Literary Happy Holidays
In the midst of finishing a draft, starting on revisions, and holiday decorating and shopping (so much left to do!) I found time to curl up with Lauren's The Mischief of the Mistletoe. It was an absolute delight. I tried to use it as writing motivation by telling myself I could read a section if I wrote so many words, but I ended up reading way more than I was supposed to. One of the many things I loved about it was sharing the holidays with favorite characters at a Christmas house party hosted by the Dowager Duchess of Dovedale.
I've always liked stories set during the holidays. There's something fun and fascinating about seeing how celebrations are both familiar and different with different characters, in different historical eras. A familiar frame, filled in in myriad ways. I confess, though I love most Dickens, A Christmas Carol has never been a favorite of mine. But growing up, I was fascinated by the glimpses into holidays in another era with the Christmas scenes in Little Women and also the Hanukah scene in the All of a Kind Family books. Emma has key scenes that take place at Christmas celebrations and Pride and Prejudice has the Gardiners' Christmas visit. Brideshead Revisited has Charles's Boxing Day arrival at Brideshead (vividly captured in the miniseries) moving into New Year's. Barbara Hambly's Darwath fantasy trilogy takes place in a parallel universe, but there's a major scene that takes place at a midwinter festival. Like The Mischief of the Misteltoe, Deanna Raybourn's Silent in the Sanctuary also offers a delightful (if dangerous) Christmas house party.
Writing this post, I realized a lot of my favorite holiday stories are television episodes. I write this I'm watching a Christmas-season episode of House as I write this post (not surprisingly, it steers well clear of sentimentality). The X-Files episode "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" is probably my favorite holiday story ever. One of my holiday traditions is to watch it as I wrap packages. And of course Mulder and Scully had their first kiss on New Year's Eve (I usually watch "Millennium" while I'm dressing for New Year's Eve).
My mom and I wrote two Christmas novellas when we were writing traditional Regencies as Anthea Malcolm. They were a lot of fun to do. It's a bit of a challenge to write a Regency-set Christmas story, as so much of what we now associate with the holiday (such as Christmas trees) became popular in England in the time of Victoria and her German husband Albert. But one still has Yule logs and wassail bowls, mistletoe, pine boughs, and spiced wine.
I hadn't dealt with the winter holiday season in any of my novels until my forthcoming Vienna Waltz. Vienna Waltz takes place at the Congress of Vienna in late November 1814. A year ago, I was revising my first draft. I knew I needed a epilogue to wrap up some plot lines, but I hadn't written it yet. At a holiday show that included some early 19th century Christmas music, it occurred to me that I could set the epilogue during the holiday season.
Which tied in nicely with my research. Dorothée de Talleyrand-Périgord, Prince Talleyrand's niece-by-marriage (his nephew's wife) and his hostess at the Congress (and very likely later his mistress but that's another post) gave a party at the French Embassy at the Kaunitz Palace on Christmas Eve 1814. Dorothée is a major character in Vienna Waltz, and her Christmas Eve party became the setting for my epilogue. I was even able to include a Christmas tree. Dorothée had one by the staircase in the Kaunitz Palace and set quite a fashion at the Congress. It was called "Christmas Berlin style." Which made me realize in future books I could have my hero and heroine take the tradition back to Britain, long before Victoria and Albert made decorated trees part of a traditional English Christmas. As I writer I find it a challenge not to make a holiday scenes too sentimental. But in this case I think--I hope--the setting ended up being an interesting contrast to some of more disturbing revelations the characters are still dealing with in the epilogue.
What are some of your favorite holiday-set stories? Writers, have you written stories set during the holidays? What are some of the particular challenges?