December in Fiction

Origins of December

December, like the preceding months, derives from the Roman calendar’s name for its tenth month as decem means ten. Of course, today, December is our twelfth month, so the meaning of the word conflicts with its current position. Nevertheless, the traditions of the month have remained similar. Larentalia, a Roman holiday celebrated on December 23, celebrated families, and the giving of gifts. The Latin name given to December 25 was Dies Natalis Solis Invicti which translates as the birth of the unconquered sun, commemorating the return of the lengthening of daylight. When Christians chose December 25 as a marker, the Roman holiday was transformed to mark the birth of Christ.

What I love about December is the darkness that brings out the light. Where I live, the sun sets around 4:30 PM. Our community’s reaction to the darkness is to transform the local mall with colorful decorative lights, position a bright star on the mountain above the town where it is visible for miles, and decorate streets and houses with holiday radiance. The twinkling, colorful light displays are whimsical and heartening. It is the one time of year that individuals in the community truly share their community spirit with others in a visible way. Taking a drive across town to view the various displays is a tradition in our family.

December is a popular month to include in novels. I have read two recent novels that treat the holiday in a unique way—Jonathan Franssen’s Crossroads has a passage in which the color red at Christmas time is treated in a manic fashion. Monique Roffey’s novel Archipelago: A Novel tells the story of a father who escapes on a sea voyage with his young daughter after his baby son is killed in a flood in Trinidad and his wife is incapacitated. The father and daughter spend the Christmas holiday in the tropics.

December in Contrasting Eras

This section provides examples of how three different novelists from different eras envisaged December.

In War and Peace, Leon Tolstoy refers to the month of December 13 times. In Tolstoy’s Russia, it was a time for celebrations and multiple social encounters. At one point, Tolstoy ties the feast of St. Nicholas’ Day to an interaction the French doctor has with Prince Nicolas, displaying the disparity in social rank:

“In 1811 there was living in Moscow a French doctor—Métivier—who had rapidly become the fashion. …

On December 6—St. Nicholas’ Day and the prince’s name day—all Moscow came to the prince’s front door but he gave orders to admit no one and to invite to dinner only a small number, a list of whom he gave to Princess Mary.

Métivier, who came in the morning with his felicitations, considered it proper in his quality of doctor … as he told Princess Mary, and went in to see the prince.…

At first she heard only Métivier’s voice, then her father’s, then both voices began speaking at the same time, the door was flung open, and on the threshold appeared the handsome figure of the terrified Métivier with his shock of black hair, and the prince in his dressing gown and fez, his face distorted with fury and the pupils of his eyes rolled downwards.

“You don’t understand?” shouted the prince, “but I do! French spy, slave of Buonaparte, spy, get out of my house! Be off, I tell you…” and he slammed the door.”

In Swann’s Way (1922) Marcel Proust also exploits the month of December as a commentary on French social and individual behavior:

“…”The Verdurins never invited you to dinner; you had your ‘place laid’ there….

From the beginning of December, it would make her [Mme. Verdurin] quite ill to think that the ‘faithful’ might fail her on Christmas and New Year’s Days. The pianist’s aunt insisted that he must accompany her, on the latter, to a family dinner at her mother’s.

“You don’t suppose she’ll die, your mother,” exclaimed Mme. Verdurin bitterly, “if you don’t have dinner with her on New Year’s Day, like people in the provinces!”…”

In Damon Galgut’s contemporary novel, The Promise, set in South Africa, the weather is reversed from what readers in the Northern Hemisphere typically expect in December. About two-thirds of the way through the contemporary novel, Galgut writes:

“Nearly the midpoint of summer and the days are long and white and glassy. Could still rain, even in December, but only sputtered through the winter so not likely to happen now. Weather’s changing everywhere, hard not to notice, but this is huge, a whole city running out of water!… But difficult meanwhile not to enjoy the heat, as the sun showers down its gold. How can you not open to all that radiance and light? Everywhere in Cape Town, it seems, the mind retreats and the body takes its place, baring itself on beaches…”

My Writing Goals for 2022

Publish my second book of poetry:

I am still working on the final edit.

Finish, request feedback, and send my first novel out for review:

This month, I did not work on this novel although I read two novels on a related topic.

Continue to work on my other novels:

We workshopped about two thousand words of my novel in the critique group. I picked up a good research book for the other one.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance: The BWA Steering Committee met. We held our elections for officers for 2023 and I was re-elected president. I hosted Write to Publish, Publish to Sell which featured Jim Ringel, the author of the Lama Rinzen novel series. I have enjoyed reading the first two of the series, 49 Buddhas: Lama Rinzen in the Hell Realm and Hidden Buddha: Lama Rinzen in the Hungry Ghost RealmI also led the BWA Poetry Circle in which we examined the work of the poet who won the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature. Wisława Szymborska, a poet from Poland, trained a critical eye on all she wrote.

Denver Women’s Press Club: I read the newsletter.

Women Writing the West: I met with our critique group. Our discussions are enlightening.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers:  I read the newsletter and listened to a podcast in which Mark Stevens interviewed T. O. Paine, who wrote the thriller, The Excursion.

Document my writing progress through my blog and post it on the seventh day of each month, one blog per month in 2022:

Today is December 7, 2022, and I am posting my twelfth blog of 2022. This month I need to sit down and reconsider whether I will continue this blog into 2023. What I like about writing the blog is that it keeps me focused on my own writing because I need to report each month what I have accomplished, thus I work on aspects of my novels each month. I also must research topics to write the blog which gives me detailed knowledge that I can integrate into my novels. Thirdly, it keeps me connected to other novelists and bloggers from around the world, so I never feel alone in my work. It is amazing that writers from more than one hundred countries have read my blog. I will not decide today—I may or may not “see” you next year! Have a Merry Holiday Season and a Happy New Year!

Today in History: Willa Cather was born on December 7, 1873, in Virginia. She became famous for her novels about settlers on the American frontier. In 1943, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel, One of Ours. Women Writing the West presents an annual award for novelists called the “Willa Award” in her name.

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