The holiday season means pretty lights, menorahs, kente cloths, and lots of feel-good movies about the magic of the holiday spirit. But it also means hectic travelling, stressful shopping, and family drama. Every year we manage to survive the holiday season’s odd mixture of warm fuzzy feelings and dear-god-I-can’t-wait-for-this-to-be-over moments. Between commercialism sapping the meaning out of the joy of giving and the inevitable drama that comes with putting a bunch of people with the same genes in a room together, we could all use a reminder or two about what the holidays are supposed to mean.
Of course, books are a great place to find a few words of wisdom about family, giving, new beginnings, and, yes, even food. And, you know, writers, the keen observers of the world, aren’t just going to let you off the hook with a couple of cheesy clichés. (There are plenty of feel-good guilty pleasure holiday-themed movies you can watch if that’s what you’re looking for.) Nope, these words of wisdom from books account for all the silly, messy, ridiculousness that comes along with the chaotic season of crowded airports, fridges exploding with Tupperware, and coping with your parents’ annual amnesia that you’re not actually 10 years old anymore.
1. “For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas.”
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
OK, so you’re all grown up now, with a big fancy job, your own apartment, and a gym membership or whatever, we get it… and I’m sure your parents get it, too. But it’s the holidays, let loose a little. No one’s gonna judge you for making the leaning tower of pies out of the leftovers. Besides, how often do you get to wear footie pajamas and rip open your presents like the feral 10-year-old you once were?
2. “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Trust in Thorin Oakenshield. Like him, we could all learn a thing or two from the Hobbits. Sure, it’s great that you have that awesome new job, but would it really be the worst thing in the world if you forego the overtime pay to take a couple days to remember the important things in life? You know, like pumpkin pie and cheesy songs?
3. “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own
Delivery pizza ain’t gonna cut it. Fifty percent of the warm fuzzies depends on a pot of mulled wine and a good sweet potato pie. Good food (and let's be real, Woolf was clearly not leaving out the wine part of the dining) makes everything more agreeable.
4. “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
― Khalil Gibran, The Prophet
I wouldn’t go quoting this one if you wrap a bow around yourself and tell everyone you are what you got them for the holidays, but a lean toward gifts that you can enjoy together with your family wouldn’t be such a bad thing, ya?
5. “Christmas it seems to me is a necessary festival; we require a season when we can regret all the flaws in our human relationships: it is the feast of failure, sad but consoling.”
― Graham Greene, Travels With My Aunt
If all the propaganda of happy families smiling around perfectly decorated hearths makes you wonder at the messed up, melodramatic, deeply flawed nature of your own holiday gatherings, just remember, every family is at least a little messed up. We are humans after all, and putting any number of humans in a room together usually means a lot more awkwardness and restraint than pure joy and harmony. Doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy it.
6. “Presents are made for the pleasure of who gives them, not the merits of who receives them.”
― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind
Remember, gift giving is supposed to feel good. Make sure you’re giving the kind of gift that will make you as happy to give it as it will make them to receive it. That’s how you know it’s meaningful.
7. “Hey, great idea: if you have kids, give your partner reading vouchers next Christmas. Each voucher entitles the bearer to two hours' reading time *while the kids are awake*. It might look like a cheapskate present, but parents will appreciate that it costs more in real terms than a Lamborghini.”
― Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
Gifts are hard, but if you take a second to think about the non-material things that someone might appreciate — a night off from parenting, someone else cleaning the house for once, a whole day of sleeping — you could very well give them the best gift they’ve ever gotten without spending a dime.
8. “Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.”
― William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Sorry, but buying your parents a big screen TV doesn’t actually make up for forgetting both of their birthdays and not calling them for a whole year.
9. “One can never have enough socks," said Dumbledore. "Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn't get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Look, sometimes you just really need some socks. Maybe when we were kids all those practical gifts were torture, but sometimes, it’s the best thing you can do to buy your sister a nice ladle after you notice her trying to serve soup with a tea cup rigged to a pair of salad tongs. Sometimes the useful gift is the better gift.
10. “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations.”
― Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance
Don’t skimp on the food. Put a little TLC into those candied yams and your grudge-holding aunt might just forget about how you got drunk and told your niece there was no Santa Claus last year.
11. “One day you will do things for me that you hate. That is what it means to be family.”
― Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated
It’s not very likely that you’ll be singing kumbaya with your estranged stepmother no matter how warm fuzzy the menorah makes you feel. But hey, maybe, just taking a helping of her famously bad latkes is a good start.
12. “Later, when you're grown up, you realize you never really get to hang out with your family. You pretty much have only eighteen years to spend with them full time, and that's it.”
― Mindy Kaling, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
It’s easy to dread the week you have to spend in your childhood room as your mother starts slyly recruiting you into household chores, but when the week is over, you just might find yourself waxing nostalgic for the days of living with the family. So, maybe just enjoy it and lend a hand with the laundry.
13. “I can't help detesting my relations. I suppose it comes from the fact that none of us can stand other people having the same faults as ourselves.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
For the first decade or two of your life, you saw them everyday, ate with them, played with them, yelled at them, and absorbed all their flaws and bad habits. They’re your family, which means you probably can’t help it that you’re a little (or a lot) like them. So, before you go complaining about your dad’s annoying sarcasm, you might want to reevaluate your own habits...
14. “And now let us believe in a long year that is given to us, new, untouched, full of things that have never been, full of work that has never been done, full of tasks, claims, and demands; and let us see that we learn to take it without letting fall too much of what it has to bestow upon those who demand of it necessary, serious, and great things.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke, 1892-1910
Come New Year's Day, the resolutions and hopes for new changes will start rolling in. It’s all well and good to resolve to get to the gym three days a week, but don’t be afraid of making the bigger, scarier goals. Go ahead and dream big. Resolve to finish that novel, or pay off your house, or go back to school. You gotta start sometime.
Images: terren in Virginia/Flickr; Giphy (14)