When I came to the U.K. from Pakistan, I had never seen or experienced the holiday season or any of the December traditions that sweep their way across countries in North America and Europe. I’m Muslim, of course, but I enjoy walking around the brightly-lit Christmas market in Birmingham, U.K. or learning about El Dia de los Reyes, Hanukkah and other celebrations around the world at this time of year.
While I personally won’t be putting gifts under a tree this month, I know many of you will – so today I’m sharing a few things that inspired or captivated me in 2021. Below I hope you’ll find a gift for a loved one on your list or an experience you can enjoy together during the holidays.
P.S. I’m not receiving commissions from the links below. These are just to help with your holiday shopping!
While at Oxford, I got a subscription to MasterClass and took Paul Krugman’s course to supplement my assigned reading in economics. I really enjoyed Paul’s class and the platform. During the pandemic, I did several other MasterClass courses on a range of topics and gave subscriptions to my friends.
Earlier this year, I was so excited when MasterClass asked me to teach a course on creating change. In my sessions, students learn how to do research, set goals, develop a strategy, frame an argument and much more.
I’m really interested in how MasterClass is transforming lifelong learning and making it more accessible to people around the world. In addition to my class, check out courses by my friends Amanda Gorman (launching soon!) and Lewis Hamilton, as well as Redefining Feminism, Economics and Society with Paul Krugman and Indian Cooking with Madhur Jaffrey.
MasterClass has a course to spark any student's imagination. Please check out my course and consider giving a MasterClass subscription to friends this holiday season.
This year I’ve loved bath products from Typology, a French, B corp company founded by Ning Li. All their products are vegan, cruelty-free and packaged in sustainable, recyclable materials. I love the minimalist design and natural ingredients in everything they make.
If you’re looking for some light-hearted entertainment for your holidays, I’ve got that covered. I love Ted Lasso for its uplifting but complex characters – and the best mustache on TV. (Read my interview with the cast.) For vintage comedy fans, I also love old British sitcoms like Blackadder and Yes, Minister. If you’re into animation, I recently enjoyed the Addams Family and I always love the Green Eggs and Ham series. Also this year, I saw Zoolander for the first time and thought it was hilarious.
Early in 2021, I set a goal to read 84 books this year. I didn’t quite make it, but setting this benchmark for myself helped me read many great books that I might not have otherwise. Below are a few I recommend for people on your holiday list.
Rather than handing down advice from her mountain of accomplishments, Vee Kativhu uses her own personal story to reveal how every young person can achieve their goals and impact the world around them. Read Vee’s Podium interview.
A book of poetry so alive you want to hold it and protect it, to read it all at once and then immediately read it again. With her singular voice, Amanda Gorman speaks to both the personal and universal in this exhilarating and astonishing collection.
For anyone who cares about climate change (and maybe more so for those who don’t): A Bigger Picture by Vanessa Nakate
Vanessa Nakate’s book shows us the threat of climate change to people in East Africa and the relentless courage of one activist fighting to be heard. Vanessa is more than an inspiration — she’s an indispensable voice for our future.
While I haven’t quite mastered kitchen skills yet, I love the Afghan recipes, stories and family history in this beautiful cookbook. Read Durkhanai's Podium interview.
I tore through this Oxford professor’s collection of essays on sexual attraction. The Guardian’s review sums up Srinivasan’s argument: “Sex cannot be made just, but examining how much of our sexual desires are programmed by the dark side of our beliefs can lessen the injustice.”
We read the thoughts of the narrator, a Black British woman preparing to go to a party at her boyfriend’s family estate in the countryside, as she struggles with her place among the ultra-wealthy, the racism she experiences on a daily basis and her fear that her younger sister will follow in her highly successful but unfulfilling footsteps.
For everyone: My book club
Giving season is not just about presents for friends and family, but also what we can give to help make the world a better place for people in need. If you’re looking for places to donate, please consider these worthy organisations:
Maria Toorpakai Wazir Foundation
If you haven’t read our interview with Maria, please take a moment to learn more about her. Right now, she’s working on helping Afghan girls continue to learn and play sports, supporting Afghan refugees in Canada and using sports as a means of peace-building for adolescents in countries in conflict. Donate here.
Eden Reforestation Projects
Deforestation leads to flooding, erosion and other dangerous conditions, particularly for vulnerable people. This organisation has planted more than 700 million trees in eight countries around the world. Donate here.
My organisation works to build a world where every girl can learn and lead. We work in eight countries where girls face the greatest obstacles to education. Right now our priority is making sure that girls in Afghanistan can return to school as soon as possible. Donate here.
Whether you’re spending time with family and friends this holiday season or missing them, you are not alone. Two Podium contributors wrote poignant stories on family for my newsletter this year – Sirin Kale on the family moments she’s missed over the last two years and an anonymous author on struggling with her father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Both essays are meditations on not taking for granted the beautiful and fleeting moments with our loved ones. I invite you to read, reflect, share and subscribe to Podium.
Wishing you and your loved ones a happy December!