I haven’t put the Christmas Tree up yet this year, but when I do there’s always a wonderfully quiet moment when I feel a sense of calm and well-being settle over me. Somehow, no matter how I’ve felt beforehand, that time when the tree lights are lit, the candles are on and I’ve got a glass of Bailey’s in hand is the moment when I settle into the Christmas season. There’s something about a cosy living room with a lit Christmas tree that brings a little bit of magic into the home. Our spirits lift and even the barest room looks that little bit more welcoming. My tree has so many different decorations on it and each one represents somewhere or someone that’s important to me. My woodland decorations represent my growing up in the country. My Liverpool skyline baubles represent my Mum’s home town. I have beautiful Polish glass baubles inherited from my Polish in-laws or bought for me by my late husband. Last year my stepdaughters each added a bit of their own personality to the tree, so we now have glamorous cheetahs wearing crowns and some very quirky llamas.
Of course you’ll want to know about my bookish baubles: they are white rabbits with playing cards, silver Moomin houses, and glass baubles with lines from Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights inside, and finally clocks to represent The Night Circus. I know most of us bookish people like to give and receive bookish gifts and I know a lot of book bloggers do their Christmas round-ups or best books lists around now. I wanted to do something a little different and with my therapist head on I thought I’d create a list of books to support and promote wellbeing at this time of year. It’s been a hard year and we’re not quite out of the woods yet. For my part, due to my MS and other health difficulties, I have been mostly shielding at home and I haven’t really adjusted to the changes very well. We’ve had to cancel our wedding. Twice. Cancelled two holidays. Got through my Dad’s very scary Triple ‘A’ surgery. Now we’re going through a stressful house move that’s going to carry over into 2021, but needs to be complete before the stamp duty holiday ends! So how do we look after ourselves through this time? Especially bearing in mind that most of our time will be spent at home. I’ve put together a list of gift books that you might want to buy yourself, or someone special this Christmas.
1. The Light in the Dark by Horatio Clare
Publisher: Elliot and Thompson ISBN: 978-1783964048
As November stubs out the glow of autumn and the days tighten into shorter hours, winter’s occupation begins. Preparing for winter has its own rhythms, as old as our exchanges with the land. Of all the seasons, it draws us together. But winter can be tough.
It is a time of introspection, of looking inwards. Seasonal sadness; winter blues; depression – such feelings are widespread in the darker months. But by looking outwards, by being in and observing nature, we can appreciate its rhythms and finds consolation. In this moving and lyrical evocation of a British winter and the feelings it inspires, Horatio Clare raises a torch against the darkness, illuminating the blackest corners of the season, and delving into memory and myth to explore the powerful hold that winter has on us. By learning to see, we can find the magic, the light that burns bright at the heart of winter: spring will come again.
2. Create Your Life Book by Tamara Laporte
Publisher: Quarry Books ISBN: 978-1631593536
This is a gorgeous book for any teenage girl or artist in your life.
Inspired by Tamara Laporte’s art classes, Create Your Life Bookpresents 18 step-by-step projects that help you explore and work through issues surrounding creative fulfillment. Based on much-loved mixed-media artist Tamara Laporte’s popular, multi-year series of online classes, Create Your Life Book offers mixed-media drawing and painting projects that can raise your awareness of and help you work through personal challenges and other obstacles to creating art and achieving self-fulfillment. There are themed chapters that target issues hampering creativity, then an art project that helps you work through it. With a year like this I know a lot of people have struggled to create. I use a lot of mixed media projects when I’m doing mental health workshops and it’s amazing how much they unlock feelings and lift the spirits.
3. Within These Four Walls by Mindfully Evie.
Publisher: Independently Published. ISBN: 978-1083191748
Mindfully Evie started as a blog, that grew from Evie’s experience with chronic illness (Lyme Disease and M.E). I work a lot with people who have chronic illness and disability, and this year has been especially difficult. Many are having to shelter due to being immune-compromised, and it can be really boring and lonely. I didn’t leave the house for four months earlier this year. People like me have a lot of skills and wisdom to share about how to cope with being at home, how to create happiness within imposed limitations and finding the joy in everyday life. Every word written in this book was written from within the confines of Evie’s home. Spanning over nearly three years this book is proof that despite being housebound, there is always happiness to be created, peace to be unearthed, and a life to be lived. Written within sections starting with the ‘The Storm’ this follows Evie’s journey when adjusting to her new circumstances. This is a great gift for anyone who has been struggling to be at home, or for the ‘spoonie’ in your life who is finding the pandemic harder than most.
4. The Christmas We Spent Apart by Toni McAree and Stephanie Hope.
Publisher: Independently Published. ISBN: 979-8565251142
This is a lovely gift for those you’re apart from this Christmas, perhaps instead of a Christmas card for those special friends and family. This is a pretty illustrated poem in scrapbook form, it allows you and your family to add personal details like photographs and handprints. It’s a great way to explain the differences this Christmas to your children as they do the activities, and leave as a gift basket or post out to loved ones.
I’ll still set up and reserve your normal space and imagine I’m sitting there seeing your face.
Whenever it’s making me feel really sad, if it’s keeping you safe then I’ll choose to be glad.
It’s made me realise that Christmas is not about things, but the joy of being around the ones you love brings.
The biggest present would be holding you close, it can’t happen this year but it’s what I look forward to most.
5. A Year of Living Simply by Kate Humble.
Publisher: Aster ISBN: 978-1783253425
From my chats with people over the last few months I realise that people are re-evaluating their lives. We’ve done it ourselves. After a year of living in the city with my partner and his daughters, most of it indoors, I realised how much I missed living in the country. My little barn wasn’t big enough for all of us, so I made the move, but I found the city too impersonal. I went days in lockdown not seeing anyone from 7am – 4pm. So we put the house on the market and in the new year we’ll be moving to a cottage in a small village with a shop, post office and pub. We have realised we’d like to live more within a community, to live more simply and do without things we don’t truly need.
If there is one thing that most of us aspire to, it is, simply, to be happy. But happiness has become anything but simple. Having stuff – The Latest, The Newest, The Best Yet – is peddled as the sure fire route to happiness. So why then, in our consumer-driven society, is depression, stress and anxiety ever more common, affecting every strata of society and every age, even, worryingly, the very young? Why is it, when we have so much, that many of us still feel we are missing something and the rush of pleasure when we buy something new turns so quickly into a feeling of emptiness, or purposelessness, or guilt? So what is the route to real, deep, long lasting happiness? Could it be that our lives have just become overly crowded, that we’ve lost sight of the things – the simple things – that give a sense of achievement, a feeling of joy or excitement? That make us happy. Kate Humble’s exploration of a stripped-back approach to life is uplifting, engaging and inspiring – and will help us all find balance and happiness every day.
6. The Snow Song by Sally Gardner.
Publisher: HQ. ISBN: 978-0008217402
Sally Gardner’s beautiful book is the perfect gift this Christmas because, not only does it look gorgeous, but it is a story filled with love and magic. This Christmas, maybe more than most, we need to escape and this will take the reader into a spellbinding world. Gardner has imagined a world perched on a mountain, covered in ancient forests. Within this is a village, rife with secrets and cut off from the outside world. This village is run by the elders, men to whom tradition is all. Edith lives alone with her alcoholic father who is forcing her to marry the village butcher. But she is in love with a shepherd who promised to return to her. When the shepherd left the village, Edith’s father makes her promise that if he doesn’t return before the first snow, she will marry the butcher. When he doesn’t return, Edith’s hair turns white as snow and she loses her speech. Soon the village becomes isolated in a sea of snow and this enchantment that will have far-reaching consequences, not only for Edith but for the whole village. One by one the women of the village try to overcome their oppression and help Edith in her plight. Despite the terrible treatment from her father and her lack of voice, Edith has a silent strength which is inspiring to the other women and to me. Even though we see the worst of human greed and abuses of power, this book is beautiful and always has an underlying hope. Buy it for anyone who loves a fairytale, stunning artwork and needs to know there is always a light in the darkness.
7. Hopes Edited by Katherine Rundell.
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books. ISBN: 978-1526629883
When life is hard what we need more than anything is hope: that things will be okay; that we will cope; that there is a way through to the other side of this slump. Children need this just as much as we do. This is a lovely gift book for the children in your life and every sale raises money for the NHS Charities Together. Editor and author Katherine Rundell emailed children’s authors and artists she liked best and asked them to contribute a short piece for the book, something that would raise curiosity, a sense of possibility or simply a snigger or smile. Within its pages you’ll find animal friends from insects to elephants, high-flying grandmas, a homesick sprite, the tooth fairy, and even extra-terrestrial life.
There are 133 contributions from authors and illustrators, including Anthony Horowitz, Axel Scheffler, Catherine Johnson, Jacqueline Wilson, Katherine Rundell, Lauren Child, Michael Morpurgo and Onjali Q. Raúf. Between them they have created a wonderful anthology that’s great to dip into when low, or just to pass the time on long days at home. It might even provide inspiration for your own family creations.
8. Away With The Penguins by Hazel Prior.
Publisher: Black Swan. ISBN: 978-1784164249
When I read my fellow bloggers reviews of this book, the word I kept seeing more than any other was ‘uplifting’. Veronica McCreedy lives in a mansion by the sea. She loves a nice cup of Darjeeling tea whilst watching a good wildlife documentary. And she’s never seen without her ruby-red lipstick.Although these days Veronica is rarely seen by anyone because, at 85, her days are spent mostly at home, alone. She can be found either collecting litter from the beach (‘people who litter the countryside should be shot’), trying to locate her glasses (‘someone must have moved them’) or shouting instructions to her assistant, Eileen (‘Eileen, door!’). Veronica doesn’t have family or friends nearby. Not that she knows about, anyway . . . And she has no idea where she’s going to leave her considerable wealth when she dies. Then a grandson is unearthed, but Veronica is underwhelmed by Patrick, whose life has fallen apart somewhat.
Inspired by her love of wildlife documentaries, she decides she wants to visit Locket Island and help out with the research team helping the Adelie Penguins. The team try to dissuade her but she won’t take no for an answer and offers them funding, but wants three weeks accommodation at the research station. Here she starts a blog on her adventures, making connections with new people and rescues a baby penguin, Pip. The experiences start to open her up and we start to learn about her wartime past. A diary she wrote about her experiences brings her and Patrick closer too, as he learns that she was once full of youth, vitality and dreams for her future. Then the death of her parents, the loss of a baby and finally marriage to a man who is forever unfaithful have gradually dulled her sparkle and trust in others. We start to see cracks in her harsh facade and learn that even people who seem set in their ways can change. Veronica will always be a force of nature, but in this quirky and uplifting book we realise she can learn to soften, and form new relationships. Simply gorgeous and unashamedly sentimental.
9. The Unwinding by Jackie Morris.
Publisher: Unbound. ISBN: 978-1784164249
I absolutely love Jackie Morris’s artwork and her book The Lost Spells is one of this year’s Christmas picks with most booksellers. This is an earlier book, but I’ve chosen it because I think the illustrations are magical and it fulfils that need for quiet contemplation. When we are assailed by so much information, change and constant news updates our brain becomes completely overloaded. If we are introverted it can be very hard to cope with the sheer amount of noise the world produces. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has reduced their intake of news over the year, but I’ve also removed news alerts from our tablets and phones, kept my social media politics free where possible and turned off alarms and alerts for all my accounts. This may seem extreme, but it leaves me in control of when I dip my toe into reality and gives me space to be quiet, separate, happy and creative. I believe constant media alerts make us anxious and ramp up our sense that everything in the world is a disaster. However, if we keep updated here and there, but then focus on our own lives, families, friends and homes there is so much to be grateful for and happy about. Between its illustrations there are brief but lyrical words intended to make us curious, inspire us and create a space for our minds to wonder and unwind. Kept as a companion by the bedside, it’s a beautiful book to settle with at night, to flick through and quiet the mind. There is a companion book The Silent Unwinding that provides space for your own thoughts and feelings.
10. A Poem For Every Winter Day Edited by Allie Asiri
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books. ISBN: 978-1529045253
Sometimes, the only thing that will settle and relax me is poetry. There are times due to my MS and chronic pain that I find concentration difficult, so following a narrative or tackling a weighty novel just won’t work. I can always find consolation in a poem and their meaning unfurls beautifully when they’re read slowly. This volume of poetry takes us into winter, through Christmas and New Year all the way through to Valentine’s Day. It includes poems by Edgar Allen Poe, Thomas Hardy, Jackie Kay, Mary Oliver and Benjamin Zephaniah. Winter can feel endless, especially if you struggle with the lack of light and feel low at this time of year. This book highlights the parts of winter we can look forward to: the magic of frosty weather, the build-up to Christmas, the promise of a new year and the cosy warmth of our homes and families. It shows there are things to be grateful for and look forward to in this darker season. It’s great to dip in and out of and with its range of writers it should have someone for everyone.
I hope that’s given you some ideas to lift your own spirits this winter and gift inspiration for the people you love, especially this year when Christmas is going to be very different and we all need some support. There will be something here to fit anyone and I hope the suggestions help you support yourself and your loved ones this Christmas. 🎄🎉❄️