Merry Christmas! I hope you all had a lovely celebration of the birth of Christ. Ours was a beautiful, prayerful day: the children were filled with gratitude for even the simplest gifts, and joyfully shared their new toys with one another. I felt completely satisfied that I had chosen just the right presents for everyone, and was able to linger over the Christmas roast without having to jump up to deal with a single potty / random screaming / food throwing emergency. (Okay, okay, I made all that up. I’m writing this two days before Christmas, and I couldn’t help but indulge in a little fantasy about what Sunday might be like. I will probably throw my head back and laugh manically when I read this on Monday.)

Anyway, I thought it would be a good time to throw together a collection of some of my favorite internet gems of 2011. So pull up a plate of leftovers, pour a cup of coffee, and enjoy this trip through some of the best blog posts and videos I came across this year:

1. Myself and not myself: One Catholic’s experience with secular psychology

Erika the Philosopher Mom always writes great posts, but this one really stuck with me. Don’t miss her powerful thoughts about what it was like when she visited a secular therapist who encouraged her to go down the path of “self-affirmation.” An excerpt: “It was death. Not to be too dramatic here, but that self-affirmation [was] almost literally the death of all love.” (Bonus: Check out her touching tribute to her homemaker mother.)

2. 7 lessons for delivering a powerful message

This is a must-read post for anyone, particularly those who are interested in evangelization.

3. “You have to be okay with death to work here” (video)

Jewels Green recently is a recent convert to the pro-life position, and has begun speaking out about her experience as a worker at an abortion facility and as a post-abortive woman. Don’t miss this powerful five-minute video in which she shares some chilling stories about the culture of death.

4. How what you see influences what you hear (video)

A fascinating video about the McGurk effect.

5. What did you expect? Every life involves crosses.

Steve Gershom has a great response to those who pity him for living a chaste and celibate life due to his same-sex attraction: “Why do people think that living a good life is supposed to be easy? Readers, whoever you are—gay, straight, married, single, relatively healthy or inflicted with any one of a billion possible debilitating pathologies—you will be asked to carry a cross. It’s going to be hard, and it’s not going to be fair.”

6. Have we forgotten about the power of penance?

Ever since I read this brief post by Taylor Marshall, I keep thinking about that Carmelite brother humbly, quietly doing penance for the sake of the unborn. (Bonus: I also loved this inspiring video about the energy of the pro-life youth.)

7. Life without an architect

Darwin did a great job of summarizing the sense aimlessness that pervades our society when he wrote: “Individual choices pile up unto some particular type of life, and once that life is built people sometimes find it is not, in fact, the kind of structure they want to live.”

8. You can never afford them

One of many fantastic posts from the Archbold brothers here at the Register, it brought tears to my eyes when Matt wrote: “I never heard of anyone on their death bed thinking that they wished they had fewer people around to love who loved them back.” (Bonus: If you like that post, you’ll also love Simcha’s touching piece about making room for her ninth baby.)

9. The surviving twin of an attempted abortion speaks out (video)

One of the must-see videos of the year, Claire Culwell speaks with tremendous grace about the moment her birth mother told her that she had tried to have her aborted.

10. Dignity when you can’t take care of yourself

Suzanne Di Silvestri is a mother of seven who’s battling Stage IV breast cancer, and she wrote a beautiful post about the dignity of life, even when you can’t take care of your own basic needs.

11. How weather changed history

A fascinating read for history buffs. It’s interesting to think of how some of history’s biggest events might have played out differently if the weather had been different; and it’s also a reminder that we’re never in control as much as we think we are.

12. Ian McEwan’s eulogy for Christopher Hitchens

As others have expressed, I was saddened by Hitchens’ passing even though I didn’t like many of the things he said and did in life. When I read McEwan’s eulogy in the Times, I found it surprisingly moving. In particular, when I read that God had put G.K. Chesterton in Hitchens’ path in his final days, it made me pause and wonder what could have been. (Bonus: Two other touching memorial pieces were Fr. James Martin’s post about John Cardinal Foley, and Mona Simpson’s tribute to her brother, Steve Jobs.)

13. People are awesome (video)

No list of great links would be complete without the obligatory “jaw-dropping human feats” video. This one is especially good.

14. Never confuse the ripples for the rock

Last but certainly not least, every Catholic should read this post by Marc Barnes, in which he admonishes us never to forget what the Church really is.

What are some of your favorite links from 2011?