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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