“Tradition. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as ….as a fiddler on the roof!”
Tevye, Fiddler on The Roof.
Holiday traditions have been an important component of human societies since the dawn of time. They are about creating unity and gathering people together, providing us with a sense of comfort and coziness.
My favourite tradition was my parents’ long-established, formal Christmas dinner, a celebration that was always over the top.
It was a lavish affair and not unusual to have the table set for thirty. Men were expected to adhere to the black tie dress code. For women, cocktail dresses were accepted, but floor-length gowns were rewarded with applause.
Champagne cocktails would kick off the evening’s festivities, while waiters circulated with a selection of hors d’oeuvres, caviar pie, and foie gras being perennial favourites.
It was never enough just to have a Christmas turkey overflowing with (my personal favourite) Grand Marnier stuffing as the main course. There had to be another big production – a garlic roast leg of lamb or a black pepper-crusted standing rib roast. I will never forget the “year of the whole roasted suckling pig”.
Sixty-five nutcrackers came out of storage and became an integral part of the décor. Tree trimming was never a DIY project. An A-list designer was always in charge.
The holiday table would enchant the eye with layers and layers and layers of the best silver, linen, crystal, and china; vintage cranberry glass bud vases with a statement bloom were artfully placed among the whimsical Royal Crown Darby animal figurines.
However, the joy of joys amongst all this splendor was the “simplest” gift of a book that graced each place setting. But not just any book. My father dedicated hours to finding the perfect choice for each guest. His inscription was as precious as the selection showing his intimate understanding of each of us, making his gift a deeply personal experience.
Books have long been “the perfect gift.” As far back as the early 19th century, being quite expensive, they were considered a luxury item.
The New York Times has recommended holiday books to its readers since its first year in publication; the top picks for 1851 included a “gorgeously attractive” collection of Shakespeare’s greatest works and an “exceedingly handsome” volume of Aesop’s Fables.
It meant so much to get a book from my father. You knew any gift from him would be a thoughtful one. But with a book and the personal inscription, you knew he had carefully considered what had transpired in your life that year, and it would not only be meaningful but would be read with pleasure.
Over the years, these gifts have taken an honoured place amongst the treasures of my bookshelves. Some I might not have read immediately, but I know they are there to be savoured at the right time. And today, some years after he passed, they hold the memories of those enchanted evenings.
Thinking of matching a book with a reader? Here are a few of my “best book recommendation” sources:
And for the children in your life:
"I think books are like people, in the sense that they’ll turn up in your life when you most need them." – Emma Thompson