Christmas is a precious consensual delusion. It's a once a year opportunity to place my hope and perhaps even my belief, in the magic that could be wrought if we really acted with goodwill towards each other.
The rest of the year, I school myself to avoid delusions and to examine carefully the motives and actions of those around me. Unless I check myself, I'll carry this mindset over into Christmas and my jaded eyes will see a slightly frantic couple of weeks, focused on cooking to impress, shopping to appease, and going to parties that serve food I can't eat and alcohol that I don't want to avoid offending people that I don't really know.
I check myself through rituals that change my internal monologue. I stop following politics. I reduce my workload. I spend more time at home and I tailor my reading to give Christmas a home in my imagination.
Here a the five books that I've chosen as this year's Christmas Totems.
St. Nick" by Alan Russell is about a suicidal, suspended cop, pushed into playing Santa in a shopping mall to help a former colleague catch some violent men but who ends up entangled in the almost-impossible-to-achieve Christmas wishes of two children he refuses to let himself disappoint.
I love the potential that comes from having a cynical, depressed cop, who is close to giving up on everyone, including himself, be the medium for bringing the spirit of Christmas into the world.
"Silver Bells" is a collection of four short stories about Christmas.
"Silver Bells" by Fern Michaels is about a film star leaving the shallowness of Hollywood to return home to Apple Valley, Pennsylvania. Once there, she encounters her high school crush and... I'm expecting a twisty but good-natured path to a happy ending.
"Dear Santa..." by JoAnn Ross is about a mystery author, portentously named Holly Berry, (-who would do that to a child?) whose SUV has broken down, stranding her in a hamlet called Santa's Village in Washington for the hated holiday season. There she meets the Lodge owner and his five-year-old daughter and has a Christmas epiphany (can you have an epiphany at Christmas or do you have to call it something else?)
"Christmas Past" by Mary Burton is a darker offering about a photographer who receives a letter with a clue to a killer's identity, that takes her on a dangerous road trip over Christmas.
"A Mulberry Park Christmas" by Judy Duarte is about a resident of "Sugar Plum Lane" ( I kid you not) whose flagging passion for Christmas (and presumably, other things) is rekindled by a chance encounter with her first love.
"The Santa Klaus Murder" by Mavis Doriel Hay is a classic 1930s English Country House murder mystery. The Melbury family's Christmas takes an unexpected turn when a guest, dressed as Santa Klaus, finds the family patriarch has been shot in the head.
I'm hoping this will be a light, period piece, wrapped up in Christmas garlands.
"Hercule Poirot's Christmas* by Agatha Christie is a seasonal, locked-room mystery, with a vast cast of unpleasant family members who provide Poirot with a suspect pool to wade through.
I'd promised myself a proper Poirot story this year after it turned out he only has a cameo appearance in "Elephants Can Remember", so this has an extra benefit for me.
"Snow" by Howard Odentz is my final choice. It's a short story, currently being offered for free on Kindle
It's set in October and it's about a killer stalking a High School in a snowstorm so it's not really on topic but I thought, snow, winter, short story, why not?