“Happy Christmas everybody.” Cue loud shouts and pathetic waves. This is how a large number of television shows broadcast around Christmas in the 1970s and 1980s used to end. Of course, there were notable exceptions, like newsreader Angela Rippon doing high-kicks on Morecombe and Wise in 1976, but it seemed that few writers for television could write about Christmas and make it effective. I don’t know whether it’s any better nowadays, as I’ve given up watching television, but what I do know is that many novelists and short story writers suffer from the same affliction, oozing sentimentality and corniness. And then Daddy disappeared, but suddenly there was Father Christmas in a red dressing gown. Or this one: I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, seeing the children’s faces light up when they opened their presents.
Of course, there is a sadder angle of Christmas – people being alone on Christmas Day, family arguments and break-up, the desperation of people on the streets at Christmas – but mainstream publications (and broadcasters) don’t want to publish that sort of thing and writers know that. No editor wants to be accused of bah humbug. Since the 1970s/80s, we have moved away from our Christian roots, so all that is left is cringe-making sentimentality. It may come as an enormous surprise to many people in the UK but – really and truly – Christmas is not for the children or about any of these things: ever more extravagant presents, turkey, drinking too much or wearing silly hats.
The best writing about Christmas is where something happens in a Christmas context. The action in many of the crime/thriller novels of Patricia Cornwell took place over Christmas, with Kay Scarpetta, her niece Lucy and Captain Pete Marino making pasta from scratch on Christmas Day, at the same time as solving a series of murders. Dickens is supposed to have invented Christmas in this country (actually Prince Albert had much more to do with it) but even ‘A Christmas Carol’ contained a Christmas-relevant narrative.
How refreshing, therefore, to read Take a Break’s Fiction Feast for Christmas 2015 and Woman’s Weekly’s Fiction Series (for January 2016 actually), both filled (mostly) with Christmas stories. Being a vegetarian, I particularly enjoyed Teresa Ashby’s ‘You Can’t Please Them All’ (in Take a Break’s Fiction Feast) ; that is truly a story I wish I’d written myself! With twenty-three stories in Take A Break’s Fiction Feast and twenty-five stories in Woman’s Weekly Fiction Series, it also gives me hope in my long quest to get something published in womag. By the way, my friend Patsy Collins had two stories in each magazine and Helen Yendall (whose Blog About Writing I follow) had one story in each.
Of course, I do know that, if I was going to write a Christmas story and hope to have it published in either of these magazines, or anywhere else, I would have had to have written it and submitted in the summer, so maybe I should have written this post either very much earlier or very much later. So, at the risk of saying something that has been said many times before, Happy Christmas everybody.