Finished your Christmas preparations? Turns out you can thank the Victorians for Christmas Day becoming a big deal as a family celebration. Prior to their time, there wasn’t the major compulsive present exchanging and family feasting in our country on that day. The Victorians are about as well known for excess as they are for sexual repression, so I guess it makes sense. It just seems odd that we have them to thank for this nearly intolerable pressure to buy, buy, buy. And eat, eat, eat.
And here’s a surprising reaction to A Christmas Carol, that Dickens favorite that is supposed to remind us that you can’t take it with you, and you might as well be generous with your money now, and all men are brothers. I read an opinion piece recently that maintained that Bob Cratchit was a poor money manager since he spent everything on family entertaining! (I think Scrooge was talking.)
Have you noticed the debt service and diet industries revving up for the January money and weight miseries? They are now an established part of the Christmas cycle. First, we are exhorted to spend and eat, then we are exhorted to stop spending and stop eating. This situation is known as satori, when two opposing concepts try to meet in the middle. It either drives you mad, or lifts you to a higher plane of spiritual existence.
I doubt if I have reached a higher plane, since I still love to cook up a storm at the holidays. Specifically to bake. Today I made nine dozen oatmeal raisin cookies and a mince pie. And tomorrow—yes, I know it’s madness—I am planning on making five dozen chocolate chip cookies. It all started with a mistake in adding an ingredient, and snowballed from there. Now I have to find people to eat the excess baked goods. Hopefully, people who will not feel they must then repay me by giving me fourteen dozen cookies and a pie in return.
Romances seldom dwell on these moments of holiday mania. No, in romances, the heroine makes the correct quantity of twelve kinds of cookies, puts them lovingly in hand-decorated baskets, and then personally delivers them to lonely elderly folks. (Presumably, to elderly folks who don’t have diabetes or high blood pressure.) Romance heroines also don’t go shopping at 3AM the night after Thanksgiving to score deep discounts on electronics for vast lists of relatives and friends. And they don’t faint in January when they start getting all the credit card bills, the way real-life people do. Romance heroines also don’t generally gain fifteen pounds in the six weeks of partying from Thanksgiving through New Years, either. That’s why romance is fantasy.
Yet I have noticed that romances taking place during the holidays dwell lovingly on all the decorating, present-wrapping, cooking, baking, and other family rituals. And since such rituals are highly idiosyncratic, different in every family, they are quite entertaining to read about. Shopping is mentioned, but it is not usually described at length. Nor is the issue of overspending on gifts mentioned in romances. But mistletoe and holly, Christmas trees, and the angels on the top get lots of play. Romances can be positively Victorian in their gush over holiday traditions. Which actually makes sense considering that romances are sometimes castigated as affirming old-fashioned values. But in romances, the excess is all tied in to feelings. In real life, the excess is sometimes about putting in too much sugar. That’s how my four dozen cookies turned into fourteen.