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When is it too soon to start talking about the holidays? In the romance novel business, tales of mistletoe and meet-cutes arrive on booksellers’ shelves starting in late September.

And while holiday romances are not new – genre stalwarts such as Karen Swan and Sue Moorcroft have long been, er, “sleighing” in this niche – this year they’re blanketing #TBR lists faster than a blizzard keeping a plucky heroine in a small town long enough to fall in love with a hunky lumberjack rolls in.

Romance as a genre has become a juggernaut within publishing: According to research group WordsRated, in 2022 more than a third of all mass-market paperback books were romances, generating around US$1.44-billion in revenue and making it the top earning fiction genre. The pandemic, which sent us all in desperate search of a guaranteed happily ever after, sparked three years of rapid growth, with sales up 52 per cent year-over-year in 2022.

The rise of holiday romances are, in essence, an offshoot of that phenomenon, often allowing authors to squeeze another book into the publishing year to satisfy the audience’s voracious appetite. For example, Wreck The Halls, published on Oct. 3, was bestselling author Tessa Bailey’s third title of the year.

There’s also just something about this time of year, says Chantel Guertin, that seems to work in a romance writer’s favour.

“Christmas rom-coms come out early to get you into that frame of mind, and give us that hit of dopamine, that feeling of Christmas,” says Guertin, who just released her own holiday romance, It Happened One Christmas, about a woman trying to recapture the memory of one magical childhood holiday season in a picturesque French-Canadian village.

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“That’s what we’re all trying to do,” Guertin says. “When you read a Christmas romance, it makes you feel so good.” Like their a-seasonal cousins, she adds, holiday romances offer up a chance to “not be so cynical, to look for the good in other people, and in yourself.”

You also get to escape reality for a bit.

“The world is a scary place right now, and the holidays are an acceptable time to be like, ‘I’m just going to focus on this and my family,’” says Uzma Jalaluddin, co-author of the new multifaith holiday rom-com Three Holidays and a Wedding. “These holiday rom-coms always have a happy ending. There’s something comforting about that.”

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Holiday romances – once critiqued for the narrowness of their focus on Christmas – are also increasingly a beacon of inclusivity. That’s something Jalaluddin and her co-author, Marissa Stapley – who has written two other holiday romances with Karma Brown under the shared nom de plume Maggie Knox – embraced in their book. It’s a warm-hearted ride through Ramadan, Hanukkah, Christmas and a traditional South Asian wedding, drawn from their own lived experiences.

“With the state the world is in, there’s a lot of fear and bigotry that seems to be getting worse and worse, and it all, mostly, stems from lack of education,” Stapley says. ”Another great thing about doing this is that you get to teach people without being heavy-handed.”

As Jalaluddin points out, the audience for holiday romance is both vast and diverse, drawn from the gamut of cultural and spiritual backgrounds.

“So many Muslims I know are like, ‘Oh, I love the Hallmark holiday rom-coms,’ and they’ll sit there and watch it. They’ve never celebrated Christmas in their lives, but there’s just something magical,” she says. “This is a way of welcoming those audiences who were already there by providing something they can relate to.”

It’s also what Jean Meltzer did with The Matzah Ball, inspired by her own experience as a Christmas-according-to-Hallmark-obsessed kid growing up in an observant Jewish home.

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“What I wanted to do was write a book that felt like a Christmas Hallmark movie, but would feel authentic to the Jewish experience,” she says.

But Meltzer quickly realized that everything she writes – whether it’s the Sukkot-revolving Mr. Perfect On Paper or her latest, the Purim-centred Kissing Kosher – is, by default, a holiday romance.

Meltzer says she hears from readers that her novels make them “feel seen,” or have sparked donations to various organizations.

“The beauty of writing this type of book is that you get to walk away feeling like you’ve put good into the world,” she says.

Holiday romances can be cathartic for the people who write them too. Just ask “Holly Cassidy,” author of The Christmas Wager, and better known as internationally best-selling suspense author Hannah Mary McKinnon.

In 2020, while she was writing the thriller Never Coming Home, her mother died in Switzerland; McKinnon wasn’t able to be there when she passed because of COVID-19 restrictions.

A year later, her agent asked whether she wanted to write a Christmas romance. She jumped at the chance: Not just to embrace levity, but also to write more each year, something she’d avoided over worries of oversaturating her thriller audience.

“It was a revelation to move back into the light side,” says McKinnon, whose first book, Time After Time, was a romance.

Romances, though, while easy to read are hard to write: The plot came together quickly for The Christmas Wager, but McKinnon worried about straying too far into sentimentality.

I kept thinking, ‘Is this too emotional? Is this too sappy? Is it too, dare I say, cheesy?” A friend advised her to embrace it.

In the end, doing so wasn’t hard. “I’m a complete and utter hopeless romantic,” McKinnon acknowledges, “and quite happy to dig back into that.”

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