Romance is a genre that delights in seasonal stories, particularly holiday stories, and even more particularly Christmas stories. From October through December, a good ten percent (anecdotal observation, but I bet it’s not far off the mark) of romances published are Christmas themed. The variations are as myriad as the moods the holiday season evokes in all of us. Some authors use it as a time for light and mischievous comedies, while others use it as an exploration of loneliness, and still others use it to reflect on deeper spiritual or religious themes.
I have always enjoyed Christmas anthologies, even though Christmas is not a huge holiday for my family. My husband and I feel a much closer connection to Mardi Gras and Halloween than Christmas. Pretty much all of my close friends either prefer other holidays or do not observe Christian holidays at all. My family (parents and extended family) don’t go overboard with Christmas, though we have strong traditions—they just involve time together and food, rather than the decorating and shopping. I understand why my friends hate the season because of the crass commercialism that seems to govern it; I come close to disgust when the Christmas decorations roll out before Thanksgiving (this year it was before Halloween!), especially because all those trappings are divorced from the value I find in the holiday. But I don’t actually mislike this time of year, even if I find the culture around it a bit ridiculous. I think part of why I like holiday stories are because it’s fun to read stories about people who either really love the season or really hate it.
My NaNoWriMo attempt (still in the process of being finished) for 2012 was a Christmas story. This novella is the first consciously holiday themed piece I’ve written. The novellas I’ve published already are set on Twelfth Night, but I do not consider them holiday stories, as they could have taken place at any masquerade ball—the date was chosen for the Shakespeare tie-in.
Writing for the season has been interesting for me.
Going into the first draft, I was not sure the piece needed to be set during the holidays, but framing the story over the Twelve Days of Christmas gave the family a reason to all be together. Too, when I envisioned the story it felt Christmas-y, with undertones of redemption and hope–two holiday hallmarks if ever there were any–and maybe also some help in the romance department from mistletoe and the constant togetherness holiday activities engender. But really all of those things could have been in the story if it were set at mid-summer, so the Christmastide timing was just a pretension. Not that it matters, because holiday stories are fun regardless of whether that’s the only time of year they could have happened. But I was setting out to self-consciously write a Christmas story, so that’s when it was going to take place, by god.
As is the way of writing, however, that ambivalence changed in the writing process. The holiday setting has become part of the story’s DNA, such that it would now no longer be the same story if set at another time of year. Somewhere in the crossfade of Acts I and II, I realized I was developing a subtle parallel of gift-giving to map the course of the couple’s move from familial affection (she is his father’s ward) to romantic love.
I have not yet decided how explicit to make that theme, since the “gifts” are not tangible possessions but things like honesty, choice, protection, understanding, sympathy (and a healthy dose of good ole self- esteem-boosting lust!), but in my mind the connection is clear and ever-present. Now, romance is not a genre anyone has ever accused of subtlety, but I object on a philosophical level to characters spelling out themes, so probably I will make no reference to those “gifts” or, at most, do so in the title (such as naming the novella “Six Gifts” or something).
On the whole I have enjoyed the exercise in seasonal reflection. I have not spent as much time as I expected exploring through fiction what the Christmas season really means to me…but maybe I can do THAT next year. :)