by Julian Keys
I wrote An Act of Charity as a confession: I like bad Christmas movies. Yes, they’re made on the cheap, and I doubt the writers were paid much more than Bob Cratchit. The stories are top-heavy with angels, Santa, elves, reindeer, cute kids, and modern takes on a Christmas Carol. And often very dumb.
Yet every December, I sit and watch a couple of these. Or four or five. Maybe six. I watch them resting back on the couch, bundled up in a soft robe I only wear during the winter, sipping peppermint cocoa from a chocolate pot patterned with snowflakes. Sometimes I include a gingerbread cookie or two. If I’m confessing, I might as well admit to all of these sappy holiday sins.
Why is my frothy, fluffy fetish for such movies (and the rest) a “sin”? Because anything Yuletide-themed is so very soft; from the colors to the music, the plush sweaters, and even the pictures of snow drifting gently down as in a globe. So very soft. That’s a sin in a culture that, by and large, glorifies sharp edges, dark, hard colors, fight scenes and messages of tough love.
Which had me imagining how out of sync a naturally soft-hearted soul might feel in our Grinch-eat-Grinch world. What would it be like for such a person, a young lady perhaps, to keep her light hidden under a bushel until December, the only month it was acceptable for her to let it shine?
This was how I stumbled upon Noel, the heroine of An Act of Charity. Born on Christmas day, in love with the holiday, and indulging in it with abandon. She adores it all, even things she knows are silly, like her footed elf pajamas. When the men in her life roll their eyes, she laughs and agrees that some of her paraphernalia is over the top. That doesn’t stop her from relishing each frivolous item.
Even so, I knew that it hurt Noel to be so out of tune with those men. None of them were capable of matching her lullaby riffs, not even when Christmas time rolled around. Being a musician, she could hardly miss that. Music, I knew, was Noel’s heartbeat, always with her, and I found myself letting that music guide the story, even in scenes erotic.
Getting back to those troublesome men, I created three: the boyfriend who can’t understand Noel’s love of Christmas, but is a fellow musician, a high school crush, back in her life and in tune with her charitable side, and finally, her dour accountant, who, Scrooge-like, has no patience for either her open-handedness or her poinsettia welcome mat.
With these three triangulated about Noel, the story crystallized like a snowflake, becoming one of the most delicate romances I’d ever written. What I took most pride in, however, was that, in the end, the heroine proves that her softness isn’t weakness. It is its own kind of gentle strength.
When I finally published the story, I got quite a few emails from readers identifying with Noel. Seemed I wasn’t alone in my affection for bad holiday movies. The one thing I got the most comments on: those pajamas with feet! Many readers confessed to having some, and others said they went out to buy some after reading the story. I imagine the scene where Noel’s lover erotically slips those PJ’s off her soft, naked skin had something to do with it.
I now watch my bad Christmas movies out in the open, and share my cocoa with whoever is willing to join me. And I believe that An Act of Charity should be read likewise, with pride in all things frothy and fluffy and holiday themed. If nothing else, let this story be a reminder that the music of the angels can be earthy and erotic, and that soft seeming snowflakes have the most beautiful edges.