Celebrating Diverse Holidays
At the time of year when we're surrounded by Christmas decorations, Holly March explains why we should be reading and, most importantly, championing, diverse holidays in romance.
In November, the great Felicia Grossman (author of Dalliances and Devotion and other Jewish-centred 19th Century romances) spoke on Twitter about the need to balance our paradigms a little better when presenting holiday romances.
The American market dominates holiday romances in the Western hemisphere. Hallmark and Netflix movies (if you’ve not watched The Spirit of Christmas, do!) and thankfully endless snowed in stories, reunited by family stories, and Scroogemance stories (see my Archetypes piece for more details, wink wink) fill our shelves and screens each year.
And that is bloody exhausting for romance authors of other faiths.
While many agnostics and atheists can just mosey on through the Xmas season with the occasional eye roll, and remind everyone that all the best bits are pagan anyway, for Jewish, Islamic, and Hindi immigrants and denizens of the internet… it can be frustrating.
Publishing houses and film makers, as businesses, are very money focused. They have to be mercurial to survive. So every project is aimed at the majority, and the perceived majority in the US is Christian. Any project with characters of other faiths have to be softened with a Christian character to a) translate to the audience what they’re too lazy to Google, and b) prove how nice and accepting Christians are of other faiths. In Ms Grossman’s words, publishers are concerned their audience will “find it too jarring that beliefs they thought were universal aren’t”.
Oomph. Lot of truth there.
When Birmingham (the UK one) announced it was changing the Christmas celebrations to “Winterval” to be more inclusive, the biggest backlash was from the large Islamic and Hindu population of the city who did not give a damn. They were fine with Christian celebrations. They are cool with Santa Clauses everywhere and Nativities. Other cultures, (generalisation warning here), do not want Christmas muted. They do not want to ‘wage war on Christmas’. They just want as many Eid and Diwali and Hanukah romances published as there are Christmas ones.
Christmas romances might not include church or prayer, they might not focus on advent, but they are still rooted in the western Christian paradigm. They assume everyone knows all the background stuff. They don’t explain stockings because everyone knows about stockings on the mantel, right? So why shouldn’t there be Hanukah books without pandering explanations to non-Jewish readers? Why does a book about Eid have to put in italics and explanations? Dear Gods, most of us are reading on smart phones or with them in our pockets, an alarm set so we don’t get too wrapped up in reading and forget to eat/walk the dog/go back to work.
It is not so hard to Google details, and we should.
We should always want to expand our knowledge and understand more. And even if that isn’t the case, even if we do not look it up, who gives a damn! It wasn’t written for us! It was written so someone can give a Hanukah romance to their friend over those eight days. It was written to help stave off hunger pangs during Ramadan.
My name is Holly. I am privileged in so many ways if someone says ‘Check your privilege!’ I have to ask them to be more specific. It’s all right if some books are steeped in a culture other than my own and I choose not to read it. There is not enough choice that has not been watered down by publishing/TV executives. People of all faiths should be allowed to be unapologetic.
They don’t want Winterval. They just want to be able to celebrate their stuff as much as we celebrate ours.
My Dad taught me about paradigms very young and it has always been one of my favourite words. As writers we have to be aware of the way our upbringing, our beliefs, and yes, our privilege, shapes our writing. As a white allocisgender heterosexual woman writing romances I am privileged as fuuuuuuck! There are so many books for me to read and I rarely feel my paradigm ruffled.
Pamela Sanderson’s Heartbeat Braves rocked me hard because I like to get to the HEA with the characters having financial stability. I have Severe Anxiety Disorder, after all, and I worry about them! Especially when the epilogue baby comes along! But for Native Americans/Indians that kind of firm financial stability is rare. It would be unrealistic and naïve and disrespectful to just magic money out of nowhere.
Felicia Grossman’s novels beautifully present the distrust and distaste Christian families and communities had for Jewish people, and the pressure put on Jewish families to conform to social standing but also from within to maintain the faith and practices of their people. Alyssa Cole’s portrayal of black Americans in the Civil War, spying from behind enemy lines, conveys a feeling of isolation and despair and the need for determination in a situation where hope just does not suffice.
We should all read books like that, especially if they are outside our safe paradigms. But those of us in social or religious majorities must also champion the writing of stories that have nothing to do with us. Because it’s not always about what we want or need. We must ensure minority groups have representation. Not for us and our shelves, but for their own pure enjoyment without having to watch the main character explain to their friend what all the traditions mean.
Basically, we need more of the mahjong scene in Crazy Rich Asians.
Anyway, have an awesome season, beloveds! Eat well, stay warm (or cool in the Southern hemisphere), and celebrate that you made it through another year! No matter how tough it got, you made it! And you have so many more stories to tell.
There’s no better time than blanket season for that!
What are your favourite Diverse/Alternative Holiday books? Share them with us in the comments here or on Social Media using #DiverseHolidays and if you haven't already read one, check out our Ali Reads list of recommendations this month for suggestions!