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Anyone who was raised on the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol, knows that Christmas can only be properly celebrated in Victorian England. There is something special about those shop windows glistening, with snow building up in the corners. And on the streets, children racing after each other, dodging the carts drawn by horses with bells on their harnesses.

And while the Germans had been decorating Christmas trees for at least a couple of hundred years, it was Queen Victoria and her German husband, Prince Albert, who popularized them in England. In 1848, the royal family was shown celebrating around a decorated tree in the Illustrated London News. It did not take long for the German tradition to spread throughout England.

The Victorians are also credited with the developing the Christmas greeting card. The first one was done for Henry Cole by JC Henley. Lithographed and sold for about a shilling apiece in the 1843, by the end of the century advances in color printing brought the prices down so they were as affordable as they were popular.

(Clearly I am not a Victorian, as I find the contrast between the fat, happy family enjoying a bountiful meal and the hungry, cold people surrounding them to be rather jarring if not outright offensive.)

Another Christmas tradition from the Victorian era in the Christmas Cracker. Created shortly after the greeting card, these novelties were the brainchild of Thomas Smith, a confectioner who noted the bon bons being sold in Paris, wrapped in a twist of paper. He added a pop to the packaging and gave England the Christmas Crackers that still appear at dining tables every year. Happily, they are occasionally seen here in the States.

If Christmas is Victorian, then tonight's author has to be Anne Perry. Known for her Thomas Pitt and William Monk mysteries, she also writes an annual Christmas novella, frequently featuring minor characters from the series.

In A Christmas Guest, the main character, known as Grandmama, is the Grandmother of Charlotte Pitt, who has been pawned off on Charlotte's mother Caroline and her actor husband Joshua Fielding in Romney Marshes for the Christmas holiday. Being displaced for the holiday so that her other granddaughter's family, with whom she lived, could visit Paris, Grandmama was already in a state of resentful self-pity when she learned that there would be another house guest joining her at Romney Marshes. It was bad enough being the least wanted relative in her family, but now she was to be further displaced by a cousin of Joshua, who was apparently as unpopular in her own family as Grandmama was in hers.

But Maude Barrington is a surprise to Grandmama. A world traveler with an ability to see joy and beauty in all things, Grandmama finds herself drawn to this woman in spite of her best efforts to resist finding anything pleasurable in her stay with the Fieldings. When Maude apparently dies in her sleep Grandmama sets out to solve a mystery. What she finds surprises even her.

A Christmas Secret is the story of a London curate, Dominic Corde and his wife Clarice, who travel from London to the village of Cottinsham to fill in as vicar for the Reverend Wynter who is on a three week holiday. Or so they have been told. Welcomed warmly by the villagers, Dominic and Clarice both wish the assignment was more than temporary. As the days pass, and Dominic makes his pastoral calls, Clarice begins to find unsettling signs that suggest the Reverend Wynter is not on a holiday. The more they both learn about the Reverend and his parish, the greater the danger seems to grow.

Both mysteries are light cozies, well suited to a busy holiday season and delightful when taken with a cup of tea and a grain of salt. As usual, Anne Perry can be counted on to provide an entertaining look at a different time and place. Especially at Christmastime.

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Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Mon Dec 24, 2012 at 05:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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