Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time. – Laura Ingalls Wilder
Memories and traditions are such an important part of every holiday, but perhaps none more so than the winter holidays. Times with family, wonderful food, the joy of giving to others – these are all the most cherished holiday traditions.
Books have always played a major role in my own Christmas holiday memories. From the time I was very young, my mother or grandmother read me to sleep on Christmas Eve with Clement Moore’s classic, “Twas the Night Before Christmas. When I got a little older, I looked forward to evening when the tree lights came on so I could curl up underneath its branches with a pillow and my battered copy of Little Women.
Books were always an eagerly anticipated Christmas gift. That same copy of Little Women started out as a beautifully wrapped package under the tree. In 1964, my cousin started purchasing the hardcover editions of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series, adding one each year until the set was complete. That same set is now sitting proudly on my bookshelf, waiting to be passed on to the next generation of Little House readers in the family.
When my son was small, we started a bookish tradition of our own. Each year I purchased a book for him, and it was the one gift he was allowed to open on Christmas Eve. He would take the new book into his bed room, and read it until he went to sleep. It proved a great way to calm down that pre-Christmas morning excitement.
This year I began a new tradition – purchasing a Christmas book for my grandson who was born November 14, 2011. I hope to continue doing so until he’s grown, at which time he’ll have a wonderful collection to pass onto his own children someday.
I’m not the only one with bookish holiday traditions. Some of my favorite authors were kind enough to share their special holiday memories with ATG readers.
My mother, especially, loved Christmas. She filled our world with light and gifts, with a Christmas Eve meal of fish and cookies and an all-out Christmas day feast. But she always insisted, within all of the overt cheer, that we stop and read the Nativity story from the Bible and then (in a hush) the Clement Clarke Moore poem, “Twas the night before Christmas.” It wasn’t Christmas until we had sat and listened, and then my brother would play carols on his oboe, my father would play the piano, and the rest of us would sing.
I could never replicate all the good that my mother did and was, but I did continue reading traditions with my own son, supplementing the poem and the Bible story with The Polar Express, my favorite contemporary Christmas tale. I always got teary-eyed, reading that. I still do.
As for books I give — well, always I give books. Usually the three best new histories of the year, in hardcover, for my father. A book on physics or music for my brother. A visual book or two for my husband. To my brother-in-law, always, my favorite read of that year. For friends, whatever I know they will love. I’m wrong about a lot of things in life. But I’m rarely wrong about books.
Kids coming home from tobogganing, cheeks rosy. They shed their jackets and boots, leaving a small pile of snow on the rubber mat, and then settle down to hot chocolate and their holiday books. We celebrate Hanukah at home and Christmas with my mother-in-law at her house. She loves books and there is always a big pile to explore. That tradition continues with my own family. Books make great gifts for my daughters. One of my girls is collecting the Diary of a Wimpy Kid, series by Jeff Kinney, and the other has a complete set of The Complete Anne of Green Gables Boxed Set and the sequels by L.M. Montgomery. My favourite thank you for friends, neighbours or teachers is a gift certificate to my local bookstore or, if someone is at a distance, an online bookstore. Last year I had a new Kobo and was infatuated with ebooks but the romance is over. I’m looking forward to acquiring my own pile of paper books this year! Ultimately, though, nothing says holiday season like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which is annually read aloud by the steadfast broadcasters of CBC, Canada’s pre-eminent radio station.
Rebecca Rasmussen, whose 2011 novel The Bird Sisters: A Novel was named the Ladies Home Journal Book Club Pick, as well chosen to be included in the Target Emerging Authors series, says this about her holiday bookish traditions:
“My favorite book to give as a gift has to be Gilead: A Novelby Marilynne Robinson. Even though it is fiction, this book has taught me so many important life lessons that I feel obligated to return the favor. I buy at least a handful of copies a year and they all end up disappearing. I might just be Robinson’s #1 fan (in the good sense, not the creepy stalker-like one!). The other book I find myself re-reading all the time is Little Women because my mother read it to me as a girl and now we’re living on opposite coasts–boo!–and reading it makes me feel closer to her and my childhood again. A good dose of Jo March always cheers me up.”
Books and reading are appropriate gifts for any tradition, sacred or secular. I hope all these holiday reading traditions inspire you to create some bookish traditions for your holiday celebration this winter, no matter which holiday you might be celebrating.
Your turn now: What bookish traditions do you have in your life? What are some you might like to institute this year?