I had many wintertime traditions with my family while growing up, like annual ski trips, epic board game face-offs, and watching the original Star Wars trilogy on the USA Network. But overall, winter break has always been a fairly low key time of year, since I’m not Christian and we never celebrated Christmas. I’ve always been cool with that, because Christmas traditions have always seemed like a lot of pressure to me. Primarily buying all those presents. All. Those. Presents. I do love winter time though, with the inundation of hot apple cider and hot chocolate, the frosty bite in the air, and obviously tucking oneself away in a cozy blanket with a book.
But I have been thinking about establishing my own traditions for the holiday season now. Why not some bookish ones? So I’ve come up with 13 fun ways to spend the holidays if you don’t plan on spending them with a Christmas tree, a hoard of gifts, endless Christmas carols, and nibbling on your kid’s eagerly placed plate of cookies and milk. These don’t all have to become annual rituals, but it’s nice to have some bookish activities to fall back on.
For the Individual Who Likes to Be on the Move
- Pack your tote bags and take a trip to a little piece of heaven on Earth—a bookshop in Scotland that you can live in: The Open Book in Wigtown, Scotland, is a quaint and inviting book shop. It’s also listed on Airbnb. Yup, you can actually rent out the bookshop and crack open your dream of living in a bookstore. Unfortunately, it also seems to be booked for the foreseeable future. I may have tried finding some open time, but it looks like it might not be available for a few years. Perhaps a visit to Scotland’s National Booktown (as Wigtown is known) is worth a trip on its own anyway.
- Go to Paris and become a tumbleweed at Shakespeare and Company: if Wigtown isn’t working out, you can stumble in to the iconic Parisian bookstore and ask if they have space for a writer to take up residence for a few days or a few weeks. The bookshop has for decades supported traveling writers, in exchange for a few hours of volunteering in the shop and a dedicated output of writing a day. There’s no planning ahead though—you have to drop in and just hope they have space for another “tumbleweed.”
- Visit a Book Lover town near you: There are plenty of book-loving towns around here as well. You can sojourn in the bigger and well-known hot spots like Portland, Austin, or Charlottesville, Virginia, with their ample book stores, historic author locations, museums, and the like. Or you can venture into the smaller little book towns that exist, it would seem, primarily to only celebrate book culture. Check out Book Towns: Forty Five Paradises of the Printed Word by Alex Johnson to get more insight and then see if there’s one close enough to you.
- Settle in with a book, chai, and a notebook in a literary cafe: What’s more iconic than a reader or writer hunkering down in a cafe to get their mighty reading/writing on? Consider finding a cafe that has been the haunt of acclaimed writers of old (like beat hangouts Cafe Trieste in San Francisco or Cafe Reggio in New York). Or, search out a literary salon and cafe that supports the ongoing creative work of artists now (I’m planning out time to spend in the Literary Octopus in Oakland).
- Book a stay in a literary hotel: Even if just for an overnight stay, check out many of the book-loving hotels across the states. Some have lending libraries, others massive stately book rooms, and you might even encounter a book butler to deliver your nightly read to you. Maybe the entire hotel is themed around the Dewey Decimal System, because why not?
- Volunteer your time and your books: Consider giving your time at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, or anywhere where you can spread some love to those who are in less fortunate situations. And while you’re there, pass along a favorite poem or passage too. Print them out to create pocket-sized pieces of joy to uplift anyone’s mood.
Ways to Celebrate at Home
- Watch some festive book adaptations: There’s no dearth of holiday movies based on books. You can go classic with A Christmas Carol, or totally soppy with something like Bridget Jones’ Diary. Whatever your flavor, you can easily make a tradition out of this, possibly choosing a new adaptation each year.
- Recreate your favorite fictional holiday feasts: Would you like to create a flaming Christmas pudding a la Harry Potter? Do the Turkish delights that tempt Edmund Pevensie sound scrumptious to you? Okay, they always tempt me—sweets are my weakness. But during the holidays, if any of your favorite books about the festive season feature dinner spreads or treats, experience it for yourself. It could be a fun exploit for your whole family, to try something new each year. Maybe a go at a traditional Hanukkah spread from All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah by Sydney Taylor, for example.
- Read beyond your hemisphere’s December: Forget the winter doldrums, and consider reading a book set in December in the southern Hemisphere. Maybe you don’t like the wintry cold and just want to escape. Or your soul is a born traveler and you want to know how the joyful season in general gets translated in other countries.
- Get your hands going with all the bookish crafts: Holiday time doesn’t just mean peppermint lattes and Christmas jingles all day long. It’s also just free time, the perfect time to actually start (or finish) crafty projects do all the crafting. So make it bookish with bookmarks, or bookends, or write that book you always wanted. Or just focus on bookmarks.
- Listen to an audiobook on a holiday morning walk: Get your favorite audiobook ready and go on a hike or walk around your town. New Year’s and Christmas morning hikes have become traditions for my husband and I (and I’ll try to wrangle myself this year with the baby). If I made it a solo excursion, though, I would definitely find the perfect morning mystery or wistful love story to take myself through a scenic walk.
- Rekindle the art of writing with some old-fashioned correspondence: Just because you don’t celebrate the specific holidays of this holiday season doesn’t mean you don’t want to connect with your loved ones. And what sweeter way than to pen your thoughts via card, letter, a short note, maybe a cheery poem? A few moments of repose—a great possibility during the holidays—can be all you need to write a few words to your friends.
- When in doubt, read, read, read: If nothing else pans out for you, you can always make a point of grabbing the newest mystery or favorite poetry collection. That cozy corner of the sofa is just waiting for you, your blanket, and a cup of hot chocolate. Try making it a point of always reading on Christmas morning. Or, just somehow make the activity your own. What’s a better gift than that?