15 Holiday Gift Ideas for Secular Families

Generally speaking, gift ideas geared toward us non-religious types tend to fall into three basic categories: Snarky T-Shirts & Bumper Stickers, Comedic TV Shows and Movies and Books Espousing Atheism. There is some variation in there, of course. Sometimes books espouse freethinking. Sometimes the movies are more satirical in nature. Sometimes snarky comments come on wearable pins. (Like this one!) That said, this list is a bit different. These particular gifts are not meant to arm nonbelievers with ways to out-logic religious people, or to advertise non-belief, or to reinforce feelings of superiority. They're just simple items likely to appeal to the science-loving sensibilities of the skeptical mind. Most are things that anyone could display in their homes (or around their necks) as quiet, graceful nods to their own wonderful, awe-inspiring and decidedly secular world views — and they won't even offend Grandma.

1. Darwin's Tree of Life Necklace. In 1837, Charles Darwin first sketched how species evolved along branches of an imaginary tree. Here, it is engraved in a silver necklace. (Etsy, $45)

2. Women of Science Coasters. Made of poplar wood, these beauties will enhance your living room, inspire your daughters and make great conversation starters. Included in the set: Grace Hopper (programming, computer science), Rachel Carson (ecology), Mary Edwards Walker (surgery), Jane Goodall (primatology), Marie Curie (radiation/chemistry) and Rosalind Franklin (genetics). (Etsy, $35.)

Women of Science Coasters

3. Bang! How We Came to Be by Michael Rubino. One of the best books available for introducing children — and maybe some adults — to the science of evolution. (Amazon, $14.53.)

Bang! How We Came to Be

4. Neil deGrasse Tyson Prayer Candle. Why no one has mass marketed these things yet, I have no idea. That's Bill Nye the Science Guy standing behind him, by the way. (Etsy, $15.67.)

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5. 'We Are All Stardust' Bracelet. Hand-stamped on metal, this bracelet is inspired by a famous Carl Sagan quote: The cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff. (Etsy, $12)

Stardust Bracelet

6. The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper. Hands-down one of my favorite children's books. This book teaches kids the importance of the Golden Rule and makes clear that treating others the way you wish to be treated is a concept much older than any religion in existence today. (Amazon, $13.21.)

Golden Rule

7. Carl Sagan artwork. Another great quote by Carl Sagan anchors this original print: If we are merely matter intricately assembled, is this really demeaning? If there's nothing here but atoms, does that make us less or does that make matter more? According to the artist, who describes his work as "art and prints inspired by science and curiosity," this piece was done using water color, ink, Mohawk Paper, pen, pencil and Photoshop. (Etsy, $25.)

Carl Sagan artwork

8. Bill Nye the Science Guy: Evolution DVD. Bill Nye is like the Mr. Rogers of science — making the subject fun and interesting and totally accessible to kids. Of course, all his DVDs are worth recommending, but for this list, his show on evolution is the episode du jour. (Target, $14.49.)

Bill Nye the Science Guy: Evolution

9. Atheist Shoes. They're shoes. For atheists. What else do you need to know? Comfortable and cool-as-hell, these shoes are made by a German company and sold in Euros. The soles say "Ich Bin Atheist" or "I Am Atheist." If you lean more agnostic (or just aren't willing to out yourself), you might prefer the Darwin version — whose soles declare "Darwin Loves." (Atheist Shoes, about $200.)

Ich Bin Atheist

Atheist Shoes

 

 

 

 

 

10. Tim Minchin Plushie Doll. This thing sells itself, but a few things: It's made out of wool and felt; it comes in two sizes; and because the Tims are made to order, the seller is open to changing his outfit upon request. I'd put him in a pair of Atheist Shoes because HE ACTUALLY WEARS THEM. (Etsy, $30 for small Tim, $40 for large Tim.)

Tim Minchin Plushie Doll

11. Painting of Darwin's Finches. There is only one of these ink-and-watercolor paintings for sale, and it took A LOT OF RESTRAINT for me not to take it off the list and buy it myself. I adore everything about it. (Etsy, $55.)

Darwin's Finches

12. Heroes of Science Canvas Tote. By the same shop that brought you the Women of Science Coasters above, this bag is another fantastic nod to all things science. It's got Stephen Hawking on there, for God's sake. (Etsy, $18.)

 Heroes of Science Tote

13. Really, Really Big Questions About God, Faith and Religion. British writer Julian Baggini brings us this absolutely fantastic children's book — the best I've seen for getting kids to think about matters of faith. In addition to spelling things out in the most straightforward way possible, it encourages kids to reach their own conclusions. Perfect for kids in nonreligious families. (Amazon, $14.39.)

Really, Really Big Questions about God, Faith and Religion

14. Darwin Quote on Oversized Book Page: Handmade in England, this is a typographic art print on an upcycled page of Darwin's On the Origin of Species. The line, There is Grandeur in this view of life, comes toward the end of Darwin's book. (Etsy, $40.61.)

There is Grandeur

15. Flying Spaghetti Monster Ornament. Okay, maybe this isn't the most graceful idea on the list. But he is adorable, isn't he? As an alternative, I also love this hand-carved FSM stamp, but it's hard to beat the ornament. (Etsy, $18.)

Flying Spaghetti Monster Ornament

Happy Holidays, everyone! And for chances to win some secular gifts yourself, be sure to subscribe to check out this month's giveaways — starting with this one! 

Coming Soon: Holiday Gift Ideas for Secular Families

RudolphA quick note to let you know that I'll be running my annual Holiday Shopping Guide (hey, twice makes it annual, people) on Monday, Nov. 11. And it's a doozy of a list, so don't miss it! Also, because it's been awhile since I've thanked a single, solitary one of you for your support, I'll be combining the guide with a chance to win some of the doozies for yourselves. At least one of the giveaways will be extended solely to my subscribers; and, for that one, you don't need to enter to win. I'll just randomly pick a name from the subscription list (Not sure how I'll do that, but 95 percent sure my parrot will be involved), and then I'll email you privately for mailing instructions.

Don't forget to meet me back here on Monday! And thanks again, guys. You are the awesomest.

A Shopping Guide for Nonreligious Parents (Part I)

In honor of the Judeo-Christian month of giving, I'm offering a few recommendations to add to your shopping lists. These are items I have bought myself, or will buy, or might buy, or probably won't buy but that doesn't mean you shouldn't. Seriously, if you want some assistance in "introducing" world religion and religious concepts to your kids, these are excellent tools. I'll be publishing this in two parts: The first today, the second on Monday. Don't look for this list to be repeated next year, by the way. In 2013, I'll be recommending you buy only one book: Mine.

1. People by Peter Spier. Touted as "a picture book for all ages," People is the best celebration of diversity I've ever seen in book form. Spier is a spectacular illustrator, and offers the sweetest introduction to religion and culture. His little figures are charming, and for children who may never run into Arabs or Africans on the street, it's all the more important. You'd never know the book was written in 1980, but for one single page devoted to different kinds of "communication." Records and cassettes and walkie-talkies are among the most "modern" communication methods pictured. Available on Amazon: $10.36

2. "What Do You Believe?" This book, published just last year by DK Publishing, is a stellar example of how to talk about world religions in neutral terms. The design is excellent and very modern, and the book is full of great information — but not too full. That is, it's not exhausting to look at, as so many of these types of books can be. It includes pages on world religions, as well as atheism and agnosticism — all of which are handled with a high degree of respect.  This is likely to appeal most to slightly older children, 9 and above, but I'd get it early and make it a book shelf staple. Available on Amazon: $11.55

3. DYI Paper Buddha. These things are just plain cool. They come in kits and would be great for kids who like to build things. I love the idea of having my daughter make this little guy — or one of the other Hindu gods offered in kit form — and reading a little bit about Buddhism or Hinduism out loud to her while she does it. The kits are made in New Delhi by cartoonist and animator Kshiraj Telang. They are all limited edition and sold in Indian rupees. Hurry while supplies last! Available on Toonoholic for 99 rupees (roughly $1)

4. Dreidel. I wrote about how to play the game of Dreidel last year as part of my Hanukkah post. It's such a fun game for kids — and cheap! I highly recommend it as and entry into talking about Judaism and the origins of Hanukkah. Plus, it's got a fun song that goes with it. (South Park's version is here.) Simple wooden dreidel available on Amazon: $1.89

5. Fulla Doll. I referenced this doll in a recent post. It's a line of Barbie-like fashion dolls for Muslim girls, and I'm TOTALLY buying one for my daughter. The abaya and hijab that Muslims wear is really interesting to kids. Getting little ones used to different styles of religious dress (so they can see it as something normal, rather than something weird) could go a long way in building an understanding of Islamic customs. (By the way, check out these pictures published on Slate today — it's a photo series on  documenting the Arab woman's experience of being veiled!) Fulla dolls available at Muslim Toys and Dolls: $34.99

6. Little Book of Hindu Deities: From the Goddess of Wealth to the Sacred Cow.  When it comes to giving kids and parents an overview of Hinduism, this book by Sanjay Patel is the best. It's small and cute and bright and to the point, and a fantastic resource for getting a handle on the deal with Hindu gods. Just having on my bookshelf has been wonderful for me. When I need a quick reminder of who Krishna is or why Ganesh is important, I know exactly where to go. Available at Amazon: $8.82

7. Voodoo dolls. To heck with major religions, right? Let's get into some of those fun-filled folk religions! In Africa and Haiti, as well as in New Orleans, voodoo dolls are used to focus energy and blessings to those they represent. They are commonly made with items that are easily found in those regions. The instructions with this cute set advises kids to send good blessing to your friends or turn them into mean people to relieve stress and have some fun. They really are just fun little toys, but it would be a great excuse to explain a bit about the "magic" believed by some folk religions. Set of 11 available on Amazon: $6.74

8. Sikh Play Set. It was ridiculously hard to choose between all the Sikh play sets on the market! My gosh! There are just so many to — oh, wait. No. That was nativity sets. Sorry. When it came to Sikh play sets, there was the one. This one. And it seems only to be available in England. And it's expensive. So I'm doubting a lot of you will buy it, but I still think it's terribly neat. I love the book about the gurus that comes with it, and kids would have a great time inspecting the "artifacts" in the bag. Available at TTS: 74.95 pounds (roughly $120)

9. Meet Jesus: the Life and Teachings for a Beloved Teacher by Lynn Tuttle Gunney. This book came highly recommended by reader Kimberly B. The book is described as emphasizing the "humanity rather than the divitity of Jesus, giving the story broad appeal for liberal or progressive Christians and non-Christians alike." Kimberly said her kids loved it. I'm definitely buying it. Available on Amazon: $10.26

10. The Tao of Pooh Audiobook. (You cand find it free on youtube, too.) I read this book in college, and loved it so much I also read the Te of Piglet, which was good but not as good. Author Benjamin Hoff shows that "Pooh's Way" is amazingly consistent with the principles of living envisioned by the Chinese founders of Taoism. It's very fun and cute. The audiobook would be great for a road trip with a slightly older child — 11ish maybe. Available on Amazon: $14.59

For Part II, click here.

 

Research Shows Baby Jesus Crazy Popular

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For the last few weeks, I've been prepping for the first edition of Relax, It's Just God's Shopping Guide, which, if all goes according to plan, will appear here on Thursday — just in time for the Christian and Jewish month of giving. (See how I timed that? Aren't I clever?) The guide will give reviews and buying information about my favorite "props" — including toys, books, movies and music — all of which are intended to help parents talk to kids about religion without confusing them, scaring them or boring them to tears. Feel free to let me know if you have favorite books or movies you'd recommend — and be sure to point out any of your favorite science-centered resources, as well. As interesting as it is for kids to hear how world religions answer the Big Questions of the universe, it's just as interesting (and even more important) to hear about how science has gone about answering those same questions.

One thing I thought would make a great prop — particularly for "cultural Christians" who are celebrating Christmas in their homes this year — is a nativity set. There are not a lot of things better for the under-10 community than little figurines that can be "played with," and nativity sets certainly lend themselves to that. I even went online a couple of weeks ago to see if I could find one for Maxine. I figured I'd store it with the other "special holiday toys" that only come out at Christmas time. Just to be clear: The nativity set wouldn't be a decoration in our home, but rather an educational toy that is kept in Maxine's room for one month out of the year. Anyway, I went online thinking I ought to be able to find something that would suit, and was quickly and completely overwhelmed by the options. Apparently, and I say this as a result of my tireless research into this area, this country loves itself some Baby Jesus.

On Amazon alone, I found a little something for everyone. Here is a tiny fraction of what you can find.

For those with toddlers...

 For those with a puppet theater...

For those loyal to Playmobil...

For those loyal to Lego...

 

 

For those on a budget...

 

For those not on a budget...

 

For those short on storage...

For those who love vintage...

 

For those who love handmade...

And for those prone to nostalgia...

The question is: Which one do I buy?