Holiday treats for your mind

I hate to admit it, but as the days grow shorter, I reach for the reliable comforts of the holiday season: hot cocoa flavored with a dash of peppermint, the cozy socks, the twinkling lights, the fuzzy blanket to pull over everything. It’s a small guarantee of ease, warmth, and comfort when the outside world feels hostile, cold, or just plain disappointing.

And part of the promise of comfort are stories I know will add to the warm, fuzzy effect. I find Hallmark holiday movies popping up on my ‘recommended for you’ list. I add light-hearted romances to the to-read pile, promising myself that, after the first of the year, I’ll turn back to more challenging books while I labor on the elliptical, trying to huff off the extra pounds that my indulgence has lent me. And more and more often, I like to reread what have become my own personal classics.

There’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, of course. My kids never get tired of it. I like to revisit Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol every now and again; there’s another book that offers another experience each time I come back to it. And my new classic is Jeanette Winterson’s Christmas Days, a compendium of 12 fables–with recipes–that are delicious, haunting, and give me the same tingly feeling of looking out at a fresh snowscape gleaming in the moonlight: a world I once recognized, made mysterious and new. I admit that I haven’t attempted any of the recipes yet, as I keep moving on to the next story, as unable to resist as I am to keep my hands out of the tray of Christmas cookies–more, more, more.

And as for the holiday-themed genre books–I’m start to feel less guilty about that pleasure. Their happy resolution provide a payoff something like Christmas: you can be assured of a few moments of sweetness, comfort, and hope that love and kindness do mean something in the end. There’s that small suspension of time–perhaps not the sacred time of a religious holiday, but the ability to step aside for a time from the rut of busyness and doing and self-recrimination. It’s almost meditative, and certainly soothing, to follow the capers and misunderstandings and mistakes through to a safe resolution. Losses are lessened, errors are repaired, love lost is found and resuscitated.

It can’t be Christmas all the time (or whatever ritual, holiday, or turning point we choose to celebrate) or the meaning would dissipate; for the same reason, we can’t overload on hot cocoa and cookies year-round. But for a while, we can burrow into a kinder, softer, sweeter world. Here are a few of the holiday stories I’m enjoying. See you in the new year!


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