For the gents: pajamas from Arthur. Whether he admits it to you or not, every man on earth wants a good pair of pajamas. These sail neatly between the Scylla of itchy puritan flannel that he would never want to be in, and the Charybdis of that shiny stuff that he would never want to be caught dead in. Just consider it his zut alors! suit.
For the whole family: a Buche de Noel. Think French food is prissy? — This translates as “Yule Log.” Like that analogous American culinary invention “bacon salt,” this is as incredible as it sounds. To give you an idea of the Log’s unsubtle awesomeness, here is a special piece of equipment used in its preparation, as suggested by an online recipe: “an oiled broom handle suspended between 2 chai
r backs and newspapers on the floor, for the caramel.” Needless to say, don’t try this at home. If you have a good French bakery near you, order it there, otherwise you can order online
– Jim Manzi holds a degree in mathematics from MIT and is the CEO of an applied artificial intelligence software company.
Iconography, the historic form of visual art in the Eastern half of Christendom, has been becoming increasingly popular. An Eastern Orthodox monastery in Wisconsin, St. Isaac of Syria Skete (a “skete” is a small monastery, named for the Desert Fathers’ center in Scetis, Egypt), offers a wide variety of icons, in a wide range of prices–both originals painted by hand, and historic icons laminated onto wooden plaques. A classic icon would be a significant and meaningful memento of the season, and you can also browse here for an icon of the saint whose name the recipient bears.
– Frederica Mathewes-Green writes regularly for NPR’s Morning Edition, Beliefnet.com, Christianity Today, and other publications. She is the author of Gender: Men, Women, Sex and Feminism, among other books.
JOHN J. MILLER
Fans of J. R. R. Tolkien know that The Lord of the Rings is a Christmas book in at least one sense: According to the novel’s Appendix B, the Company of the Ring departed Rivendell on December 25. Tolkien, a devout Catholic, didn’t pick this date at random. The latest must-have entry in the Tolkien corpus is The History of the Hobbit by John D. Rateliff, which includes everything you will ever want to know about how in a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
Before the rise of Halloween, ghost stories were associated with the Yuletide – A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, is a ghost story, after all. So perhaps it would be more traditional than creepy to give Icons of Horror and the Supernatural, a two-volume set of detailed essays on everything from aliens to zombies in book and film. I’ve certainly enjoyed dipping into it this year.
Last summer, I took my ten-year-old son to the movies to see Transformers. The special effects are great and he loved it. But a couple of the scenes made my skin crawl, with their sexual double entendres and open talk of masturbation. Because of these vulgar and gratuitous parts, I decided not to buy the new DVD for him. One DVD that did make my Christmas list, however, is National Treasure: 2-Disk Collector’s Edition, which comes out next month. This modern thriller is old-fashioned fun–a film the whole family can enjoy. (The sequel comes out on December 21.) I’m also planning to let my kids try out The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones.
– John J. Miller is national political reporter for National Review and co-author of Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America’s Disastrous Relationship with France. He is also author of the new A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.
Fire in the Belly: What better way to keep one’s spirits up — than downing spirits. Personally, I’m more than happy to curl up with a bottle of my favorite cognac no mixology required. But for those with greater ambition (or with guests to impress), Ted Haighs’s book, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails charts a path back to an earlier, more spirited age. Also highly recommended are Hemmingway and Bailey’s Bartending Guide to Great American Writers and Barbara Holland’s The Joy of Drinking, either of which would make better drinking companions than most people (for one thing, you won’t have to share the bottle!).
Outrageous Fortune: Readers of “The American Scene,” where I blog these days, are aware of my passion for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Right about now, as the first snows fall, they are just taking down the sets of the last productions of this past summer’s season to close, and they’ve already begun the process of building the sets for next season. Would tickets to next summer’s productions be a superlative gift? Absolutely. But for those either daunted by the distance or by the falling American dollar, DVDs of two of the best productions from the late 1980s are available: Romeo and Juliet and Taming of the Shrew – both shows that will be produced this year, as it happens, so a gift of DVDs today might inspire a trip by summer. And the perfect accompaniment to DVDs of Stratford productions is, of course, the DVDs of the Canadian television series simultaneously parodying and glorifying the Stratford Festival, Slings & Arrows, all three seasons of which are now available on DVD.
Labor Saver: What do you get for the middle-aged suburban immigration restrictionist who has everything? He’s already got a Robomow. But does he have a Looj? Then you know what he needs! As an apartment-dweller, I can’t vouch personally for the quality of the product, but it’s made by the same people who make the Roomba, and the folks I know who purchased that robotic vacuum cleaner are quite pleased with the results.
-- Noah Millman is an investment banker who lives in Brooklyn.
JOHN J. PITNEY JR.
Videos have become a standard Christmas gift to families with small children. It’s natural to pick videos with Christmas themes, but how do you choose? Go with those that acknowledge that it’s Jesus’ birthday. The First Christmas is a nice telling of the Nativity story, with clay-animated characters and narration by Christopher Plummer. A Charlie Brown Christmas seemed merely cute and clever when it first aired in the 1960s, but today one scene comes across as downright bold. Of course, I’m talking about Linus’s speech on the meaning of Christmas, where he quotes directly from the Book of Luke.
There are many videos to avoid, but one particularly obnoxious example is Frosty Returns. This sequel to Frosty the Snowman is so PC that its title character is missing the corncob pipe (can’t encourage smoking!) and nobody even mentions Christmas. Instead, the plot involves an evil businessman who wants to do away with snow. Al Gore didn’t get a writing credit, but he might as well have.
-- John J. Pitney Jr. is the Roy P. Crocker Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College.
Just one suggestion this year, but it’s one that will make you a favorite of any rock-lover on your list: Rolling Stone Cover to Cover is a DVD box set that reproduces every single page of every issue of Rolling Stone over these first 40 years of its existence. It’s a magnificent memory trip, and a portable encyclopedia of the music of our times. It’s $125 — but only $78.75 on Amazon. (The same company, Bondi Digital Publishing, is also producing a DVD of the complete Playboy from 1953 to 1959; with other decades presumably to follow. I have not examined that one, but I’m sure it, too, would delight many a recipient under the Christmas tree.)
– Michael Potemra is NR’s literary editor.