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What a curious period the holiday season of 2020 is shaping up to be. How do we become festive in a season in which so many festivities are frowned on? Even the most heartbreaking tales of impoverishment still typically feature family gatherings, storytelling, singing and party games. But when the traditional accompaniments to the season have been so muted, or cancelled, it’s proving slightly challenging to find our Christmas cheer. 

Of course, it isn’t only Christmas that we mark in this odd entrée to the 2020 season. Hanukkah falls on 10-18 December this year, and this weekend sees Diwali celebrated around the world, a festival – like many others – where a highlight is the food. As a chutney and condiment addict, I was fascinated to read Ajesh Patalay’s piece about the flavours that infuse authentic Asian cooking as well as family interpretations of classic Indian dishes that have arisen over time. Meera Sodha’s mother’s summer raita – a cherished confection combining Ski peach yoghurt, Granny Smith apples, chopped grapes, cheddar cheese and grated carrot among its ingredients – recalls the power of certain family favourites that are seemingly designed to both delight and repulse. For me, the highlight of any significant feast should be the presentation of a pudding that finds half the table weeping with nostalgic gratitude and the other half putting on its bravest face. In Ellison family meals of yore, that dish was called Paradise Pie, a dessert whose ingredients included bags of desiccated coconut mixed with cans of condensed milk. The sugar content was so high, your body would enter a rictus of sweet intoxication. But so fond was my grandfather of this once-a-year indulgence that we would force down our annual helping, just to make sure he got some more. 

How To Spend It editor Jo Ellison
How To Spend It editor Jo Ellison © Marili Andre

On the subject of the senses, I was also intrigued to read Nicola Moulton’s report on the effects of Covid-19 on our sense of smell. Anosmia entered our consciousness earlier this year as one of the virus’s more peculiar idiosyncrasies, and has since become one of its most commonly cited symptoms. For those affected, the condition can lead to months of sensory confusion. But even those who have had no contact with coronavirus have found their taste in fragrance hugely changed throughout the year. Perfume, so often used to convey an attitude or manipulate the mood around us, has instead become more intensely personal. In “Which Scents Made Sense In The Year of No Smell?”, we interviewed the beauty experts to talk about changing consumer interests, the future of perfume, and what the zeitgeist smells like now. 

Our biggest effort to summon up the festive spirit, however, has been in compiling a big long list of gifts to self. Presents, at least, cannot be postponed. This winter, we asked our contributors and editors to nominate those things they really want. Unsurprisingly, Ajesh Patalay has kept his choices to the kitchen, How To Spend It’s creative director, Rasha Kahil, wants gifts that are visually striking, while style director Isabelle Kountoure has curated an elegant wishlist – all of which I hope provide some inspiration for yourselves. Writing my list was a moment of pure hedonist escapism. I cannot lie, How To Spend It… on yourself can still be tremendous fun. 

@jellison22

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