This morning when I woke up, the cold weather and combined wind-chill meant it was -26 degrees Celsius outside (about -15 Fahrenheit). I wanted nothing more than to snuggle back into the blankets, maybe with a cup of coffee and a good book. Unfortunately I couldn’t, because it’s Monday and that means back to the ol’ day job. However, there is one good thing about the cold days and dark evenings this time of year has to offer – perfect atmosphere for reading. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of holiday-friendly books and accompanying snacks.
A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
One line summary: Avaricious and just plain ornery Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three spirits and forced to confront key moments of his life, leading to an epiphany.
Sure, it’s probably the most obvious title to add to this list, but I feel compelled to because I must confess I haven’t read it yet. I have only watched various film interpretations. My favourite is the one with Alastair Sim from 1951 because of the hilarious way he leaps around with joy at the end. (While I’m making confessions I might as well admit that I’m not actually a big fan of Dickens…please don’t throw things at me).
Pair with: Mrs. Cratchit apparently makes a phenomenal plum pudding – bonus points if you are reading the Christmas feast scene of the book while eating it. (Alternate could be roast goose). If you’re more inclined to drink, why not try Bob Cratchit’s “hot stuff from the jug”? Research tells me this is hot gin with lemons, but I think that sounds terrible, so let’s latch onto the key element of this drink, which is clearly the jug. Put whatever you want into a jug. If you’re being civilized, pour out into cups for your friends or family, and then read A Christmas Carol aloud to them. (Helps if they are willing audience members). Otherwise, lean back in a rocking chair and keep the jug all to yourself.
The Polar Express – Christopher Allsburg
One line summary: a young boy takes a magical train to the North Pole where Santa will offer the first gift of Christmas.
This children’s book really captures the feeling of anticipation and joy of Christmas, as well as the magic of a childhood imagination, and is an uplifting read even if you’re an adult or don’t personally celebrate Christmas. It’s also ideal if you are short on time, and the beautiful illustrations will be soothing after a long day.
Pair with: Hot chocolate, ideally as decadent as possible. Use a powdered mix if you must, but my festive hot chocolate indulgent goes as follows: per person, 1 cup milk, about 1-2 tbsp chocolate chips, 1 tsp sugar, cinnamon stick. Assemble ingredients into a pot and gently heat until chocolate is melted. Fish out the cinnamon stick (this is the only ingredient you won’t need to double if making for more than one serving) and pour into fancy cups. (Hm, I think I channeled Nigella Lawson in this recipe description).
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
One line summary: the story of four sisters growing up during the American Civil war.
While not strictly a holiday book, it’s heartwarming enough to cheer up the coldest winter night. First published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, it’s a family-friendly story (depicting values such as generosity, kindness of spirit etc), possibly a little dated now, but that’s part of its quaint charm. I first read it when I was about ten, which I think is a pretty common age for discovering this book.
Pair with: Tea. I cannot recommend anything stronger, because it would conflict with the wholesomeness of this story. Brew up a pot of black tea with a little sugar and milk, or peppermint and honey if you prefer something more herbal. I think the added dose of sweetness is a necessity for either option with this pair.
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas – Agatha Christie
One line summary: a Christmas reunion turns ugly after a bloody murder occurs in a locked room, and diamonds are stolen. It’s a case for Hercule Poirot!
If you’d rather have something a little more gritty for your holiday reading, this still fits the bill because it takes place at Christmas. This book isn’t overly long either, and thus ideal for catching up on your reading between holiday obligations of visiting people you hardly see the rest of the year, or decorating, baking etc.
Pair with: Crème de cassis. You have to, it’s Hercule Poirot’s favourite drink, and he is most particular. It’s a sweet liqueur made from blackcurrants, and since it’s not extremely popular, selecting it as a drink option will give you an air of mystery. If you can’t bring yourself to try it (or procure a small sample) try black coffee instead. But for God’s sake, make sure it is not served out of a gaudy cup. Poirot can’t stand things without clean and geometric aesthetic appeal.
Christmas in Paris – Anita Hughes
One line summary: a woman who recently called off her wedding spends Christmas in Paris, and the combined magic of the city and the season sends her on a journey of self-discovery.
This book will whisk you away to all the glamour and romance and delicious food of Paris. It’s the perfect antidote to a case of the winter blahs. Pick it up after you’ve just shoveled your sidewalk or scraped your car windshield for the fourth time in one day, and first make yourself a little nest with pillows and blankets to read in. This is also a good choice if all your friends have just completed an annual watch of Love Actually, and you experience a yearning for a heartwarming, cosmopolitan, grown-up kind of Christmas story, but you find all the characters in that movie to be insufferable (not that this is biographical or anything…). Christmas in Paris is far, far more pleasant.
Pair with: Champagne. Wear something comfortable and glamorous, like silk pajamas or a fluffy robe and let the champagne bubbles fizz you into an airy feeling of confidence. If you prefer something non-alcoholic, try espresso and a little plate of dainty macarons.
The Mitten – Jan Brett
One line summary: A young boy drops his mitten in the snow, and animals ranging in size from a mouse to a brown bear try to crawl inside for warmth. (It sounds weird in a one line summary, but it’s good, I promise!)
A retelling of a Ukrainian folktale, The Mitten will make you smile with its funny ending and the beautiful drawings. It’s a children’s story, but I think adults will enjoy reading it to the little ones as well, and shows the value of sharing, as well as a lesson in cause and effect.
Pair with: Well, it depends. Are you reading along with kids? Honestly vodka is a match for this, but a more restrained option might be kvass, a non-alcoholic fermented beverage that can be flavoured with anything from strawberries to mint. There are plenty of recipes online, too – turn this into a lesson on sharing and kvass brewing!
The Crystal Cave – Mary Stewart
One line summary: Merlin comes to terms with his power of the Sight and prepares for the coming of King Arthur. (It’s a trilogy, this is the first).
This is my personal Christmas re-read. I think everyone has one, whether it’s Harry Potter (all of them are good for the holidays, I think Christmas happens in every one and it’s always quite festive) or Lord of the Rings (not Christmas, exactly, but the epic quest and division of good vs evil feels fitting for the holidays). Arthur is born right around Christmas, but that’s really the only thing to link this book to that time of year.
Pair with: Red wine. People are always drinking wine in this book, and there’s a part where Merlin has been on the road for a long time, and when he finally gets to meet with Uther his ‘throat contracts longingly’ at the sight of mulled wine. I always remember that when I really feel like I could go for a glass of wine. Your alternate option is well water, but make sure you sprinkle a few drops for Myrddin before swigging it down, or else Merlin would heartily disapprove of you.
All Creatures Great and Small – James Herriot
One line summary: The adventures of a Yorkshire country veterinary before and after WWII.
I listed the first one here, but there are several James Herriot books and they are all equally delightful. Heartwarming and witty, it’s really easy to pick up one of his books and jump in anywhere. Most stories are anecdotal, which means you can read one while waiting for cookies to come out of the oven or the tea to steep.
Pair with: Whiskey, neat, and cheese, preferably something sharp. You’ll be surprised at the way the whiskey will draw out a creamy sweetness in the cheese. I can’t remember exactly which James Herriot book it happens in, but I’m fairly certain he has this exact snack with an old farmer after a grueling day of saving animals’ lives. Fruitcake will also be a nice addition, and of course, tea can always be substituted. Make sure it’s strong and splashed with fresh milk. This pairing is even better if you have a dog lying near your feet while reading/snacking.
Have a festive reading suggestion of your own? Please share it in the comments!