A Literary Guide to Keeping the Holiday Spirit Alive

February, 2022
Una V., Blog Correspondent
Una V. (she/her) is a proud Vic student who thinks that both Taylor Swift and Anton Chekhov are the best things to have happened to society. Ever. In between her lectures you'll find her speed-walking across Queen's Park, retreating to the (relative) safety of Graham Library, where she pretends to do readings while blasting UK rap.

With the holidays come and gone, a new semester underway, and a fresh lockdown, I found myself in a bit of a slump. It was too early to dream of spring flowers, yet too late for any more gingerbread or mistletoe— January, for me, felt weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable.

While I appreciate that the holidays allow me to spend more time with my family, what I really loved about this break was how much time I got to spend alone. I re-read some old favourites of mine, watched early 2000s rom coms, and listened to the music I grew up with. I wondered, “Why, oh why, does this have to end?” Now, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t! You can still cling to the holiday spirit long past the season’s end. I had a great deal of fun coming up with the following book-drink-music combinations, and I hope you all find at least one aspect of these recommendations that speaks to you.

Charles Dickens, a hot toddy, and smooth jazz.

My sister agrees with me that nothing screams Christmas like Dickens.  Whether you’re already a lover of A Christmas Carol or a complete Dickens-novice, consider taking on another one of his novels this semester. My personal favourite would be Great Expectations: whimsical, enchanting, heartwarming, and spellbinding are a few words that come to mind when I think of this coming-of-age tale.

Let yourself be transported to eerie Miss Havisham’s home, where time stands still (both metaphorically and literally—the clocks are all stopped), and meet her charming, wicked ward Stella. Watch Pip grow from a poor youth with no prospects to the heir of a handsome fortune, and marvel at how he navigates his newfound station, along with the secret of his anonymous benefactor. Great Expectations has always read like a fairytale to me. It combines all those sweet, curious moments of childhood with that transformative growth adolescents undergo once they realize that they, alone, have agency over their own fates.

I can’t help but feel instinctively like a hot toddy would pair well alongside this book. There are loads of recipes online, but all you need is hot water, whisky, honey, and lemon. A great non-alcoholic alternative would be apple cider or some spicy sort of tea! As for music, Spotify’s Late Night Piano Jazz is a personal favourite of mine for cozy, evening reading sessions.

Louisa May Alcott, hot chocolate, and Chopin.

 Little Women remains a cult classic 150 years after its publication. I read it nearly every December and tear up at the end of each chapter, despite my knowing the tale inside out.

 Playful, heart wrenching, hilarious, and profound, Little Women truly has something for everyone. The novel begins and ends with Christmas, so it’s perfect if you’re feeling nostalgic for the winter holidays! Laugh as Jo dances with Laurie, beam as Marmie delivers baked goods to her neighbours, cry when—well, no matter how famous the book is, I’ve never been one for spoilers! You will cry, and it will hurt, but it will be oh-so worth it.

 Although I rarely listen to music while reading, I’d make an exception for this one. My love of Chopin has remained consistent since my piano-playing days, and I don’t expect it to go anywhere anytime soon. Nocturne no. 2 in E-Flat Major has got to be one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever created. I’m sure Beth March would agree! 

 If you’re feeling overwhelmed by readings and don’t have the heart to take on a novel at present, please, for my sake, give the movie a go! I love Greta Gerwig’s 2020 version of Little Women, but the 90s film is great too. Get your roommates or family members together, make some hot chocolate, and enjoy! I promise it will be worth your while.

George Eliot, tea, and rain. 

Just typing that heading makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. If you aren’t familiar with George Eliot, she was an English Victorian novelist who wrote under a male pseudonym. Her work largely deals with themes of religion and spirituality, the bliss of childhood, a profound admiration for the natural world, as well as troubled romantic relationships.

 I have loved few books as much as I worship The Mill on the Floss. It follows the life of Maggie Tulliver, beginning with her idyllic childhood as the daughter of a miller in an English village. Eliot expertly weaves her religiosity into stunning descriptions of the natural world. You’ll find yourself transported to the luscious fields where a little Maggie plays. You’ll look upon this heroine’s home with a wistful fondness as you observe Maggie move beyond the boundaries of her small sphere through her pursuit of both love and independence.

 A cup of tea is a perfect match for Eliot: something fruity or floral, in keeping with the luscious scenery her novels always depict. As for music, there is none worthy of her. For Eliot, all that is needed is the sound of rain.

Stuart McLean, coffee, and The Beatles.

Reading Canadian-born Stuart McLean’s short stories is like sitting down to a holiday feast with your family, having the turkey come out all wrong, narrowly avoiding a wine-spilling catastrophe, but feeling as though the meal were even more special for these familiar, quirky imperfections. McLean’s Vinyl Cafe stories center around one Toronto-based family. Getting to know Sam, Stephanie, Dave, and Morley has been a great joy for me over the past couple of years.

Last Christmas I got my sister a copy of Christmas at the Vinyl Cafe— she loved it! I love listening to McLean read his own stories aloud on Spotify. In the fall, I would listen to him every morning during my commute to class. As I write this, I find that I miss starting my own days off with McLean… looks like I’ll have to make him a permanent part of my morning ritual!

While McLean’s got loads of holiday-themed stories, any story that focuses on Stephanie will be deeply relatable for university students. She fuels herself on Jell-O and Kraft Dinner, sugar-high-induced study sessions, and frequent visits home. Stephanie’s Statistics Exam is a great place to start.

For McLean, there’s nothing like a piping cup of coffee. One of the Vinyl Cafe’s protagonists, Dave, drinks it all the time; he never fails to induce a caffeine craving in me, and I find myself itching for a sugary latte as I read (or listen to) McLean.

I chose The Beatles as my music pairing for two reasons: one, because Dave owns a record store and is a huge rock and roll fan, and two, because The Beatles always make me think of my dad humming around the living room. I was raised on The Beatles’ music; like the Vinyl Cafe series, their album Please Please Me never fails to make me smile.

Moving forward…

Of course, these pairings are only suggestions—mere starting points for your own maintaining-the-holiday-spirit journey. Read, drink, and listen to things that make you happy, every single day, regardless of school, work, and those deadlines that take up so much of our time and energy. It’s so easy to say that we don’t have time for the things we love, but it takes no more than five minutes to boil some water, listen to a song you enjoy, or read a chapter of a book that excites you. Start with five minutes and see where that takes you. I wish you all good luck with your cozy, wintry pastimes!

Laugh as Jo dances with Laurie, beam as Marmie delivers baked goods to her neighbours, cry when—well, no matter how famous the book is, I’ve never been one for spoilers! You will cry, and it will hurt, but it will be oh-so worth it.

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