As I’ve mentioned in The CJN (and other publications), I’ve celebrated Christmas since I was young. My own home is adorned with a Christmas tree with lights and ornaments, a wreath on the front door, garland on the bannister, and seasonal music on the stereo.
The one thing I do pass on, however, is eggnog. Never acquired a taste for it, alas. Not to worry – I still drink the most important part, rum!
As is to be expected, I’ve gradually added new Christmas traditions. This has included books to read to my son, seasonal CDs and DVDs, and new Christmas movies.
One of the most recent additions has been the annual Christmas special put out by one of Canada’s most successful TV series, Murdoch Mysteries.
Based on the popular detective novels by author Maureen Jennings, this show was developed into three made-for-TV movies for Bravo Canada in 2004. Shaftesbury Films then created a highly-acclaimed weekly, hour-long drama series which ran on Citytv between 2008-2012. It was unexpectedly dropped, quickly picked up by CBC – and is seen by more than 1.4 million regular viewers.
Jennings’s titular character, Detective William Murdoch, was born in Nova Scotia in the 19th century. He was a devout Roman Catholic who was educated by Jesuits and spoke immaculate French. He worked for the Toronto Constabulary at Station House No. 4, aided by Inspector Thomas Brackenreid, Constable George Crabtree, and Dr. Julia Ogden (who later became his wife). Murdoch, a Polymath with a photographic memory, used his superb forensic skills in fingerprint identification, blood testing and locating trace evidence to solve mysteries.
Historical figures have appeared on Murdoch Mysteries, including Sir Winston Churchill, Arthur Conan Doyle, Annie Oakley and Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Guest stars have included William Shatner, Mary Walsh, Colin Mochrie and former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
There have been references to Judaism, too.
A second season episode, “Let Us Ask the Maiden,” focused on the mysterious death of Nathan Siebold at his synagogue and took place in The Ward, an area where early Jewish immigrants settled. And a twelfth season episode, “Murdoch Schmurdoch,” involved a murder at a Yiddish theatre where Al and Harry Jolson had made a one-time appearance – and led to a recurring character, Detective Llewelyn Watts, accidentally discovering his Jewish roots.
In terms of the Christmas specials, this tradition started with the release of A Merry Murdoch Christmas in 2015. This was followed by Once Upon a Murdoch Christmas in 2016 and Home for the Holidays in 2017. (The TV series opted to run a dedicated Halloween special this year. It was a good episode, but I hope they’ll revive the Xmas tradition in 2019.)
The Christmas-oriented shows are stand-alone and non-canonical. This strategy enabled Canadians who occasionally watch the series to easily follow along with the storyline and character development. The formula not only worked well, reaching 2-3 million viewers in each instance, but contained a healthy respect for the holidays and Christianity.
There are images one would expect to see in early 20th century Toronto, including trees, lights, ornaments, carollers, school plays, holiday meals, presents and a Christmas miracle or two. In the quest to achieve artistic liberty, subtle references to A Charlie Brown Christmas, Roch Carrier’s book The Christmas Sweater and the 1984 Band-Aid concert magically appear.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a mystery in each special that must be solved before good tidings can be had by one and all.
I’ve been a fan of this show for years, and the good people at Acorn Media have sent me DVDs of its entire run to date. This year, Acorn put the Christmas specials (and a collectible card) together in a box set, Murdoch Mysteries: The Christmas Cases Limited Edition. If you don’t have it, I would highly recommend it.
Happy Hanukkah to CJN readers, and a Merry Christmas to everyone!