Holiday spirit sweeps the whole world

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL January 28, 2024

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Image: Larisa Koshkina from Pixabay

Welcome to This Week, Those Books, your rundown on books new and old that resonate with the week’s big news story.

The few minutes it takes to read this newsletter will make you smarter, faster. If you’d rather listen, click on the audio button above for a human, not AI, voiceover by my close collaborator Michael. These book suggestions come with summary, quotes and a visceral response rating. Even if you don’t read the actual book, you’ll be able to discuss it. I never recommend a book I don’t like and I look through a number every week to find the few I share with you. Please spread the word. And find me on TwitterLinkedInFacebook or YouTube.


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The Big Story:

It’s the holiday season all over the world with one year ending and the other about to be born.

The unique appeal of the Christmas period is that in an always-on world, this is the one time of year it’s possible to switch off because offices, schools and shops almost everywhere are closed, or working reduced hours. Christian or not, the last week of the year has become a global sabbath, meant to be about good food, good fun, gifts, family, friends and downtime.

Some snapshots from around the world:

The Backstory:

  • The earliest recorded new year celebration was Akitu in Babylon, 4,000 years ago. However, the Babylonian new year was not in January but the first new moon of March.
  • Christmas celebrations were developed to supplant much older mid-winter holidays such as the Roman festivals of Saturnalia, starting December 17, and the December 25 festival of the birth of the sun. There are archaeological records of winter solstice events going back thousands of years.
  • The Gregorian calendar, the world’s most widely used, refers to New Year’s Eve as Old Year’s Day. In some countries, it’s called St Sylvester’s Day.

This Week, Those Books

  • The ultimate guide to this season’s celebrations, around the world.
  • A novel that marks the moment Christmas, Hanukah and Ramadan coincided on the calendar.

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  • The Atlas of Christmas: The Merriest, Tastiest, Quirkiest Holiday Traditions from Around the World

    By: Alex Palmer

    Publisher: Running Press Adult

    Year: 2020

In Ukraine, there’s pavuchky, tinsel shaped like spiderwebs; the Philippines has Christmas lanterns; Mexican adolescents ritualistically re-enact Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging every year; eastern and central Europe enjoys a meat-free Christmas Eve 12-dish supper and Japan’s favourite Christmas Day feast is a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Lots of fun facts, not least a compendium of celebratory sweets from around the world, such as Cozonac sweet bread (Romania), Noah’s Pudding (Armenia) and Black Fruitcake (Trinidad and Tobago).

  • Three Holidays and a Wedding

    By: Uzma Jalaluddin and Marissa Stapley

    Publisher: Putnam

    Year: 2023

    This novel, by two Canadians, is like a rom-com, a romantic comedy film. Think Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve got Mail, Love Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral and The Big Sick.

    You get the picture. It’s about holiday romances and fairytale endings, told with a light touch.

    The plot is simple. It’s the year 2000 and Christmas, Hannukah and Ramadan fall within days of one another. The Aziz family – practising and liberal American Muslims – sets off from Denver for Toronto to solemnise their younger daughter’s wedding to her Canadian Muslim doctor boyfriend. Meanwhile, Anna Gibson, who celebrates both Christmas and Hannukah, also leaves Denver to spend the holiday period with her rich boyfriend’s family in Toronto.A massive snowstorm leaves everyone stranded in a picture postcard snowy village in Ontario and…magic happens.

    Very 21st century and multicultural, this novel seems destined to end up in Hollywood.

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