This year Harlequin reissued Debbie Macomber’s first Christmas romance, The Gift of Christmas, almost three decades after it was first published. Since that first holiday book in 1984, Macomber has written another twenty-three Christmas novels plus a novella. This doesn’t count the books reissued singly or in combination. Then, there are the three Hallmark Christmas movies—Mrs. Miracle, Call Me Mrs. Miracle, and Trading Christmas. The first two became Hallmark’s highest rated movies of their respective years, and the third won its slot. For many romance readers and a lot of other readers and viewers who don’t consider themselves romance fans, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without Debbie Macomber’s contribution.
David Hinkley, an entertainment columnist for New York Daily News, called the Hallmark movies based on Macomber’s books “the Labrador retrievers of the movie world” whose “only goal is to make you feel good.” I thought that was an apt characterization of Macomber’s Christmas books as well. Labs are popular and family-friendly, and time with one leaves you smiling. All these things are true of her books.
One might say that Macomber owes her title as Queen of Christmas Romance to the angels, or more specifically to three angels, Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy. Macomber had written several Christmas books before then, but it was with the introduction of the three in A Season of Angels in 1993 that Macomber’s Christmas books became an annual event. In the first one, Gabriel sends Prayer Ambassadors Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy to earth to answer three Christmas prayers—a little boy’s prayer for a new dad, an up-tight, upright single woman’s prayer for a husband, and an obstetric nurse’s prayer for a child. The angels must bring the heroines of the three stories to recognize their need to change, tasks that are made more difficult by the temptations certain earthly devices present for these celestial beings. Macomber says that the idea for Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy, came to her through a combination of looking at angels in holiday catalogs and reading the 23rd Psalm. So popular were the angels with readers that Macomber had Gabriel, with some misgivings, send them back to earth on additional missions in The Trouble with Angels (1994), Touched by Angels (1995), and Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy (1999). The last with its sixty-year-old protagonist in need of redemption after a life of selfishness is definitely not a romance, but the romance element is an important thread in Those Christmas Angels (2003) and Where Angels Go (2007). The most recent angels book is last year’s Angels at the Table in which apprentice angel Will joins Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy in New York City to aid in getting a romance between a restaurant-owner and a food critic back on track.
Mrs. Miracle (1996) and Call Me Mrs. Miracle (2010) are also part of what Macomber’s website calls her “Angelic Intervention” series, although the mysterious but wingless Emily Merkle is as much Mary Poppins or Nanny McPhee as angelic presence. In the first book, widower Seth Webster is overwhelmed by the chaos created by his six-year-old twin sons and the long line of housekeepers who have fled from them. Mrs. Merkle, called Mrs. Miracle by the twins, restores peace and harmony and does a bit of matchmaking as well. Mrs. Miracle repeats her matchmaking in the second book in which Emily Merkle becomes an employee in a New York City department store and solves a retail problem along with healing hearts and encouraging love. After seeing the movies, I’ll probably always see Doris Roberts as Mrs. Miracle, but only the books give me those pithy Mrs. Miracleisms like this one: “A lot of people want to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity. —Mrs. Miracle”
I doubt that there is a subject remotely related to Christmas that Macomber couldn’t take and weave into a Christmas story that is, as Entertainment Weekly said, “heartstring-tugging schmaltz.” She has written successfully about Christmas travelers (Can This Be Christmas, 1998), holiday curmudgeons (When Christmas Comes, 2004; renamed Trading Christmas, 2011), Christmas letters (Christmas Letters, 2006), charity baskets (The Christmas Basket, 2002), a Christmas baby (A Cedar Cove Christmas, 2007), even fruitcake (There’s Something About Christmas, 2005).
In Starry Night (2013), the story of two writers, journalist Carrie Slayton and reclusive survivalist author Finn Dalton, Macomber returns to what she describes as “romance, plain and simple.” It was another bestseller for Macomber who knows what her readers want from her Christmas books. If you are looking for angst and edginess, you need to look elsewhere; but if you want your Christmas stories as sweet as a Christmas confection, Macomber has a shelf full from which you can choose. As for me, I plan to choose a couple of favorites, one of which will definitely be an angel book, and curl up in a chair by the Christmas tree, with a cup of tea and a frosted angel cookie at hand, confident that these books will leave me in just the right frame of mind to fall asleep and dream of sugar plums and happy endings.
And if I want to create some sugar plums to share with family and friends, I can pull out Debbie Macomber’s Christmas Cookbook (2011), a compendium of recipes, craft ideas, and personal stories about Macomber’s Christmas memories and traditions. According to a recent announcement, Macomber has signed a deal with Ballantine Bantam Dell for nine new books. I feel certain that I can count on some of those new books being Christmas books that I will happily add to my collection.
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.