Ah, the bustle of Christmas! Decorating your house for the holidays, cooking traditional family favorites,
shopping. Braving the crowds, the weather, the choices —
and returning home to relax with a mug of hot chocolate or a cup of tea.
In the Christmastime Series, Christmas shopping adds a sense of merriment and celebration to the season — whether it’s Lillian preparing for Christmas Night at the Brooklyn department store where she works (Christmastime 1939),
or Mrs. Murphy taking a store escalator up to the “North Pole” toy section to do some shopping for her nieces and nephews (Christmastime 1941),
or Izzy stopping to enjoy the window displays as she walks to work (Christmastime 1943),
or the sisters Ursula and Jessica browsing at the small-town stores in rural Illinois.
Christmas shopping. The sparkle of lights and tinsel, the scent of pine and cloves, the sounds of bells ringing and Christmas caroling heighten enjoyment of the season and deepen the pleasure of gift-giving.
I used to have a tradition of reading a Dickens book every December, as part of my holiday celebration. I love the humor, empathy, and the depictions of Victorian England that Dickens wove into his stories. Though he wrote about harsh realities and the struggles of life, the overall tone is hopeful and uplifting, where love, loyalty, kindness and generosity emerge as the highest values.
Threads of Dickens runs throughout the Christmastime series. In the first book I wrote of the series, Christmastime 1940, the connection was unintentional and I didn’t see the similarities until later. The book first began as a short story (“Old Man Drooms”) that takes place in the snowy winter. However, once the tale developed into a longer story, and I moved the action to the Christmas season, the connections became quite obvious. I realized that all those years of reading and rereading Dickens had worked its way into my narrative.
For the prequel, Christmastime 1939, I made the reading of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol a part of the story. It was actually my way into the story, though it is the character of Lillian who dreads the Christmas season and can’t wait for it to be over.
In the first chapter, Lillian and her boys, Tommy and Gabriel, have returned from her sister’s house upstate where they usually celebrate Christmas. Lillian is completely unprepared for the holiday season and the boys are argumentative as they worry about how they will spend Christmas on their own.
“A tug-of-war began that Lillian feared would result in a broken kaleidoscope. She got up and took the kaleidoscope away and set it on the bookshelf.
“Why are you two so fussy tonight?”
She spotted the book that Annette had tucked into the lunch basket, just as they were leaving for the train. She had forgotten all about it, and lifted it with a sense of being rescued.
“Look here!” she said, showing them the cover. “Annette said this will put us in the Christmas spirit. Come,” she said, returning to the couch. “Let’s begin it. It will be the start of our holiday celebration. We’ll read a little bit each night. How about that?”
Gabriel was all for it and jumped onto the couch next to her. Tommy sat down on her other side and read the title. “About singing?”
“No. It’s a story about a grouchy old man who hates Christmas. I read it many years ago.” Lillian turned to the first page.
Tommy leaned over and read, “Stave One: Marley’s Ghost.” His eyes brightened and he sat up in anticipation.
Gabriel, never one for ghost stories, snuggled closer. Lillian began to read. “Marley was dead, to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that.”
I also used a touch of Dickens in Christmastime 1942. Mr. Mason indulges in the comforts of home and enjoys his holiday tradition of reading Dickens. Since one of the main themes of the book is the theater, the stage, and acting, I have Mr. Mason reading Nicholas Nickleby.
“Mason was indulging in his Christmas tradition of reading Charles Dickens. Every December he decided on a book by his favorite author. Last year he had chosen Bleak House – this year he was rereading Nicholas Nickleby. He was just settling into his book when his domestic bliss was abruptly interrupted by the whirlwind of his mother and his youngest sister, Alice, as they burst into the room.” (71)
And later in the novel,
“Mason arrived home and felt cheered by all the bustle and laughter that filled his house. This was the way he liked it, everyone busy with some Christmas activity. He would prepare himself a cup of coffee, sit in his armchair and pick up Nicholas Nickleby – read smack in the middle of it all. He chuckled inwardly, remembering where he had left off in the book, with the Infant Phenomenon.” (141)
This December, I can think of no better way to celebrate the holiday season than to curl up with a good book, and Dickens is just the thing to reaffirm our belief in the goodness of the human heart.
When it comes to baked goods, nothing quite says Christmas like gingerbread. There’s something old-fashioned and cozy about the fragrant treat. It makes a frequent appearance in my Christmastime series, especially whenever children are around.
Christmastime 1939 — at the very end of the prequel, Lillian Hapsey and her two boys, Tommy and Gabriel, attend a neighborhood Christmas party at the Rossi’s home. Lillian has baked a dessert to bring with them.
“She lifted the platter of gingerbread cake she had made the night before along with a container of caramel sauce and set them by the door.” (153)
Christmastime 1940 — the scent of baking gingerbread momentarily links Lillian and the reserved Mr. Drooms.
“That evening, Lillian began some of her holiday baking. The gingerbread loaf she had placed in the oven almost an hour ago now filled the small apartment with its spicy aroma….As Drooms passed Lillian, he caught a whiff of fresh-baked gingerbread pouring forth from her apartment. The old familiar scent flooded him with an unexpected sense of well-being, and made him feel that he could afford a little neighborliness.” (70-71)
Christmastime 1941 — The indomitable Mrs. Wilson organizes a Christmas Day spotter’s party on the roof and invites Lillian and her boys.
“I’ll be sure to bring some Christmas cookies and gingerbread,” said Lillian.
“Wonderful! And we’ll have the radio on – listening to Mr. Lionel Barrymore read ‘A Christmas Carol.’ It should be quite a day.”( 226)
And at the end of the book, Lillian uses the excuse of gingerbread to make Tommy feel better.
“Tommy was so rarely downcast, that Lillian gave him a quick squeeze to cheer him up. “How about we have our gingerbread tonight? Wil you help me with the whipped cream?”
“Sure!” said Tommy, perking up. “That’ll make Gabriel happy.” (241)
Christmastime 1942 — After work, Mr. Mason enjoys the comforts of home.
“He popped his head in the kitchen and hugged his wife as she directed the children on decorating the gingerbread house, their hands and faces smudged with white icing. Everyone was in the holiday spirit.” (211)
Christmastime 1943 — Jessica and her best friend Shirley have spent hours baking items for the town’s annual Christmas dance.
“We’ll be selling raffle tickets and if you’re lucky, you just might win my date nut bread or Sue Ellen’s famous apple strudel.”
“Or my gingerbread house,” said Jessica, joining her friend.
“Just wait’ll you see it!” said Shirley. “A gingerbread house complete with snowdrifts, a snowman, and gum-drop trees.” (189)
Christmastime 1944 — At an impromptu tree trimming party, Kate offers some holiday treats.
“Kate came to life, providing hot cider and a plate of ginger bread.” (176)
Gingerbread houses, gingerbread men, gingerbread cookies or loafs — a nice touch to add to your holiday season!
In the Christmastime series, baking, preparing meals, setting the table, and having meals together play a prominent role. Cookies and sweets are made days or weeks in advance, and embroidered table runners, bunches of holly, and candles decorate the table.
Below are images of beautiful and festive Christmas tables (all from Pinterest). Whether traditional, elaborate, or simple, a table set with love and a creative touch forms part of the heart of the holiday season.
Small details at each plate and splashes of red and green enliven the table and add interest.
Colorful fruits such as apples, pomegranates, and oranges add freshness and color.
Along with fruit, a few sprigs of greenery and pine cones bring the outdoor world inside and connect the holiday to an older way of celebrating the season.
And, always, candlelight adds a soft inviting glow and contrasts the cold snowy world outside to the warmth and comforts of home.
For all my books, I’ve created corresponding Pinterest boards to provide readers with a glimpse into the worlds I write about. The boards for the Christmastime series capture the charm of an old-fashioned Christmas, and a few black and white photographs help to provide a historical context.
Below are images for the introductory book in the series, Christmastime 1939: Prequel to the Christmastime Series. I hope you enjoy them!
In the prequel, we are introduced to the series’ main character, the young widow Lillian Hapsey, and her two sons, Tommy (8 years old) and Gabriel (5 years old). Many of the scenes involve Lillian’s determination to give them a happy Christmas.
The theme of transformation runs throughout this book, and I’ve woven in threads of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to emphasize this,
as well as other Dickensian themes of struggle, home and family, and general Christmas merriment.
Other images evoke Lillian’s recent Thanksgiving visit with her sister, Annette, in upstate New York,
the cupcakes Tommy and Gabriel see in the window of the German bakery,
holiday toys and candies,
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and the excitement of New York City at Christmas.
Come! Step into the world of Christmastime!
The Christmastime series is available on Amazon, Kobo, B&N, iTunes, and Google and in libraries by request, on Ingram and Overdrive
I’ve always found the idea of Christmas in July a challenging one. After all, summer is the time for picnics on the grass, reading at the beach, backyard cookouts, vacations, lemonade, hammocks…
However, I know there are many people who start to plan — and shop? — for Christmas in July — people who, though perhaps reluctant to admit it, feel a mild frisson to know that in a few short months, they will be wrapping presents, decorating a tree, and baking Christmas cookies. So for those people, I give you the opening paragraphs of the final book in my Christmastime series: Christmastime 1945: A Love Story (available this fall).
The snow fell softly over Manhattan as Lillian Drooms hurried home. She was still smiling from her meeting with Mrs. Huntington and the art director of children’s books. Her drawings had been well received and Mrs. Huntington hinted that Lillian had a good chance at being selected to illustrate a children’s adventure series – she would love nothing more! Happiness and Christmas were in the air, and wanting to catch even more of the holiday spirit, Lillian decided to walk up Fifth Avenue and then cross through Central Park on her way home.
The crowds thickened as she neared and then turned onto the Avenue. All around her the sense of excitement was palpable – in the carolers and newspaper boys, in the honking and braking of traffic, in the calls from the vendors: “Hot chestnuts! Pretzels!” Workers rushed from jobs, couples walked arm in arm, shoppers ducked in and out of stores, their arms laden with packages and shopping bags, and groups of servicemen explored Manhattan while they awaited their final train or bus ride home.
Lillian took a moment to look around her at the bustling city, so alive! And this was just one avenue. She knew the harbor and piers, and Grand Central and Penn Stations bustled with returning soldiers. The roads into and around New York City were crowded as never before – the city was bursting at its seams with life and happiness. At long last, the war was over! And this first Christmas after the war was sure to be a memorable one.
Bumped and jostled by the throng of people, Lillian tucked herself into a doorway to take in the post-war Christmas euphoria. The very air tingled with promise and future, and she smiled out at the swirl of commotion. She observed the faces passing by, all united by a sense of cheerfulness and gratitude. A soldier and a young woman passed by, briefly stopping to embrace and kiss. Across from her, a family, with the father in uniform, stopped to buy bags of roasted peanuts from a street vendor. An older couple laughed as they nearly collided with a ho-ho-hoing Santa Claus bell ringer. Down the block, a cluster of sailors pointed and gawked at the skyscrapers, and across the avenue, a group of WACs – such smart, confident women – chatted with a group of soldiers.
Lillian stepped back out into the stream of people but continued to look all about her. The signs of Christmas were everywhere – wreaths and decorations appeared in nearly all the windows and doors, along with red ribbons and garlands of shimmery tinsel. After the gray of war, everything seemed to be in color. Was it her imagination? Was it her own happiness coloring the world? No, indeed, the dresses in the department store windows boasted brighter shades, and young women sported bolder makeup, brighter lipstick that suited their flashing smiles. And the lights! Strings of colored bulbs shone everywhere – outlining windows and doorways and awnings. It was the first time Christmas lights were used freely since before the war and no one was holding back.
The war was over, Christmas was in the air, and Charles would be home soon! Lillian took a deep breath, checking herself, not trusting to such perfect happiness. She would muster the calm and pragmatism that had gotten her through the war years. Charles was not home yet – in fact, she hadn’t heard from him for several weeks. It could be January or February or later before his arrival. But he would be home – and he would never have to leave her again.
If there are any readers, book bloggers, or book clubs who would be interested in writing reviews for my series, please let me know (email me at Linda@LindaMahkovec.com) and I’ll send you a link to my ebooks. My goal this year is to increase my reviews, especially on Amazon. To those followers who have already left reviews, THANK YOU!! and let me know if you would like to review my other books — The Garden House, The Dreams of Youth, and Seven Tales of Love.
I hope the rest of your summer is lovely, relaxing, and filled with much happiness.