The holiday season is here in full force, especially this year with the short period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Last week, I talked about my holiday celebrations as a child without a tree or Santa. My first Christmas as a married woman was when I started to celebrate an American-style Christmas—I found out about shopping for Christmas trees and lights and other items that were new and very different. I found out two things that still resonate: I am really allergic to pine sap and needles and lighted Christmas tree in a dark room is an image full of wonder and beauty.
Our first tree had lights and a cardboard star at the top and that was about it. I’m not a crafty person, so the idea of making decorations didn’t appeal to me. I’m not sure where we got the idea of slowly collecting ornaments for our tree instead of rushing out and buying a bunch of cheap ones, but we bought one gold toned ornament for our son’s first year, and that was it. I remember it shone so brightly in the darkened room when light happened to catch it. Beautiful.
When we were living in Germany, friends in Nuremburg invited us to spend the weekend before Christmas with them. What an eye-opening experience for me! I knew from my two previous Christmases living in Stuttgart that Germany goes all out for their holy days celebrations, but Nuremburg’s Christkindlesmarkt was an over-the-top extravaganza of lights, music, wine and enchantment. From the hourly shows in the square to the endless row of merchant booths filled with handcrafted ornaments and nutcrackers and glassworks, it was a fairy tale come to life. I wanted to recreate that excitement in our celebration at home, so I bought six specially chosen ornaments, driving my husband and young son mad as I dithered over each one. And over the next two years in Europe I saved up and bought another ornament or four at each little Christkindlesmarkt I could find.
We still have the precious glass ornaments, a little tarnished, but still placed carefully and lovingly on our tree. Some ornaments were handcrafted by our children, which always bring back memories. The tattered pieces of construction-paper stars and bells along with odd lumps of clay with strings attached are still found on the tree. Along with Star Trek vessels that still light up and make noises at the most odd times and some odd cartoon favorites. We still buy a new ornament each year, one that reflects our interests and goals for the next year. I haven’t found mine for this year, but I’m still looking. It will be okay as long as it’s on the tree by Christmas Eve.
The Christmas season is full of fun and family traditions. My favorite tradition besides trying to recreate Nuremburg-style celebration is reading Regency Christmas stories. It’s the other thing I discovered in Germany that’s remained with me.
Starting in October, I’d check the book stores every week and collect every book with even a faintly Christmasy-looking cover. My favorites were anthologies of Christmas stories from Signet Regencies and Zebra. For some reason, the Regency period has the best holiday stories. Of course, these stories are romances so they all ended happily, but it was a treat to go off to a country party, tramp through the woods to get ivy and mistletoe and find love by Christmas day. Just perfect reads to suit my holiday need for a happy escape to a less-stressful fantasy world.
This year, I found Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait by Grace Burrowes (Sourcebooks Casablanca, October 2013) to be a charming Christmas tale of love around the holidays. Lady Jenny is part of the Windham sibling series but you really don’t need to read the others first, since each romance is complete on its own. Lady Jenny wants to paint but as the daughter of a duke it’s not really a choice available to her. But of course, the fates have a different plan in mind, and we’re introduced to a talented portrait painter commissioned to paint her nephews who gives her a chance to explore her own artistry as well as, well, find a life mate. It’s a great Christmas story, one of the best for this year.
My all-time favorite Christmas as well as Regency historical author is Mary Balogh, but she doesn’t have a new Christmas story out this year. Although I still pulled out my well-worn favorites to re-read, I also wanted a new historical to devour and I found A Very Scandalous Holiday, a collection of historical romances set in four different time periods. I was intrigued and happy to devour each one of them. Two of the stories are set in Regency England—“An Eternity of You” by Sophia Garrett and “Letters At Christmas” by Amber Lin—and both are touching stories of missed opportunities which resolve nicely over the holidays. But Nancy Fraser’s “Erin’s Gift” is set in Chicago circa 1920, a period I’ve read about in mysteries and thrillers but seldom in romances, and never a spicy or “scandalous” romance. The final story in the collection, Crista McHugh’s “Eight Tiny Flames” was not only set during World War II at the Battle of the Bulge but it was also a Hanukkah story. It’s a winner for combining history, romance and new-to-me holiday exploration.
Do you have some Christmas comfort reads this year? Or are you trying something different? Let me know!
Sara Reyes is the founder and partner at FreshFiction.com, a popular fiction web site for today's reader with new titles, contests, over 50,000 genre fiction author profiles with backlists, and permanently archived reviews, plus all the industry buzz. Fresh Fiction has a biweekly segment (Buy the Book) on WFAA Channel 8 Good Morning Texas to talk about new books not to miss. Believing face-to-face interaction is as important as virtual communities, Fresh Fiction sponsors an annual author reader tea in June, a readers conference in November, monthly literary events, and book clubs. Follow Sara at @FreshFiction on Twitter or Facebook.com/FreshFiction.