Saturday, December 2, 2017

Searching for Christmas Past: Guest Post by Rhys Bowen

Today I continue our special Christmas Mystery posts with a guest post by Rhys Bowen. Rhys Bowen is the New York Times bestselling author of the Molly Murphy and Royal Spyness mysteries. She also wrote the #1 Kindle bestseller In Farleigh Field and will soon be releasing a new stand-alone novel called The Tuscan Child. Rhys was born and raised in England but now divides her time between California and Arizona.

Searching for Christmas Past

I remember my childhood Christmases with great nostalgia. They were simple in the extreme: a few days before Christmas there were good things to buy in the shops. Carol singers stood in groups on the sidewalks or came to our front doors. On Christmas Eve we drove to my grandmother’s house. On the way we stopped to buy a Christmas tree, which was then strapped to the roof of the car. It was never very big, four foot high at the most. When we arrived we decorated it with glass ornaments—some quite lovely in the shape of birds or tiny instruments (my grandfather had been an orchestra conductor).

We went to Midnight mass. I remember when I was old enough to join my relatives and the sound of our feet on the frosty pavements as we walked to church. Then coming home to hot mince pies and mulled wine. In the morning there was a stocking at the bottom of my bed, filled with small gifts. There were seldom big presents. I once got a bike but usually it was a sweater or a long playing record or a book. We had a huge turkey lunch, then tea with a Christmas cake decorated with white icing to resemble a snow scene. Then we sat around the tree and found more small gifts on the branches. Oh, and everything had to stop for the Queen’s speech on television… actually it was on radio in my early years. We played games like charades. We laughed a lot. And that was it. Simple. Non commercial.

So all my adult life I’ve been longing for a simple Christmas like that. The problem is that we have so much, all the year now that small things are no longer treats. In my childhood Christmas was the only time of the year when we ate turkey, found nuts and tangerines and dates in the shops. We rarely had new clothes so a new sweater was a treat. Now we have commercials in which people find a Lexus under the tree. And the stores are blaring out Christmas music from Halloween onward. We are overwhelmed and bombarded with Christmas cheer.

One year a German friend and I were lamenting that Christmas is not as it was in Europe. So we decided (at great expense) to rent a house at Lake Tahoe for the holiday. When we arrived it was a picture-perfect snow scene. The next morning we awoke to rain. And it rained and it rained. All the snow was washed away. The kids couldn’t play outside. There was no TV. Everyone became bored and bad tempered. The other wife went down with a horrible cold and went to bed, so I was left with the cooking. So much for the perfect Christmas!

The closest I have come was when John and I took a Christmas market cruise up the Danube. We’d stop at small towns and wander among the booths, admiring carved wooden toys, smelling grilling sausages, mulled wine, gingerbread. I thought it was magical. Unfortunately my husband soon became bored. “How many angels do you need to look at?” he’d ask. I’d love to do this again, but I’d have to persuade one of my daughters to come with me!

So I suppose this is one of the reasons I enjoy writing Christmas books. At least I can create the perfect Christmas on the page! The Ghost of Christmas Past is the second Molly Murphy novel I’ve set at Christmas time. And actually it’s quite a dark book. It takes place at a luxurious mansion on the Hudson so it has the old fashioned Christmas with all the trimmings, but an undercurrent of loss and sorrow and mystery is never far from the surface. And of course Molly wants to make everything right. She always does! You’ll have to read the book to find out if she succeeds.


Lesley Cookman said...

My childhood Christmases were vey much the same. I was a post-war baby and there was still rationing in England, but it was always a very happy time, and my grown up children and I tend to stick to the same traditions, even now. I haven't written a specifically Christmas book, although there are a couple set in winter. I shall have to buy the second Molly!

Donis Casey said...

I spet a Christmas in Vienna Austria back in the late '70's. We bought a tiny tree for our tiny apartment and trimmed it with decorations we'd bought at the Christmas market (freezing our behinds off). On Christmas Day we ate goose with dumplings. One of my favorite Christmases ever. My young childhood Christmases in Oklahoma in the '50s entailed going out into the woods with my grandfather a day or so beforehand to pick out a tree to saw down.

Bowen said...

We had a great family tradition where we would choose a top or tip of the Christmas Tree from a range of large Christmas trees on our farm. The tree was always perfect.
I will definitely look into the second book by Molly Murphy.
Thanks for jarring a great memory lane memory.