Now we need the tools to help them participate in the liturgical seasons. Fortunately, the pet industrial complex is on the job, with a variety of Advent calendars aimed at the canine and feline set, ready for you to form your furry friends in the faith by dispensing a daily dose of yummy treats.

My favorite pet-oriented Advent calendar—a cheery felt Christmas tree with pockets—is sold out, alas, but there are others available. I note that some makers don’t seem to understand the distinction between Advent and the Twelve Days of Christmas. Honestly, people.

Note: be sure to hang your pet’s calendar well beyond their eager reach. Dogs and cats do not understand the concept of “wait for longer than two seconds” let alone “wait for tomorrow” or “wait for Christmas Day” or “wait for the Lord’s return.” Eschatology is not their specialty, let’s just say.

I do wonder: why are there not Advent Calendars for oxes and asses and sheep? Shouldn’t they get a reward because their species were first responders, the frontline workers of the first Christmas?

“Vintage” Gifts
I saw one website that attempted to pass off a “vintage” church cookbook as a gift. At first I thought: that is just cruel. But then it occurred to me that we have reached such unfathomable depths of boredom that maybe a Zoom church potluck could actually be fun!

Dig through your cupboards, haul out those ancient church-ladies-society-sponsored cookbooks, send them around to your friends (“Merry Christmas! [heart][your name]”), and designate a day for everyone to make “Chicken on Sunday” or “Elsie’s Favorite Casserole” or “Won’t-Last Cookies.” Agree on a time when you will all get on Zoom and dig in. Predicted dialogue: “Ugh, we used to eat this stuff?”

Yeah, we are really scraping the bottom of the pandemic fun barrel here.

Exotic Instruments
Here’s one I would definitely buy if it didn’t cost $289.99: a bass recorder. It’s the haunting, other-worldly instrument featured in the theme for the show The Mandalorian. I do happen to have a recorder player in the house, but even if you had to start from scratch to learn it, why not? Despite the vaccines on the horizon, we’re going to be stuck in this pandemic malaise for many months yet. We could use some melancholy tunes.

Well, peace be upon you as you muddle your way through this pandemically diminished Christmas. May you find unexpected blessings everywhere you look, including under those sofa cushions.  

Debra Rienstra

I am a writer and literature professor, teaching literature and creative writing at Calvin University, where I have been on the faculty since 1996. Born and bred in the Reformed tradition, I’ve been unable to resist writing four books about theological topics: beware the writer doing theology without a license. My most recent book is Refugia Faith: Seeking Hidden Shelters, Ordinary Wonders, and the Healing of the Earth (Fortress, 2022). Besides the books, I’ve written well over two hundred essays for the RJ blog as well as numerous articles, poems, and reviews in popular and scholarly contexts. I have a B.A. from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and a M.A. and Ph.D. from Rutgers. I am married to Rev. Dr. Ron Rienstra, and together we have three grown children. Besides reading and writing, I love classical music, science fiction, fussing in the yard, hiking, and teaching myself useful skills like plant identification and—maybe someday—drywall repair.


  • Sharon A Etheridge says:

    This is just what I needed. It made me smile.

  • Michael Weber says:

    Thank you. You clearly are suffering from pandemic cabin fever if you have enough time to research such “wonderful” gifts.

    On a side note, for Mother’s Day this year my four grown children who are scattered across the country gave their mother 14” standees of themselves holding placards that combined to say “We Love You , Mom.” It made her day.

  • Gloria Stronks says:

    This is SO MUCH FUN! I smiled all the way through.

  • Anne Petrie says:

    Deb, you’re on point as always. Thanks for a post that had me LOLing all the way through!

  • Susan says:

    That was a great reflection. Not only did I smile, I laughed out loud! I plan to forward this to my clergy friends. Thank you.

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