xmashearth The idea to talk about Christmas stories crystallized after several readers posted on the Romance Potpourri Forum asking for holiday recommendations and my completion of a Christmas anthology review. After reading several stories that just didn’t do it for me, I realized that I want a certain type of story around Christmas. AAR staffers have definitely written about Christmas stories in the past, so I was able to find a lot of guidance. Rike has talked about her love of comedies and redemption – themed holiday stories. AAR conducted several mini polls about favorite Holiday stories and anthologies such as the ones in 2005, 2006, 2007 and then in 2009. Lynn has also written about her love of Christmas anthologies, and I suspect that there is much more information on the site.

Now if you are thinking that around this time of the year, any sentimental story will do, that is definitely not the case. Ten years ago I burnt out on historical romances, so there aren’t many historical books on my keeper shelf. I haven’t read some of the favorites mentioned in the previous polls for years, so I don’t remember if any meet my holiday requirements. I do know that contemporary stories for the most part seem more about finding love than anything else. And while that is more than worthwhile and I can handle a good sexy romp for Valentine’s Day, but around Christmas I have higher expectations.

Very few of us have a totally Hallmark Christmas. It is unrealistic to expect it. We’re human and there is a lot of stress around Christmas from having enough time to get everything done, to stretching our dollars, to finding the perfect gift, but with a Christmas story I want to escape into fantasy and bring back the certainty that I had as a child of Christmas being a magical time.

Robin Uncapher’s comment that, “My favorite Christmas stories are ones where the characters seem to find something beyond themselves in the meaning of Christmas,” comes the closest to duplicating my thoughts. I probably would paraphrase it as saying I want characters that exemplify the true meaning of Christmas with giving. Maybe it is because long ago O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi shaped my expectations.

I like my stories to have giving with meaning, and by giving I am talking the giving of time, of self, and of love; a two carat diamond ring under the tree doesn’t cut it. I want the whole fantasy – emotion and all. And that includes the Kodak or miracle moments such as a found family member or a soldier returning home or a child being adopted. Around Christmas, I want books that touch my heart.

I know that some people don’t like children in stories, but with Christmas stories my preference is to bring them on. But don’t give me children only interested in what Santa is going to bring. I want to read about them doing things like picking a name off a local Angel tree and helping a needy family, or reaching out in friendship to someone in need. Or maybe the miracle happens to them, such as a new mother or father.

So I guess what I am talking about is that I don’t want a wallpaper Christmas. A book needs more than a Christmas setting, holiday party, or a visit from Santa Claus. Sounds like I have set the bar pretty high, doesn’t it?

Out of all the holidays in the year, Christmas has always been the most memorable for me. I guess that is why I expect the books around this year to be so, too. So how about you? What do you look for in a holiday story? Do you find that your expectations are fulfilled? What recent releases have you read that really put you in a holiday mood?

– Leigh Davis