Tag: holiday

holiday

What's on Your Christmas List?

‘ Tis the season for Christmas music, sacred, popular, cloying, and migraine-producing. The selection ranges from Wham!’s “Last Christmas” to “O’ Holy Night” performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with plenty in between. One song, in particular, “The 12 Days of Christmas,” seems to have spawned more spoofs and puns and plays on words than there are Salvation Army kettles at the mall. I recently participated in an Author Takeover to promote the Christmas anthology, The 12 Slays of Christmas. I read a P.D. James short story called, “The 12 Clues of Christmas”. I’ve seen ads on social media (and in my email spam folder) for “The 12 Deals of Christmas” and “The 12 Gifts of Christmas.” All in the same week. Everyone is familiar with the plethora of gifts offered over the twelve days from Christmas Day to Epiphany. And whether you believe the gifts have religious symbolism or the song’s just a festive, musical version of a memory game along the lines of “I’m going on a trip,” you have to admit, a) it’s a pretty hefty haul of loot, b) it’s fun to spoof. We Missdemeanors decided we could come up with better gifts than partridges and colly birds. No one needs that much poultry in their lives. What we have to offer, on the other hand? Well, guess that depends on where you live and who you know. We present, “The 12 Days of Crime-mas”. (Sung to the tune of “The 12 Days of Christmas”)On the first day of Christmas, my lawyer gave to me, a card to get out of jail free.On the second day of Christmas, my lawyer gave to me, two pearl-handled revolvers and a card to get out of jail freeOn the third day of Christmas, my lawyer gave to me, three jailbroken iPhones, two pearl-handled revolvers, and a card to get out of jail freeOn the fourth day of Christmas, my lawyer gave to me, four tips on committing perjury, three jailbroken iPhones, two pearl-handled revolvers, and a card to get out of jail freeOn the fifth day of Christmas, my lawyer gave to me, five bullet-proof vests, four tips on committing perjury, three jailbroken iPhones, two pearl-handled revolvers, and a card to get out of jail freeOn the sixth day of Christmas, my lawyer gave to me, six vials of strychnine, five bullet-proof vests, four tips on committing perjury, three jailbroken iPhones, two pearl-handled revolvers and a card to get out of jail free.On the seventh day of Christmas, my lawyer gave to me, seven shallow graves, six vials of strychnine, five bullet-proof vests, four tips on committing perjury, three jailbroken iPhones, two pearl-handled revolvers and a card to get out of jail free.On the eighth day of Christmas, my lawyer gave to me, eight pairs of golden handcuffs, seven shallow graves, six vials of strychnine, five bullet-proof vests, four tips on committing perjury, three jailbroken iPhones, two pearl-handled revolvers and a card to get out of jail free.On the ninth day of Christmas, my lawyer gave to me, nine con men grifting, eight eight pairs of golden handcuffs, seven shallow graves, six vials of strychnine, five bullet-proof vests, four tips on committing perjury, three jailbroken iPhones, two pearl-handled revolvers and a card to get out of jail free.On the tenth day of Christmas, my lawyer gave to me, ten bloodhounds sniffing, nine con men grifting, eight eight pairs of golden handcuffs, seven shallow graves, six vials of strychnine, five bullet-proof vests, four tips on committing perjury, three jailbroken iPhones, two pearl-handled revolvers and a card to get out of jail free.On the eleventh day of Christmas, my lawyer gave to me, eleven victims dying, ten bloodhounds sniffing, nine con men grifting, eight eight pairs of golden handcuffs, seven shallow graves, six vials of strychnine, five bullet-proof vests, four tips on committing perjury, three jailbroken iPhones, two pearl-handled revolvers and a card to get out of jail free.On the twelfth day of Christmas, my lawyer gave to me, twelve suspects lying, eleven victims dying, ten bloodhounds sniffing, nine con men grifting, eight eight pairs of golden handcuffs, seven shallow graves, six vials of strychnine, five bullet-proof vests, four tips on committing perjury, three jailbroken iPhones, two pearl-handled revolvers and a card to get out of jail free.

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We Wish You an Eerie Christmas

 I attended a candlelit Advent service at church last night. The Women’s Spirituality Group led a beautiful, peaceful service that celebrated women’s voices. We listened to readings that honored the contributions of women to church life, sang hymns of preparation for Christ’s birth, and prayed for peace in a nave bathed in the soft glow of candles. In the midst of fellowship and music and candle glow, my thoughts turned to murder. The stillness and darkness of the scene made me think it would be a perfect place to set a murder mystery. Advent and Christmas are popularly associated with merriment and cheer. Holly and bells and reindeer and elves bring joy. But Christmastime has a darker side. Christmas Day is only four days after the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. Winter is long and cold and dark and dangerous. Poem and songs memorialize the bleakness of the solstice day, also known as Midwinter. Ancient Romans celebrated solstice at the Feast of Saturnalia characterized, according to one source, by “debauchery” in addition to feasting and gift-giving. The classic Christmas story, “A Christmas Carol,” is a ghost story whose plot hinges on terrifying specters putting a man in fear of his life. Even seemingly benign figures like Santa Claus and the Elf on the Shelf take on a more ominous hue when you take a closer look. An immortal home invader who appears in the night once a year to break into homes while its residents sleep and a tiny man with an unblinking stare who lurks from place to place in your house watching your every move and reporting back to the immortal home invader. Many mystery authors have taken advantage of Yuletide’s dark undertones and set their crimes at Christmas. Mysterynet.com lists more than a dozen, including stories by classic authors such as O. Henry, Damon Runyan, Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy, and, of course, Agatha Christie. I just finished The Mistletoe Murder: And Other Stories by P.D. James. The holidays weren’t very merry for James’s characters.Have you ever peeked beneath Christmastide’s glittery skin to examine its darkness? Do you have any favorite Christmas-themed mysteries? Any Chanukah-, Kwanzaa-, or other winter holiday-themed mysteries?

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Reflections on holidays past

 My favorite Christmas memories are about being with my family. My parents always created a magical time of year, complete with sparkly tree, days of cooking favorite sweet and spicy treats, and, of course, gifts on Christmas Day. There was usually some project that took more time than anticipated and probably drove my mother crazy as we commandeered space she needed to do the real preparations for guests. Two projects that I remember in particular were making pine cone wreaths – incredibly messy – and creating all sorts of gingerbread projects, including the one pictured here.    When I was a child, my mother’s cousins hosted a party on Christmas eve that to my young eyes was the height of sophistication. Technically I viewed the main event from the children’s party in their ‘rec room’. I have such clear memories that there must have been a lot of peeking and dashes into the main party to ask my parents a question of great importance. Looking back, I think that this was a heroic feat on their part the night before Christmas day – when they also served an amazing dinner for many guests! I lived in a small town and have fond memories of the Christmas parade (as a high school student in band I also remember it being very cold some years) and of special church services and caroling. My husband grew up in Europe and his memories have a greater sense of ‘the town’. Christmas markets filed the streets of Vienna, Austria and Lausanne, Gruyere, and Fribourg in Switzerland, the places where he spent most of his youth. Handcrafted ornaments and other decorations were displayed in abundance alongside mulled wine and roasted chestnuts.  In Fribourg, the festival of Saint Nicolas was – and still is – a huge event. Held the first weekend in December, Saint Nicolas, the patron saint of the town, is mounted on a donkey and leads a cortege through the streets to the gallery of the cathedral. From his position high above the crowd he then makes his remarks. Thousands of people gather for the event, a true community celebration for all ages. To this day my husband’s friends who still live in Fribourg reunite for a fondue after the parade, and when we are there it is a true highlight of the season. I should confess that as I write this I am thinking…. hmmm maybe there is a short story in this.: Death at Saint Nicolas. The mere idea may get me banned from the festival…. What are your fondest holiday traditions? Any story ideas in them? 

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Oh Christmas Tree?

 A photo of FLOTUS’s White House Christmas decorations—a phalanx of up-lit, bare-branched white trees lining a black-tiled corridor illuminated only by a few pendant lamps and the lights on an equally dark Christmas tree at the corridor’s far end—generated lots of reaction on social media. Responses pretty much evenly split between “love it” and “hate it” (although I know of one person who said, “at least it’s different”). Many assumed that politics informed the reactions because, hey, everything is about politics these days. Right? Wrong, in my case. I voted “hate it” not because of political affiliation but because of—scary trees. I don’t think hip or trendy when I look at the photo of stark branches emitting an icy vibe. I think, “When are the flying monkeys going to attack?” “Where’s the Snow Queen hiding?” Jack Frost? The Abominable Snowman? Snow White’s wicked stepmother? The cast of an M. Night Shyamalan movie? Notice a theme? Forests, the woods, places filled with scary trees are places where evil lurks and bad things happen. They are not locations of holiday merriment. “Little Red Riding Hood”. The Princess Bride. “Hansel and Gretel”. The Blair Witch Project. The Cabin in the Woods. Deliverance. Do any of those stories stir the holiday spirit? Every time I pass a woods, I think of the news reports and true crime shows and episodes of “Law and Order” where a body was found in the woods by a hiker, hunter, dog walker, or Boy Scout. Don’t go in the woods. Add chilling darkness to the scary trees—as in the White House photo—and I cringe. When people talk about winter wonderlands I think “wonder” in the sense of “I wonder what I’m doing out here and I wonder where the nearest fireplace is”. I don’t do cold and dark. I can handle them each individually—cold or dark. Combined? No thanks. I moved from Alaska clear down to Texas to get away from a cold darkness that seemed to last forever. The dark is the worst. When it’s just cold, I can bundle up in stylish sweaters and fashionable coats, throw on a rakish scarf for some flair, and head outside to enjoy the bright winter sun. I’m a creature of light. I keep a light on the porch and a sting of fairy lights in my bedroom illuminated all night, to heck with the electric bill.  I’d make the world’s worst vampire. While some people bemoan it as a sign of light pollution, I think the sight of cities lit up as you fly over them on the red-eye is beautiful. Neon signs flashing over city streets are magnificent. I never fail to stop and marvel. My town illuminated all of its (not scary) trees around the train station and Market Square with thousands of miniature lights for the holidays. I love it. A forest of light is a forest where nothing lurks. I’m sure a folklorist or psychologist would explain how the forest represents our primal fear of the unknown and the danger that awaits those who dare venture away from the safety and security of the tribe/family/familiar. I’m not going to tell you any of that. I’m going to say there’s a reason, a reason that has nothing to do with holiday cheer, so many authors and filmmakers set their horror stories and cautionary tales in the woods—the colder and darker, the better. What’s the scariest place you can think of to set a story? What do you think of when you see woods in the winter?

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All I Want for Christmas–Is Something to Read

 I’m not really a grinch. My occasional forays into humbug-land notwithstanding, I love Christmas. The season creates in me both a sense of nostalgia and hope for the future. I look back on the past with a conveniently fuzzy memory and long for the way things “used to be” while looking forward to the coming year with hope for the way things might  be. I also admit to indulging in my fair share of schmaltz and sentimentality. I’m streaming Christmas carols on Spotify as I type this. I break out the Lenox Christmas china and the Christmas-themed guest towels and ooh and aah over Facebook posts featuring puppies, kittens, and other small animals sporting bows and Santa hats. I also watch Christmas movies. At least, I used to. I’ve been disappointed recent holiday cinematic offerings. Too many “find a fiance by Christmas” flicks and too few “save the orphanage/feed the hungry, homeless man/save the neighborhood from a greedy developer/bring joy to my elderly, neglected neighbor” flicks. Of course, I can re-watch the classics. I own DVD copies of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” But I wanted something I hadn’t seen before that didn’t involve Christmas kisses, dates, or weddings. Netflix let me down. Not being one to give up hope—it’s Christmas, after all—I decided to search for some classic (translation: written before the 21st century) Christmas stories to read. Here’s a sample of what I found.  “The Little Match Girl.” Hans Christian Andersen’s story turns up on a lot of lists. (Yes, there are lists. I’m not the only one fallen victim to the nostalgia fairy.) I’ve read this one before and it’s a fine story but—spoiler alert—tragic tales of impoverished pre-teens who freeze to death alone at night out of doors are not quite what I had in mind for the festival season.  “The Gift of the Magi.” O. Henry’s tale of love and sacrifice fits the bill of Christmas classic but I’ve read it (I had very good high school English classes) so the twist at the end isn’t so much of a twist anymore. “A Christmas Carol.” Read Dickens’ classic, too. I actually prefer to listen to Patrick Stewart narrate it, which I did the other day.  “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” I’ve read Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story, too, but it was so long ago I forgot “who done it.” This one goes on the reading list.  “The Elves and the Shoemaker.” One of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales. Lots of fairy tales, especially Andersen’s, show up on Christmas reading lists: “The Fir Tree,” “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” the aforementioned “Little Match Girl.” I love fairy tales, I grew up with them, even studied them in college. That’s when I realized how dark they are, especially the original, not-watered down versions. Better suited to Halloween reading lists.  “At Christmas Time” by Anton Chekov and “Papa Panov’s Special Christmas” by Leo Tolstoy. I knew Chekov and Tolstoy wrote capital-I important, college reading list works. I didn’t know they wrote Christmas stories. On the list.  “A Kidnapped Santa Claus.” Possibly dark. Santa’ kidnapped by demons. But I’m reading it because L. Frank Baum, the author of the Wizard of Oz books, wrote it. And because it sounds like it could be the plot of a Macauly Culkin movie.  “The Holy Night.” Swedish author Selma Lagerlof was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature. Cold-hearted man meets mysterious beings and learns the true meaning of Christmas. Yeah, I know, sounds kind of like “A Christmas Carol.” But I like “A Christmas Carol.” But “A Christmas Carol” is a holiday classic for a reason—we all want to believe faith and some holiday magic can turn mean spirits into open hearts.  Online Star Registry’s blog (https://osr.org/blog/tips-gifts/20-famous-christmas-stories/) and American Literature’s website (https://americanliterature.com/christmas) contain links to the stories I mentioned as well as several others. What are some new-to-you (or not-so-new but worth reading again) Christmas classics you want to try? 

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Give in to the humbug–once in a while

 Peace. Love. Joy. All words we associate with Christmas, a time of year when millions the world over celebrate the birth of Christ or the arrival of Santa. A time when people look forward to gathering with loved ones to share holiday cheer.  But Christmas isn’t so merry for many. A lot of us suffer from the Christmas blues. I don’t mean clinical depression, a medical illness that demands professional medical attention, or the sadness and grief many feel during the holidays as they remember lost loved ones or deal with family estrangement or cope with being alone and lonely during a time of year second only to Valentine’s Day for its emphasis on being with “someone special.” I mean that blah feeling some of us suffer when all the holly-jolly becomes too much to bear. Joy overload. We hit a wall where we don’t want to hang one more ornament on the tree, put up one more string of lights, or stuff one more stocking. We crave home décor that’s not red, green, plaid, or emblazoned with whimsical woodland creatures. If you’ve ever envisioned hiding the Elf on the Shelf in the garbage disposal—head down—with the switch on—you know what I mean. We conceal these unseasonal thoughts lest friends, family, and co-workers label us socially unacceptable. But sometimes, when we’re all alone and no one, not even the rotund man-child who hangs out in the Arctic playing with elves, is watching we give vent to our inner grinch.  Books often provide an escape from the all-consuming merry brightness of the holiday season. Google “Christmas murder mystery novels” and you’ll find enough tales of holiday homicide to keep you going until Easter. Even icons from the golden age of mystery, like Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh, weren’t above killing off a few revelers during fatal festivities. I just listened to Hugh Fraser narrate Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. This was right after I’d listened to Patrick Stewart narrate Dickens’, A Christmas Carol, which, except for the bit at the end, is actually a very dark story. Now that I’ve quieted my bah humbug I can sing along with Christmas carols on the car radio, cry during heartfelt holiday movies, and celebrate the joy of the season that prompts us to be a little bit more generous toward our fellow human beings than we are the other eleven months of the year. And if you really were imagining a certain elfin spy stuffed into an In-sink-erator you’re not alone. “Ways to destroy Elf on the Shelf” generated more than four million results on Google, including a You Tube video and a NSFW Pinterest page. 

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