Writing Around the Christmas Tree
Incorporating a holiday into your fiction story adds a little somethin’, somethin’, like a layer of richness that not only serves as a familiar element readers can relate to, but it also helps move the story along. Christmas ushers in the start of winter with its icy temps, and images of that first magical snowfall; the one that dusts the bare branches of pines and oaks and settles like powder on walkways and streets.
Unless you’re drafting a Christian-based story, don’t get overly religious. There’s a wealth of identifiable features associated with the Christmas season that can add depth and description to any story without bombarding the reader with religion. Even those who don’t celebrate the specific day or those who observe a different holiday can find common ground when reading a chapter or passage related to Christmas. Though this is true, write as though not every reader celebrates.
The hustle and bustle of shopping for the perfect presents then wrapping them in pretty paper with festive tissue and bows are activities readers can connect with. Adorning the house with lights and decorations is another ritual most can appreciate because it’s usual to see such displays this time of year. Other customs relating to Christmas, like exhibiting holiday decor, baking delicious cookies, serving special food, trimming the tree, and keeping family traditions alive, can all supply your narrative with full-bodied images that will resonate with readers.
The added beauty of including the above and more creates an opportunity for the passage of time and in this case, the feeling of spring right around the corner once Christmas passes.
So, how can writers accomplish this while maintaining the integrity of their story? For starters, unless the goal is to draft a story in the Christmas genre, for most, the holiday is one or two scenes within the scope of the entire narrative. Keep that thought in mind as you develop this layer of your tale. Simply put, don’t overwhelm the reader by shoving everything Christmas down their throats. Write around the holiday by using specific words, concise sentences, and the five senses. Set the scene by describing the decorations, the smell of the pine tree or sugar cookies, the glow of lights, the sounds of holiday music and crunching snow beneath feet, the taste of savory foods, catching snowflakes on your tongue, or reveling in the solace and silence of viewing an early morning winter wonderland while sipping hot cocoa or coffee.
There are so many ways to play this. Have the characters decorate the tree and discuss special ornaments or add a new one for the current relationship. Maybe it’s the perfect time to slip in romance when a sprig of mistletoe hangs above, and a kiss ensues. Focus on an object with special meaning like a snow glob or gift that either propels a relationship to the next level or brings things to a screeching halt. Take this opportunity to foreshadow events while keeping things on the lowdown. Don’t bombard the reader and make things obvious or insert a spoiler. The hint should make the reader say, “hmm.” Allow readers to file what they read in the back of their minds but keep them guessing.
This is a good time to connect some dots, dredge up old feelings, and introduce new elements or past trauma. Each character in the scene may feel very differently about Christmas. One may love it, the other may have unfinished business or baggage weighing them down. Make sure you know this before constructing the scene and write accordingly.
J.K. Rowling incorporated Christmas seamlessly into the Harry Potter series and tailored it with magic. Harry received and invisibility cloak his first Christmas at Hogwarts. The note attached leaves the reader wondering who sent it and why. The cloak is connected to Harry’s past somehow because his deceased father is mentioned in the note, but we don’t yet know the meaning behind it. The gift foreshadows the use of the cloak by Harry and how that might contribute to propelling the story forward. Figure out what makes your characters and story tick and find a way to share that in the scene.
In one of my WIPs, the protagonist could never afford to buy the presents for others she wanted and always felt anxiety around the holiday because of it. The wealthy, romantic, love interest takes her out for a day of retail therapy, making it possible for her to relax, destress, and buy the gifts she wants for her family and friends, and she is grateful.
In another WIP I use an ornament to stimulate memories for the protagonist who is under a spell and desperately trying to remember her past.
If writing historical fiction, do your research to describe how things were during that time, the food, decorations, candles on trees instead of lights, friendly greetings, Christmas carols, apparel, hats, church, eggnog, Christmas goose, stringing popcorn, or cranberries to create garland, and anything else specific to that time. For fantasy or sci-fi, invent new traditions or futuristic ornaments, or add a twist to existing tradition.
Also feel free to bring your own holiday experiences into your narrative. Let your recollections work to create positive, negative, whimsical, magical, futuristic, scary, evil, squeaky-clean, or sexy results.
The decision to incorporate Christmas and how to write about it is up to you. Always remember to show not tell, and let your voice and style shine through.