Friday, December 16, 2016

Holidays with My Characters

Posts from Rick, Barbara, and Aline about holiday customs got me thinking about Christmas when I was a child. I grew up in Virginia, and my parents both worked. Today, my family would be classified as among the "working poor."  That made holidays even more special because my parents always splurged on Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.

On Christmas morning, we had oyster stew and fried oysters for breakfast -- or, in the case of my brother, who would eat neither, his usual cereal.
I never asked why we had oysters, but I know now that the custom is supposed to have originated with Irish immigrants and become an American tradition. After breakfast, we went back to the Christmas tree to open any packages that might have been missed in that first rush to the toys. Our tree was the old-fashion kind -- a real tree that my father had chopped down on my grandfather's farm and that we decorated with tinsel, ornaments, and lights that had to be put on in the right order. The tree went up in early December.

I still have oysters on Christmas morning, but with less of the delight than when I was a child. Now, that I can afford to have them any time I'd like, some of the magic is gone. But it's nice to remember all those childhood breakfasts.

Thinking about all this, has made me wonder about my characters' holiday customs. I suspect that Lizzie Stuart, my Southern-born crime historian, had many of the same meals I did. Of course, she was born and reared in a small town in Kentucky by her grandparents. I must do some research on Kentucky delicacies that her grandmother, Hester Rose, might have served alongside her own childhood favorites from Virginia. And then they would have gone to church. Christmas Day and Easter would probably have been the only two occasions when Lizzie's grandfather, Walter Lee, would have gone without nudging from his wife. As a traveling man, a sleeping car porter until he retired, Walter Lee was not as religious as Hester Rose.

Does Lizzie still go to church on Christmas morning? Or does she share a romantic breakfast with her fiance, John Quinn? In the book I'm working on, they go to Santa Fe to spend Thanksgiving with Quinn's family. Quinn is 1/8th Apache. They will be spending that holiday with his half-sister and her family. His sister, mother, and step-father observe Native American traditions and customs that he does not. His sister, who owns an art gallery, is married to an archeologist, whose parents immigrated from Scotland when he was a child. What will be served at Thanksgiving dinner and what food memories will they share?

And what were Quinn's Thanksgivings like after his mother left his father? Quinn's father was career military and an officer. He had married Quinn's Native American mother and expected her to fit in. Did Quinn and his father join other officers and their families for holiday meals? Or, was his father impatient with such celebrations? Did he occasionally allow Quinn to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with his mother and her family in Oklahoma?

Intriguing questions and something to think about as I'm imagining that Thanksgiving meal and the discussion over the table about how everyone intends to spend Christmas.

How do your characters spend the holidays?


Robin RAY said...

Two of my characters visit the grave of their infant daughter at snowy Mount Auburn Cemetery. Her death created a rift that they are struggling to heal.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

I know in real life, family members often do that. With characters, it must be a concrete way to observe how they are changing over time as they try to heal.