Yes… you read that right. Not “chimes,” but “crimes.” It’s Vicki, and I’m starting off a group discussion concerning some of the less charitable acts of real life Grinches that occur during the holidays.
It’s a sad but true fact: many criminals see the holidays as a chance to cash in. Along with the usual theft of presents, there are vandalized nativity scenes, drunken parade rampages, ornament shoplifters, and Santa Claus bandits. And then there are the crimes that come from too much family togetherness…
For instance, I recall reading last year about a Connecticut woman who spent December 25th behind bars after throwing a Christmas tree at her parents during an argument. (At least it wasn’t during the carol sing, right?) Truly, the strength of this Tannebaum-tossing teen boggles the mind. Even on a year when we get a “smallish” tree, it’s at least five feet tall and our cast iron L. L. Bean stand alone weighs a good 30 pounds. Maybe Kathy will weigh in as our Christmas tree expert, but I’m guessing this perp had to be chucking a little table-top fir or one of those fake lightweight models they sell in Southern New England.
Kaitlyn: Kathy/Kaitlyn chiming in here to answer Vicki’s question. It would be a good trick to hurl one of our trees, even the little ones. When most people come in from cutting their own, they’re panting a bit, and that’s when they’re dragging the tree on a tarp.
As anyone who has ever worked in law enforcement knows, ’tis the season for doing harm to your nearest and dearest. Crime rates soar, especially in the murder category, when families get together and rediscover all the annoying little things about each other that they’ve been ignoring throughout the rest of the year. Maybe that’s why I tend to prefer books to real life. Even Christmas crimes, murder included, are much more neatly dealt with in fiction. The bad guys are caught and punished. Justice prevails. And, since I have a preference for humor in mystery novels, the sheer perversity of committing mayhem at what is supposed to be a joyous time of year becomes slightly less jarring. And what is the best humorous Christmas murder mystery? It has to be Rest You Merry by the late, great Charlotte MacLeod of Durham, Maine.
Vicki: Not sure if it’s the case in Charlotte’s mystery, but alcohol is usually a factor in holiday crimes, including one that took place just two weeks ago in Pittsburgh. A burglar there broke into a state-run liquor store and made off with some holiday spirits–two bottles of alcoholic eggnog to be exact. Now I like this seasonal treat as much as the next guy, but stealing something worth about $30.00 just doesn’t seem to make much sense.
Kate: The only Christmas “crime” I can personally confess to is the year I couldn’t get the tree to stand up, and my husband was too busy to help. When I said, “But husbands put up Christmas trees,” he said, “Not Jewish husbands.” So I opened the door and threw the tree out into the yard. Later, of course, it came in and the babysitter helped me put it up.
A quick trip around the internet reveals that one source of much “real world” Christmas crime are those lovely nativity scenes that towns and churches like to put up. It seems that the baby Jesus statues are frequently stolen. In one area, the tally was 42 figures stolen from nativity scenes. And a local woman awoke one morning to find all of them assembled in her front yard. Was she deemed seriously in need of some redemption, or was it just a prank? The story does not say.
The moral of the story is that at this season, it’s critical to retain a sense of humor. Since librarians often tell me that many people prefer to get their crime vicariously, here are some of the light-hearted mysteries that are good to read at this season, so that you can stay at home in your chair and resist the temptation to pilfer the Holy Family, or the ox or the ass, or even a kneeling shepherd. From the incomparable Joan Hess, who writes of Sheriff Arly Hanks in Maggody, Arkansas, there’s Oh Little Town of Maggody, and Donna Andrews, whose books are laugh-out-loud funny, Six Geese A Slaying. Leslie Meier, who writes a series set in the fictional town of Tinker’s Cove, Maine, has two offerings in her Lucy Stone series, Mistletoe Murder and A Christmas Cookie Murder. And from one of my favorite authors and speakers, a woman who could talk about hanging wallpaper and have me riveted, there’s Jane Langton’s Homer Kelly mystery, set during the Christmas revels, The Shortest Day.
If you leave a comment on this post, you might be the lucky winner of Anne Perry’s Christmas novel, A Christmas Secret.
Lea: Not exactly a Christmas CRIME — but as a child I remember actually dreading the day we put our gorgeous, huge, tree up. My father and mother co-existed throughout the year quite peaceably. Never an argument heard in our home (between them, anyway.) But three times a year a year the voices heard on high were definitely theirs. Once in the spring, when they removed the large doubled paned storm windows on our three story Victorian house and replaced them with screens, once in the fall, when that process was reversed, and worst of all (because it was all indoors,) when the tree was put up, and the hundreds (it seemed) of lights had to be untangled and put on the tree. For some reason every year my father insisted on doing it, and my father hated doing it. We children hid in our rooms until the process was complete and we could safely emerge. My father had then retreated to HIS room, and we could decorate the tree in peace. Christmas could begin. We were safe from chaos until spring.
Barb: Ha, ha, Lea. We always learned a few new words in our house when Dad was putting the lights on the tree. Between all the cooking and the wrapping and the decorating and the money-spending, my husband and I always find we have one good, rousing fight at some point before the holiday. Maybe it would be best to just schedule it for when we decorate the tree and get it out of the way. No actual Christmas crimes yet, though my husband has a theory that you should always have non-family members at Christmas dinner to prevent the airing of old grudges that my brother-in-law refers to as , “Places, everyone!”
I don’t have a Christmas story, but you can download my first published short story “New Derby, New Year’s Eve,” free from my website here. It features the same characters as my novel.
Writing this post is making me think of a trip we took to northern Italy five Christmases ago. We were there to pick up our son Nate who was spending a semester of high school near Lago Maggiore. (Coincidentally, today’s the day we pick him up from a semester in Shanghai… although we’re just traveling to Portland this time.) Decorations consisted of various stuffed Santas scaling people’s roofs, rappelling down chimneys, or climbing ladders into windows. These “climbing Santas” were in every city and town we visited — a decidedly more criminal version of Jolly Old St. Nick than on these shores. Of course we bought one and proudly put him up every year!
But while Italy may have its share of comic crooks as decorations per la casa, here in America we have the real thing — actual Santa Claus bandits. The most infamous example of the red-suited man committing a crime is probably the Santa Claus Bank Robbery, which occurred on December 23, 1927, in the Central Texas town of Cisco, and claimed the lives of six people. Most recently, there was the Seattle Santa Claus bandit, a twenty-four year old man who tried (and failed) to burglarize a home by sliding down its chimney naked.
Ah, Christmas! While some are dreaming, others are scheming… not necessarily about snow, but about ways to get dough… or revenge… or several bottles of spiked eggnog.
Happy One Week to Christmas, Everyone!