A conscious gift can be many different things. I especially love the ones that are thoughtful – meaningful for the person receiving it, but also good for the planet. But there is nothing I love to give more than giving books to children. Of course, I firstly gift books to my own son – last year we even created our own tradition: children’s books as an advent calendar – and to my friends’ children. But I’ve also made a tradition of donating books to children in need, through a charity or organisation.
For a couple of years I have been donating locally (throughout the year, not just for Christmas) and although you can contribute different things, from clothes to toys and food, I am very particular about books. Everybody thinks first of the daily essentials, and with good reason, but that’s also exactly why I choose to give books. Words can change a person’s life, especially a child’s, especially a poor child’s life. When I think of how much I love books, of how much books have meant to me and how much my little boy loves reading him stories every night, it breaks my heart knowing that there are children who do not have a single book at home. Did you know that a child from a poor family hears three times fewer words than other more fortunate children, than your child, for example? And that in books there are three times more words than in a usual conversation? So this year I’ve started to donate to this association for early education. I believe that paying it forward with a book is (without any false modesty) what doing good is about – isn’t that what December is about anyway?
Today we celebrate St. Nicholas, a Romanian tradition very dear to me. The Romanian folklore depicts Saint Nicholas as a white bearded old man riding on a white horse. Whenever he shakes his beard, snow starts falling and people say: “Here he is, Saint Nicholas is getting younger again!” It is said that the snow that falls on this day brings abundant crops in the year to come and good luck. It also marks the beginning of winter.
Saint Nicholas is also the protector of the sailors (a picture of St. Nicholas placed in a pocket or in a wallet will make any trip useful and beneficial) and of those unfairly punished. He brings little surprises for kids and help to those who ask for it. The custom is that on the night of December 5th the children leave their boots, cleaned and nicely polished, on the windowsill or by the entry door, waiting for Saint Nicholas’ visit. The next morning, on the 6th, children who have been good find candy, fruit and small gifts in their boots and children who have misbehaved find a rod as an impulse to improve themselves. The rod was actually an apple twig which had to be put in the water and if it blossomed until Christmas, that was a sign that St. Nicholas had forgiven the child who had been bad. Whether they have been good or bad, I wish every child in the world found a book in their boots this morning.
photo: My son is leafing through one of the most beautiful illustrated books, “Shackleton’s Journey”, another incursion into William Grill’s magical universe | the other ones are “Jumping Penguins & Crying Crocodiles”, by Vesse Goossens, with illustrations by Marije Tolman, and Lev Tolstoi’s “Fables”, a 1990 edition that used to be mine