The hardest things about Christmas for me will likely always be twofold.
First, a couple of decades in retail took most of the shine off the season, and especially the music. It’s been a few years now, since I had my six-day work-weeks and dragged my butt home on Christmas Eve super-late (because it was time to set up for Boxing Day of course) only to also then wake up super-early on Boxing Day to drag my butt back to the store to hang signs and sticker product in time for the early opening…
Ugh. Yeah. Just writing that makes me twitch. And it’s been years. Waking up with my husband and His Fluffy Lordship on Christmas Day puts me a little further away from that feeling each year. But I’m still not ready to listen to Alvin whine about a hula-hoop.
Second? The relentless vibe of family togetherness. Part of the reason I wrote Handmade Holidays was to write a holiday story that fit what I’d lived. And now that I’m married, I really do get to enjoy something closer to a traditional Christmas, so this is wearing down, too. But man, it can be a downer.
So. What do I do?
I read. More specifically, I read (and listen to, and re-read, and re-listen to) holiday stories I’ve found and loved over the years. When I worked retail, it was a way to bring out the joy and nudge aside the operational details. Also, by re-reading or re-listening to favourites, I knew I could pick them up or put them down depending on my insane daily schedule, and there were no surprises waiting to knock me over with overwrought “family is everything!” messages.
Now that I’m not working an insane number of hours during the holidays, it’s my way to step into the season a little at a time, and find those moments of joy.
My list of comfort reads grows a bit every year, and I find myself starting to listen to audiobooks with holiday themes first, around mid-November, and then moving into print as December appears.
I’ve had some really sweet new additions to the holiday shorts/novellas group this year. They’ll be up on my Sunday Shorts posts throughout the month, but as a sneak preview? They include Hearts Alight, by Elliot Cooper, Sock it to Me, Santa! by Madison Parker, and Merry Christmas, Mr. Miggles, by Eli Easton. They were all super-charming and I read (or listened to) each of them with a dopey grin on my face.
So what about my re-reads?
As always, I find time to re-listen to the Patrick Stewart audiobook of A Christmas Carol, His performance is brilliant, and—let’s be fair—it’s one of those quintessential “I’m really down on Christmas, and this story is all about turning that around” stories that is something equivalent of road-side assistance for the holiday spirit. It’s a big gun, and I generally save it for the week leading up to the big day itself.
Becky Cochrane’s A Coventry Christmas is another perennial. This one has it all: a heroine who works in the book industry, a slow-burn love story, queer chosen family (in a mainstream romance, no less!), snow, a cute hamster, and no one does friendly banter like Cochrane. When I was still working insane hours at the bookstore, my co-workers and I would sigh dramatically and wish it were we who had broken our foot and thereby had to take Christmas off. Keelie is so lucky.
Blame it on the Mistletoe is another must for me, and usually it’s the story I re-listen to when I’m baking Christmas cookies. I’m not sure how that happened, as the main character, Mick Coleman, is a health student who is super-big on nutrition, but it might be that the narration of Eli Easton’s novella is done by Jason Frazier, who is basically a big ol’ sugar cookie in audio form. (I also quite liked Unwrapping Hank, another of Easton’s holiday novellas, which I read in e-format.)
The FirFlake: A Christmas Story, by Anthony Cardno, becomes a bedside book for the month, where I can nibble at a chapter or two each night. This almost reads like a collection of short, interwoven tales that made up a larger whole, and is a clever retelling of the staple of the season, and has a gentle warmth to it that I’ve enjoyed each year since I first read it.
Oh! And before I forget, A Little Queermas Carol, by Sassafras Lowrey, takes the tale of A Christmas Carol and not only queers it, but sets it into a Little dynamic, and the result is a novella that left a grin on my face and an ember of happiness in my chest. I got it last year, and I’ll be pulling it out again this year.
There are more, of course, and I’ll probably talk about them throughout the month. What are your favourites? Do you have a holiday story you return to year-after-year? Let me know—especially if it’s a story that takes Christmas in a queer direction.