For this year’s gift guide, we asked S&H contributors and readers for some of their favorite gifts—gifts they’ve given or received, or even gifts they wish had been exchanged.
The best gift I’ve ever received was one I gave myself—a print of The Annunciation by George Hitchcock. This painting depicts the Biblical story of Mary receiving a divine message that she was to be the mother of God. If there was ever a gift that keeps on giving, it’s this one. Every time I look at the painting, I find myself pondering the question, “What am I called to do?”
A gift I’m happy I gave is a potted plant—a peace lily I gave to my friend Ann. A long-distance move several years ago meant saying goodbye to cherished friends and my potted plants. The idea of putting the two together gave me a bit of comfort. I knew, as I put the peace lily in Ann’s willing hands, that they would find a way to take good care of each other.
—Ruth Wilson, digital contributor and book reviewer
I own five manual typewriters, the most prized being my mother’s circa 1930 L.C. Smith typewriter that I used through high school and college. One of the best gifts I ever received was a green Lego manual typewriter. You can’t type with this machine, but that isn’t the point. The point is that my son, his son, and I built the typewriter together. Or, to be more accurate, my son built it, his son kept taking it apart, and I just marveled at the magic of three generations of Shapiros working together. It holds pride of place in my office.
Sitting across from me rapping a twisted branch of polished maple on a pine wood floor, Joshu Sasaki Roshi demanded, “Where is God when stick hits floor?” I never passed this koan, though I did come close: “Good answer. But only 75 percent.” During walking meditation, I found a similar stick and kept it as a reminder of the koan. Years later, my then four-year-old grandson asked if he could have it. I hesitated and then gifted it to him. It is one of his prize positions, and while I miss it, it is still one of the best gifts I have ever given.
—Rabbi Rami Shapiro, podcast host and columnist
The best gift I’ve ever received: The Complete Works of Florence Scovell Shinn. Twenty years ago a mentor gifted me this book. It contains The Game of Life and How to Play It, Your Word Is Your Wand, and more. Scovell Shinn, a spiritual teacher and metaphysical writer, authored these timeless works between 1925 and 1940. I have reread this empowering secret weapon many times.
A gift I’m happy I gave: cashmere socks. I look for gifts that elevate us mentally, physically, or emotionally. Last year, I gave a frazzled friend a pair of cashmere socks, a classic luxury that most of us overlook. Slipping on these light and cozy socks at home or in bed evokes a sense of indulgence and self-care (research also suggests that wearing socks to bed may improve sleep). A week later, my friend called and said that she was wearing the socks every evening, feeling more serene, and finding this to be the best self-care gift she had ever received.
—Jasmine Bilali, digital contributor
A gift I’m happy I gave: John and I were down to a few phone calls per year, so one day I called and said I missed him. We made a plan to stay more connected. The gift we are to each other now is mostly measured in time spent in soulful conversation and laughter. Physical gifts are unusual, so when I shipped him a copy of Daniel Ladinsky’s Love Poems from God he was surprised and delighted. That collection of 12 poets from eastern and western spiritual traditions has come up in our conversation many times over the years. It solidified a deeper sense of our soul companionship.
The best gift I’ve ever received: My brother helped me make a large chessboard from oak and walnut. I tried making pieces on a wood lathe but found it too challenging. That Christmas my wife surprised me with a beautiful set of ceramic chess pieces that she had purchased, cleaned, stained, and fired. That was 30 years ago. Those pieces live in two shoeboxes in a bedroom closet. Whenever I want to relax with a slow, meditative game of chess, the big board and pieces come out. A handmade gift that keeps on giving—a brilliant move on her part!
—Kevin Anderson, columnist
Best gifts ever were from my sister: three books and one magazine chronicling the lives of our pets. Of course it helps if your sister is a talented graphic designer, but to have so many memories preserved in a coffee table format is priceless! One book is 14 years old and I still look at it frequently. They brought tears to our eyes.
Best gifts from my husband: 1. We were newly married and on a tight budget. I didn’t need, but wanted, a new winter coat. I suggested we buy it and call it my Christmas present. He agreed and I got the coat. Yet on Christmas Day, he presented me with a pearl necklace! 2. We saw a cat up for adoption that was being fostered by the same girl who fostered two of our other cats. When we found out that the foster was going to college and could not keep Kitty any longer, we tried to find Kitty a home with family and friends, to no avail. When I finally said that we couldn’t let Kitty go to the shelter, my husband said that he agreed with me … and that Kitty was already in the spare bedroom of our home! You can see that I have so many “best” presents. I’m a lucky gal!
—Gina M. Brown, S&H reader
A gift I’m happy I gave: My mother loved dolls and magical things. When she was 99 years old, I gifted her an adorable Tinker Bell pen I got at Disney World. She fell in love. “I am not going to use it for writing,” she declared. “I just want to look at her.” I stood “Tink” upright using a glass vase and placed her on the kitchen table where mom could gaze at her. It gave her so much pleasure. Sadly, mom passed away a year later, but I was happy I gave her a gift that made her smile during her final days. Tinker Bell found a new home with me and lives on my altar now.
The best gift I’ve ever received: A beloved and brave friend was going through a serious crisis and we were able to spend some sacred time together. I was surprised and deeply moved when, as a thank you, she sent me a gorgeous, soft velvet throw blanket filled with inspiring and healing words as a holiday present. As a writer, positive messages are so meaningful. The blanket is the gift that keeps giving because each night I go to bed beneath a covering imprinted with these words: Believe, blessing, bravery, courage, dream, faith, fulfillment, gratitude, happiness, harmony, hope, inspire, joy, love, miracles, peace,strength, trust, and wisdom.
—Laurie Sue Brockway, print and digital contributor
The best gift I’ve ever received was a handmade, engraved recipe box from my mom. I grew up making recipes out of my grandmother’s cardboard hand-me-down recipe box from the ’70s or ’80s, stuffed with clippings from magazines (the most-loved one being a gingerbread cookie recipe from a Domino sugar advertisement). When I was given my own version of the recipe box, it was filled with a collection of handwritten favorite recipes from my mom and some of our family friends—all of which were veganized for me!
A gift I’m happy I gave was very small, but deeply meaningful: a miniature statue of Hanuman that I bought at a mountaintop temple in Hampi, India. Giving the gift to my younger sibling reminded me of the beauty of that trip and climbing up the mountainside stairs surrounded by chattering monkeys. My sibling loved the gift, and keeps the statue on their altar as a reminder of Hanuman’s playful, devotional energy.
—Brenna Lilly, wellness editor
A gift I wish I had received: When I was a teen, I could have used a punching bag to hang from the basement ceiling to release all my teenage angst. I asked my parents for one multiple times at holidays, yet they never gave me one. Perhaps the idea of their 15-year old daughter with a punching bag seemed odd or scared them, or maybe it was because my mom is an interior designer and thought a punching bag was an eyesore. What they did not know, I presume, is that we could have avoided a significant number of petty teen-vs.-parents arguments if I had one!
A gift I’m happy I gave: In true millennial fashion, I enjoy gifting experiences, particularly ones that involve eating. Recently, I got into the habit of sending restaurant gift cards to loved ones. I make sure it is a restaurant and experience that fits each person’s preferences and tastes: My vegan aunt got one for the best plant-based place in town, my dad got one for the fancy seafood place he loves to take my mom to, and my brother got one for the steakhouse down the street. There is something magical about providing the people I love with memorable and fun eating experiences.
—Caroline L. Young, MS, RD, LD, RYT, and digital contributor