I just finished looking through the final copy of my October release, a novella entitled “This Wicked Gift.” It’s a Christmas story, and so very occasionally, one of the characters will wish another a merry Christmas.
Those two words–used twice, I think, in the novella–gave me a lot of grief. My thinking went like this.
- As many of you know, British people today do not wish each other a “merry” Christmas. They say, “happy Christmas” instead. You see this formulation in a thousand different Christmas novellas. It’s always “happy Christmas” instead of “merry Christmas.” One of those across-the-pond things. So everyone is doing it.
- But it’s wrong. You see, back in 1822, British people actually wished each other a “merry Christmas,” too. It’s just that during the latter part of Victoria’s reign, people associated “merriness” with “drunkenness” and so the staid society decided to make it clear that they wanted your Christmas to be filled with happiness, not hangovers. Thus, the transition to a “merry” Christmas instead. That’s why, if you read Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, you’ll see all the characters wishing each other merry Christmases–not happy ones.
- Brit-picking is thus in substantial tension with historical accuracy. Which one wins out?
I decided to go for historical accuracy. But I did so, knowing I would probably get more mails saying, “Hey, British people don’t say ‘merry Christmas’!” then I would get mails saying, “Actually, in 1822 British people didn’t use ‘happy Christmas’!”
But the whole thing made me question: Is the reason I strive for historical accuracy as an author just so I can avoid criticism? Do I do it because it’s the right thing to do? Or do I do it because my goal is to transport the reader to another time as best I can, and inaccuracies jar the reader back into the present?