RHYS BOWEN: Today I am celebrating the publication of a Molly Murphy Christmas book called AWAY IN A MANGER. This book is in addition to my regular Molly book that will come out next March. Yes, I wrote three books in the last twelve months. Crazy, I know.
One of the things I liked most about writing a Christmas story was the chance to relive an old fashioned Christmas. Have you noticed how hard we try these days to make Christmas special? Decorations appear in the stores right after the back-to-school sale these days. I see people buying new decorations even though I’m sure they must already have plenty. In about a week’s time we’ll start on the TV Christmas specials—Rudolf and Frosty and all the old favorites. And of course we’ll all fight to buy our Christmas gifts on Black Friday, won’t we? Actually not me. I do my shopping online these days.
I think one of the reasons we try so hard is that we want something that doesn’t exist any more. We want that perfect holiday from the Christmas cards—the cottage in the snow with the sleigh bells and the smells of baking and the family gathered around the fire, children with faces aglow as they await Santa Claus. And the harder we try to capture that feeling, the more elusive it becomes. I know I’ve tried hard enough. One year a German friend was bemoaning how commercial Christmas is in the States and how she longed for that simple snowy celebration from her youth in Europe. Why don’t we rent a house in the mountains for Christmas, she suggested. So we did. Horribly expensive but we wanted to give our children the taste of an old fashioned Christmas. When we arrived it looked just like a Christmas card scene. Snow heavy on the roof and the surrounding pine trees. The smell of wood smoke in the air. The next morning we took the children skiing. And mid way through the morning the snow turned to rain. And it rained and it rained. It washed away the snow and kept on raining—too hard for the kids to play outside. We were stuck in a cabin with no TV and six stir-crazy children. So much for the perfect Christmas!
One year when the children were grown we decided we would forget commercialism and give only home-made gifts. We all worked on them secretly—the candles and fleece pillows and bead necklaces and brownies. Then we exchanged these gifts and tried to be delighted and excited. Then someone cracked and said, “I did actually go out and buy a little something for everyone, just in case.” And it turned out everyone had done the same.
The closest I’ve come to the old fashioned Christmas was when John and I took a Christmas market cruise up the Danube river, stopping at all the little towns with their markets in the main square. The booths were strung with lights and the air was full of good smells—gingerbread and sausages and mulled wine. There were wooden ornaments and toys and children, bundled against the cold, stared in wonder. I loved it. John not so much. “How many angels do you need to look at?” he’d complain.
When I think back to the Christmas of my childhood it was really so simple. My main presents were a sweater, a long playing record (remember those?), a pair of boots, a book. But it was the one time in the year that we had turkey and tangerines and we pulled crackers and sat around the fire and played silly party games like charades. I try to recreate that feeling with my own family but the truth is that we have too much the rest of the year. Turkey isn’t a treat. We have plenty to eat every day. We go out and buy a new sweater when we need one. It was the simplicity the rest of the year that made the holiday season so special. In times of plenty what is there to look forward to?
This may be one of the reasons that Christmas books have become so popular. A chance to step back in time to enjoy the old fashioned Christmas without the commercialism. In Away in a Manger we see Molly baking and taking her little son to see Macy’s department store windows. When they see a beggar child singing with the voice of an angel Molly’s ward is convinced she is an angel come down for Christmas. But finding out who she really is and why she speaks so nicely with an English accent will take Molly from the dangers of the dockland to the highest levels of New York society.
I hope you enjoy Away in a Manger. Maybe you’ll find some suggestions for your celebration this year. I’ll be giving away a signed copy to one lucky commented today. My early Christmas gift to you. And if you didn’t have the chance to read my earlier Christmas book, The Twelve Clues of Christmas, it will be a Book Bub special for most of December. Enjoy.