Whether your vision of the perfect Christmas is “city sidewalks, busy sidewalks/dressed in holiday style” or “Christmas in the country/like another time and place,” chances are you can find your preferred image in a Christmas romance.
NoveList offers 764 titles categorized under the phrase “Christmas romance,” and I suspect that list is far from complete. My personal preference is for Christmas in a small town: The parade that the whole town turns out to see, the Christmas pageant with a freckled angel, the Santa plate with Miss Eunice’s special chocolate rum balls—these have the comfort of the familiar and cherished for me. And seeing love work miracles of healing and reconciliation makes the story perfect.
I have loved my Christmas visits to many small towns. I think of Destiny, Ohio; Valentine, Oklahoma; Twilight, Texas; Eternity Springs, Colorado; and Misty Harbor, Maine fondly, but I do have favorites. Here are my top three small towns at Christmas.
1. Virgin River, California
I knew when I read Virgin River, the first book in this series by Robyn Carr that the town was a special place, and each return visit has served to reinforce that impression. Christmas in Virgin River is truly spectacular. First, there’s the community Christmas tree, “the most amazing tree in the world.” Decorated in red, white, and blue with white lights, gold stars and patches representing hundreds of military units, it towers in the night sky, topped by a star powerful enough to create a path of light to show the way home. The tradition of the tree begins in A Virgin River Christmas (2008, Book 4) and continues in “Under the Christmas Tree,” a 2009 novella and in this year’s bestselling Bring Me Home for Christmas. The tree lighting celebration includes shared food and drink at Jack’s Bar and caroling—a bit awkward and limited to first verses. There’s even a Christmas sermon in A Virgin River Christmas, one about the Christmas star and its promise. The folks in Virgin River don’t stop with decorations and words. They take care of those in need—whether they need a good meal, a good hug, or a good listening ear. Idyllic? Maybe, but it’s the kind of place I love to spend Christmas.
2. Avalon, New York
There are Christmas books in which the holiday is a festive, mostly generic backdrop, and there are Christmas books in which the holiday is integral to the action and linked to the particular place. Lakeshore Christmas (2010), Book 6 in Susan Wiggs’s Lakeshore Chronicles, falls in the latter group. Avalon has an annual Christmas pageant, and this year it is co-directed by a librarian, a traditionalist who loves Christmas and all the decorating, gift wrapping, and family gatherings that are the essence of the season for her. The other director is a former child star who is embarrassed by his role in a perennial favorite Christmas movie, resentful of his childhood on the road with none of the traditional trappings of the holiday, and generally bitter about “ex-mas,” a time when he’s been dumped three times. As these two work through their differences, learn to understand each other, and predictably fall in love, they also create a pageant that is distinctly theirs and one that speaks to the meaning of Christmas. There’s even an angel, an unusual one with a connection to Avalon. Christmas music is an important part of the story too, from the usual Christmas carols to “The Runaway Reindeer,” the song from the hero’s old movie that continues to haunt him, to the new carol he writes.
3. Bethlehem, New York
Marilyn Pappano first invited her readers to spend Christmas in Bethlehem with Season for Miracles in 1997, the first book in a series about a town where angels appear ordinary but the miracles that accompany them do not. A Season for Miracles became a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie in 1999 with Patty Duke as the angel. Several tropes are woven together (runaways, mistaken identity, secrets) to create a story about forgiveness, finding a place to belong, and the many facets of love. Bethlehem is filled with people who exemplify the giving spirit of those who in Dickens’s words “keep Christmas in [their] hearts.” The holiday trappings are there too—from the Christmas goodies to the shopping to Santa.
The second book, Some Enchanted Season (1998), takes readers back to Bethlehem for another Christmas, but the holiday setting serves a different purpose in this book. The story begins just before Thanksgiving, but at its heart is the Christmas nearly a year earlier, a season of betrayal revealed by a Christmas gift. The heroine recovering from near-fatal injuries sustained in a Christmas Eve accident has forgotten that Christmas, but the closer another Christmas draws, the stronger is the possibility that she will remember and destroy the joy she and the hero have rediscovered. Bethlehem with its reappearing angel, its lessons about love, and its fostering of forgiveness is a warm fuzzy-inducing place to spend a few hours of the Christmas season.
Is your idea of a perfect Christmas setting more Bedford Falls or more New York City (Miracle on 34th Street style)?
Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.