by Susan A.J. Lyttek
It’s one thing to reminisce about Christmases gone by and to tell our own tales. But how do we go about creating traditions for a fictional character and make it seem both compelling and realistic?
First of all, we can and should incorporate some of our own traditions. Maybe these go in with a minor character, but I prefer to include what I know with a main character. For instance, I like to plunk out carols on the piano during the holidays—no matter how rusty I may be—so Jeanine likes to do the same thing in Plundered Christmas. “She [Josie] opened a carol book to the page and put in front of me on the piano. Fortunately, for me, Margo had chosen a carol I could play with both hands.” In addition, I had Jeanine end her playing with her favorite carol, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, which just happens to be my favorite as well.
Use some traditions you witnessed from friends and relations, next. For instance, one of my friends as a child always bought their tree and set it up on Christmas Eve. So, when Jeanine’s family get invited to share Christmas with her dad’s fiancée, they witness that, too. “We’ve always decorated and put up the tree on Christmas Eve. It will be fun having your kids help us this year,” Margo tells Jeanine. And since Margo is supposedly incredibly wealthy and lives on an island, the humble tradition of my childhood friend became intensified and hardly recognizable. The tree—a fifteen-foot monstrosity—is delivered by helicopter and then carted into the foyer.
The next part is my favorite way of incorporating Christmas traditions into your fiction. Here, you get to give your characters ways to celebrate that you have always wanted to try. For instance, while my family would not let Christmas go by without hearing Linus recite the true meaning of Christmas and going to church service, we don’t read the account aloud as a group. That always struck me as sweet, so that became a regular feature of Christmas for Jeanine and her kids. “Dad called us over to the couch that faced the tree… ‘Now,’ said my father. ‘It is time for us to remember how our Savior came into this world.’ He opened his well-worn Bible to the Gospel of Luke.” Of course, as a mystery, this tradition gets interrupted by someone being put in harms way, but all the characters long for it—to feel like Christmas. “’Papa,’ Josie asked. ‘Do you think Miss Margo would mind the rest of our Christmas Eve tradition?’”
Lastly, incorporate traditions and celebrations you have heard about as flavor. When Jeanine talks to friends, for instance, we can see a little of what Christmas means to them. Also, while I have known of people who decorate with a ton of lights (and have driven by their homes), no one in my immediate circle uses “so many lights that the electric company writes him thank-you letters” as I give Jeanine’s dad credit for. But we know people do that.
No matter how your characters celebrate Christmas, make it real for them by touching on what you know, what you have seen in others, and what you wish might become a part of your own Christmas. That combination will bring your fictional Christmas to life!
Susan A. J. Lyttek, author of four novels, award-winning writer, blogger, wife and mother to two homeschool graduates, writes in time snippets and in colorful notebooks. She also enjoys training up the next generation of writers by coaching 6th to 12th grade homeschool students.