After inhaling several Christmas romance novellas over the holiday, I think I finally know what it is I like about Christmas romance. The first part is obvious. I like Christmas. I like romance fiction. Therefore, it stands to reason that I would like Christmas romance fiction, but it’s not as cut and dried as that.
In any work of romance fiction, we know we are going to get a happy ending (whether that is Happily Ever After or Happy For Now largely depends on author and subgenre, but we’ll focus on the “happy” part for now.) When we add Christmas to the occasion, everything gets cranked up to eleven. Romance gets HEA (or HFN,) so turn that dial in an upwards trajectory, and bam. Christmas romance brings HEA (or HFN) plus. HEA plus sparkly lights, plus presents with big floppy bows, plus friends and family gathered around the hearth, plus peace on earth and goodwill towards men (and women.) HEA plus grudges set aside, plus sparkling snowfall, plus the music of church bells, plus the biggest feast of the year, plus reunions and reconciliation, plus restoration and second chances, and coming home, in a literal or metaphorical sense.
My favorite minute of the year is 6:01 PM on December 24th. It has been, for years. Stores close. The shopping rush is over. Time to go home, to friends and family, and, for the next twenty-four hours plus, the grind of everyday life gets put on hold. Life hits the snooze button, in a manner of speaking. Christmas has always felt, to me, to be a time set apart. Normally, I refer to the week between Christmas and New Year’s as the tucked away week, because that’s how it feels. Expectations are relaxed, the rush of the holiday is over, and the next thing on the horizon is bidding farewell to the old year, and seeing in the new one.
This year, we have a few things to deal with, so I can’t vouch for how tucked away this particular week is going to feel, but the spirit is there, and is probably something I would want to carry over into a Christmas romance of my own. What could be more romantic than a whole week that fits into that unique slot of time out of time, with drifting snow, glowing candles, the warmth in the middle of winter, the air fragrant with scents of spices and evergreens (even though my historical romance fiction, at least to date, pre-dates Christmas trees, evergreen boughs still count0 and the whole holiday, at its core, based on love, hospitality, and reconciliation?
I think that’s a pretty good place to start. For all romantic fiction that comes out of my noggin (or partly out of my noggin, as I could not write contemporaries without my writing partner, Melva Michaelian.) HEA-plus. This is not a term I intend to fling around at pitch sessions or in query letters (trust me, “historical-adjacent” gets some funny looks; I have learned my lesson) but it fits the sort of stories I gravitate to, both as a reader and as a writer. It fits, though. Adding history to my romance is already a plus, and I do like to have my historical romance, whether read or written, come with generous helpings of both romance and history, and for the history to shape or at least affect the romance.
This means that it’s not a matter of swapping out the togas of a couple from ancient Rome for an Empire waisted gown and a pair of polished Hessian boots, and presto change-o, now it’s a Regency. For me, that would not work. There’s a world of difference between ancient Rome and nineteenth-century England. Close to two millennia and coughty cough miles, a good deal of water, and an entirely different belief system, not to mention government and class structure, developments in literature, science, the arts, etc, etc, etc. The ancient Roman couple would probably not have a heck of a lot to do in a Christmas story, unless we’re talking the very first Christmas, which could fit nicely into an inspirational historical (or even a few decades after; that would also work) but they would still have a lot of that plus factor. Plus gladiators, for one thing. Maybe one of those flood the whole arena for a sea battle deals, complete with boats and octopi.
Every period has its own unique flavor, which can add to the romance, and I am grateful for that. The possibilities really are endless. Historical characters don’t know they’re in a historical. They think they’re in a contemporary. Those aren’t costumes they’re wearing; those are their clothes. The way things are done is the way everybody does them (apart from those who buck the rules, with varying degrees of effectiveness.)
This is veering away from the Christmas romance topic, but it does nail down what makes these stories special to me. The HEA-plus definitely does expand past only one day out of the year, and it’s more than merely the period in which the story is set. Give me a romance with two damaged people, each of whom has a driving passion that is independent of the developing love relationship, flavored by the world in which they live, and I am one happy camper, no matter what side of the story I might be on for this particular experience. If there’s snow on the ground, and mistletoe in the doorway, then that’s even better.