This is my first holiday read of the season, and I don’t feel precipitate in saying that it’s my favourite. It has so many elements that I love—friends to lovers, slow burn, ensemble cast, people taking on the responsibilities of jobs and families, found families… And they’re put together in a way that is not hit you over the head sappy, but genuine. I was not at all surprised that the author drew on his own experiences in writing it. The story, for the most part, feels true.
To be honest, Burgoine had me at ‘origami crane.’ Nick has got a Christmas tree for his apartment and his first Christmas on his own. It’s only when he gets it set up that he realises he doesn’t have any decorations. Enter Haruto, or ‘Ru’ as he is commonly known, with a box of candy canes and an origami crane. The crane is the first piece in a collection that grows along with Nick’s new family.
I really love the way the crane shows up throughout the story. Cranes have a special meaning for me. I was still living in Japan when my sister got engaged, and for her wedding, I folded one thousand cranes. It was a really positive experience. When you are folding that many cranes, you get into a rhythm. It’s like knitting or any other repetitive activity–it becomes sort of like a meditation. Your fingers are busy but your mind can wander.
At the wedding, the cranes took on a life of their own. My sister loved them and decided to use them in her decorations. We hung them from the roof, we put them on tables as decoration and even placed them among the bushes in her garden—it was an outdoor wedding. The guests loved them and a lot of people took them home as favours. My sister gathered all the ones that we left and kept them, until another friend was having an event and asked if she could use them. I like to think that a few of my cranes are still out there, kicking around, pressed between the pages of a photo album, or maybe sitting on a shelf or a desk.
But yes, digression aside, I thoroughly recommend Handmade Holidays for a seasonal story that will leave you feeling warm and glowy, without drowning you in saccharine sweetness.
At nineteen, Nick is alone for the holidays and facing reality: this is how it will be from now on. Refusing to give up completely, Nick buys a Christmas tree, and then realizes he has no ornaments. A bare tree and an empty apartment aren’t a great start, but a visit from his friend Haruto is just the ticket to get him through this first, worst, Christmas. A box of candy canes and a hastily folded paper crane might not be the best ornaments, but it’s a place to start.
A year later, Nick has realized he’s not the only one with nowhere to go, and he hosts his first “Christmas for the Misfit Toys.” Haruto brings Nick an ornament for Nick’s tree, and a tradition—and a new family—is born.
As years go by, Nick, Haruto, and their friends face love, betrayal, life, and death. Every ornament on Nick’s tree is another year, another story, and another chance at the one thing Nick has wanted since the start: someone who’d share more than the holidays with him.
Of course, Nick might have already missed his shot at the one, and it might be too late.
Still, after fifteen Christmases, Nick is ready to risk it all for the best present yet.