Christmas Around the World: My Russian Legacy

Christmas around the world is our topic for December. Many people rejoice over the birth of Christ and with different countries come various celebrations. Food, church services, gift-giving, decorations, and lights are some of the ways people show their love for the Babe born in Bethlehem. Join us for our trip around the world, starting with Russia…

By Jennifer Hallmark


Uncle Paul, Grandma, Grandpa, Mom

Christmas Eve and day were spent with my dad’s family and my husband’s family, sharing traditions familiar to them. Southern food, presents galore, and catching up on the past year were an important part of their holidays. The New Year would come and go. Russian Christmas would finally arrive.

My family would drive to my parent’s house on January 6, which was the eve of the day Christmas was celebrated on the old “Julian” calendar. The excitement would build as our children, Mandy and Jonathan, looked forward to the small, decorated tree, presents and a special supper to commemorate this second Christmas of the year.


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On Russian Christmas Eve, Mother would set up and decorate a small tabletop tree. We would prepare a special seven-dish Russian meal, which included salmon, stuffed potato pies, borscht or beet soup, stuffed cabbage, polish sausage, boiled cabbage, and special rolls filled with raisins and prunes. We ate by candlelight and recelebrated the birth of Jesus, then exchanged small presents as we shared stories of culture, heritage and family.


My stuffed cabbage and peppers

I’m glad to remember and share my heritage with my family. Today we celebrate different traditions tied to my heritage and home in the Deep South. We rejoice with love, fellowship, food, and gifts.

One Christmas at a time.


Writing Prompt: Share your favorite Christmas tradition.


Trending Now – Beware of the Pop in Pop Culture

by Allie Owens Crockett

If there is one thing my dad taught me about the world in my early years, it was to beware of fads. According to Urban Dictionary a fad is a thing that becomes very popular in a short amount of time, and then is forgotten at about the same speed. In other words, a craze or a trend. They come to pass.

Don’t get me wrong not all fads mean trouble. For instance, I like lots of “green” fads. These are movements having to do with caring for the environment, clean eating, and cleaning with safer products in our homes and around our children. Here’s the catch–the quicker we are to associate ourselves as “we”, the quicker we are to fall under the category of “bandwagon-ers.” This is what I believe my father wished to stress.

Let’s talk sports. Most of us have a favorite team. We paint our faces, we parade to work, our flag’s great colors flitting in the wind. We assemble for the sake of consuming large amounts of food and drink – yelling and jumping in front of a screen.

SONY DSCEspecially here–in the great state of Kentucky–where Basketball was born (just a joke!). But really, Cats and Cards fans make quite a crowd. With this being said, I recently discovered my best friend of 15+ years, and rival Cardinal snob is a complete and total fanatic fraud! On a trip to the gym, she confessed her fan-hood had been passed down. Her family roots for UofL. Why shouldn’t she?

I giggled to myself, because I believe as a young child I chose to (be) a Kentucky Wildcat and was largely associated with liking the color blue better than red. Of course, I made no mention of this to her. I offer this as a funny example of how easy it is to get roped-in with something we would otherwise have no organic pull toward or preference about. I think fads work this way.

When I consider our media-driven society and the sway it has on this generation, I am reminded of my days as Pre-K teacher. It is my belief that children are just as amazingly unique, as they are remarkably alike. In a more positive light, what’s popular or common among this age group can be ideal for prepping them for the years ahead.

file6301307532195When I was in school, the term peer pressure had some unfavorable implications. But I have found that this kind of peer pressure can be a very useful tool in the context of a classroom. Most people send their children to preschool for the socialization, but also to acquire new skills as well as learn what is acceptable behavior in a classroom setting.  It is “popular” for children this age to be grump-a-lumps when they first arrive to school, and to cry for their parents. It is “popular” for children this age to be easily redirected to a new activity once they realize all is well and their classmates are having fun. The more time little people spend in this new environment, the easier it becomes for them to sit quietly, follow simple instructions, and feel quite confident with the security that structure provides.

Even as adults, we are all only children at heart. I believe knowing when to lead and when to follow are two essential elements to living a purposeful life.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens….A time to be silent and a time to speak. Ecclesiastes 3:1,7

And as flashy and high-tech as things become, there really is nothing new under the sun.

Until next time,


Did you know–every time you leave a comment on one of our posts, you are automatically entered in our quarterly drawings for a gift certificate? –Plus–Complete the prompt below for an extra entry in our quarterly drawings! Submit your completed writing prompt via Comments…

Writing Prompt: Let this photo prompt a story! Write a sentence or two or three. Who is she? Why is she here? What is she thinking?

Girl in a park

After Christmas Traditions…interrupted

With family together around the holidays, after Christmas traditions are often as meaningful as Christmas traditions, but sometimes life gets in the way in a dramatic way.

Ten years ago, on Christmas Day eve, the words of the 2004 tsunami came to us like headlines through the phone line from my brother-in-law.

“Thousands feared dead. Seaside villages wiped out.”

My husband, a native of India, put his hand over the receiver. “It’s Decruz. Turn on the news. Something terrible has happened back home.”

Our “after Christmas traditions” were set aside. My husband, Bishop Leo Michael, immediately spearheaded a very successful national fundraising event. He promised to take 100% of the contributions to the most affected tsunami victims in the most decimated areas around Nagapattinam, South India.

A pastor and native of South India, he had worked around the affected coastal region for more than twenty years. He understood the living conditions of the fisherfolk and could well imagine the horrible aftermath of the monster wave that took the lives of tens of thousands.

Our family and church flew into fundraising mode. Then, ten days after the tsunami, my husband and I flew to India.

Being a former journalist, and current freelance magazine writer on assignment, I geared up to trek into impassable villages with my husband where the dead still washed up on the shoreline and massive cremation fires still burned. Villages were destroyed.



SI ExifAlmost ten years later, we returned to the same villages and met the orphans we’d helped. We encountered surprising changes and gleaned a deeper insight into the lives of the fisherfolk and tsunami survivors.IMG_0580


My husband talking to the orphans, now grown-ups

My husband, Bishop Leo Michael, talking to the orphans, now grown-ups

Traditions are a wonderful way to keep a family united, but sometimes life gets in the way and a family has to make adjustments. I was proud of my teenage for understanding and supporting us in those days following the 2004 tsunami. As adults now, I hope they realize the importance of traditions, but have also learned to be flexible and set aside plans when necessary.

In your writing, consider how the unexpected can wreak havoc with holiday traditions. Does a greater good come out of accepting an unplanned challenge?

And if you’d like to follow our journey in my THEN and NOW nonfiction book, TSUNAMI 2004 – Still Wading Through Waves of Hope, it was published today on the tsunami anniversary, December 26, 2014 on Amazon and is only $2.99. A percentage of the proceeds go towards our relief fund to help educate the orphans of the tsunami.

Beautiful beach and sea



Christmas Traditions

imagesJSXRI824By Tammy Trail

I have the pleasure of kicking off the month of December with our theme of Christmas traditions. I started out by doing a bit of research on different traditions other families participate in to celebrate the season. I read that lots of folks like to ride around the town they live in and enjoy the homes decorated with lights, followed by hot chocolate while wearing their pajamas. Lots of baking of cookies and getting together with friends and family for a decorating day.

There was a very sweet idea I read about involving a brand new tree skirt decorated with a child’s handprint every year to commemorate the season and create a memory. I also found that in the country of Sweden there is a tradition where at 3 pm on Christmas Day the country enjoys old cartoons from Walt Disney with the main character of Donald Duck being the favorite.

It got me thinking if we had any traditions in our family, and I guess we do. I like to find a new angel ornament every year for my tree. I have even received angel ornaments as gifts from friends who know of my collection. I now have a tree almost completely covered in angels. As a child, I remember my mother putting a small manger set under our Christmas tree every year. I now do the same. To me, it signifies the first Christmas gift of the baby Jesus for us all. My family also looks forward to the candlelight service on Christmas Eve every year. My daughter has suggested that we have an Italian style dinner this year after services and everyone should be in charge of one dish. Maybe this will be the start of a new tradition and we can do a new country every year.

One year while visiting my mother in New Mexico during Christmas we noticed many of the sidewalks to the front door of the homes were lighted with what she called, “Limagesuminaria” –a tradition from Mexico–paper sacks with sand in the bottom to support a lighted tea candle. Traditionally used on Christmas Eve to guide the spirit of the Christ child to a home.

Whatever traditions you decide to incorporate into your holiday season, I hope everyone has a blast creating memories you and your children will remember for many years. I have one special memory from childhood that I would like to share. When I was about 11or 12 years old, my mother gathered all of us children together and explained that we would have no Christmas that year. She tearfully told us, because our Dad was spending a year in the Penitentiary, she would not be able to afford to buy gifts. We didn’t even have the heart to put up a tree that year. She promised to make it up to us the next year. So four kids went to bed on Christmas Eve with disappointed hearts, but we knew we would be going to visit my Grandmother later on Christmas day, and she always had something for us under her tree. I don’t know to this day how we slept through the night, but we found a wonderful surprise on Christmas morning. Our tree had been put up and decorated, and under it was enough gifts for three Christmases! Our Aunts and Uncles had all pitched in and made sure we had everything we needed for winter and toys too. I watched grateful tears roll down my mother’s pretty face with each gift we opened. She made sure we said our “Thank you’s” later that day!

I wish everyone a joyous and blessed Christmas season!

What’s Your Favorite Christmas Movie?


By Jennifer Hallmark

I love November and December! The holidays bring our family together sharing traditions, conversation, and good food. We enjoy shopping, riding around our community to spy out new Christmas decorations, and winter sports. Something I look forward to each year is watching my favorite Christmas movies and shows.

A Christmas Carol (1984) starring George C. Scott is classic Dickens. The portrayal of Scrooge is masterfully done. Two scenes stand out to me. The scene with a homeless family sitting in the cold eating potatoes that had fallen off a wagon. Then the creepy specter of Christmas yet to come, especially where Scrooge sees his own gravesite.

Christmas cartoons I love include Frosty the Snowman with Jimmy Durante, and Jackie Vernon, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer with Burl Ives, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. My favorite is Dr. Suess’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas with Boris Karloff.

White Christmas is a beloved family film and my daughter’s must see Christmas movie starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. It’s a Wonderful Life with James Stewart and Donna Reed is another classic holiday film.its_a_wonderful_life

Now it’s your turn. What’s your favorite Christmas movie?

Writing Prompt: Jenna turned on the television and within moments tears formed. Not again. The last evening she spent with Lyle they’d watched…

Happy Good Friday and a Blessed Easter to Ye All!

It’s not surprising that many American holidays are steeped in Scotch/Irish/English traditions. Since today is Good Friday and this is Easter weekend, I thought it might be fun to compare a few of their traditions to ours.

Many of our spiritual observances are similar: Lent, Ash Wednesday, Easter Sunrise Service, etc. Some of our non-religious customs also find their roots in the Isles of Britain.

Easter can be traced back to a Saxon goddess of fertility (Eastre). Her festival predates Christianity. Later combined with the Christian faith, the holiday retained its moveable date. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox (the first day of spring). For more in depth information on the Easter holiday, see our earlier post here.

In Scotland, Faster’s E’en fell on the last Tuesday before Lent. It usually included a carnival and feast, when they used up all their meat, butter, and fat. Sound familiar? Lent included fish Fridays, too. By the way, Faster’s E’en was also called Bannock Night, Beef Brose, and Shriften E’en. What a great idea––throw a party and get rid of all the foods that would tempt you to break your fast or diet.

On Good Friday (good meaning pious or holy), farmers took a break. No plowing, no sowing of seed. Everyone loves a long weekend!

Good Friday Service in Ireland

In ages past, Scots lit huge fires to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. This was another custom you could trace back to Saxon times and worship of the goddess. In more modern times, church attendance and a big dinner on Easter Sunday is paramount. The dinner usually includes lamb. You’ll also find Hot Cross Buns available throughout the United Kingdom this time of year.

On Monday morning, following Easter, children rolled painted hard-boiled eggs down a hill. Maybe you thought that particular game originated at the White House. How did this custom get its start? The eggs rolling downhill imitated the path of the sun. Later, it came to signify the rolling away of the stone that sealed Jesus’ tomb.

I’ve enjoyed this month’s excursion to the Emerald Isle and its beautiful, rugged neighbor Scotland. It is important to remember those ties which bind us together; the customs and beliefs we share. Many of us can trace our roots to this relatively small group of islands. Amazing how many times God uses the small and seemingly unimportant people to conquer nations and change history.

Prompt: Mama kept one eye on the door as she finished the preparations for Easter Dinner. I knew what she was thinking, and whispered a prayer lest her hopes be dashed yet again. Everyone was seated round the table. Pa began to slice the leg of lamb when suddenly…

Christmas Festivities Banned?

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I struggled for many days over this blog—my first post as a crew member of Writing Prompts.

Being part Irish, I could talk about my ancestry as Christina did last week. Except I don’t know much about being Irish. I’ve never had the privilege of visiting the Emerald Isle, though I’d like to. My ancestor—both my paternal grandmother and my paternal grandfather descend from the same Murphy (many generations removed)—came from Ireland in the 1700s. In fact that’s about the only information I have on him. Even his first name is unknown.

However, since I have already done a bit of research for my first historical novel, which is set on the outskirts of Struy, Scotland in the year 1650, I decided to share about the one thing I found that surprised me the most.


Until the late 1950s, Scotland had not formally celebrated Christmas for around 400 years.

Surprised? Maybe, maybe not. I sure was. So I read more. I had to know why.

It turns out that when the church was reformed in the 1580s, Christmas festivities were banned because they were seen to be too “Popish” or too supportive of Romanism. The church outlawed the day that remembered the birth of the Savior. 


Today Christmas in Scotland is celebrated much like we do in the US with Christmas trees and presents, but with a more sedate feel. The days are quite short—sunrise around 8:45 am and sunset around 3:45 pm—so the extra lights add cheer to otherwise dark days.

Their food selections are a bit different than our typical turkey supper. Their first course would probably include some sort of soup or smoked salmon. The main course would be roast turkey, beef, pork, goose, venison, salmon, chicken, or pheasant served with roasted potatoes or parsnips, stuffing (made from forcemeat (liver, bacon, breadcrumbs and spices) and/or chestnuts), bacon rolls, chipolata sausages, and a variety of vegetables including brussel sprouts, and carrots, all served with gravy, bread sauce, and cranberry jelly. The dessert, according to, would be Scottish Christmas pudding served with rum sauce, brandy butter, fresh cream or custard.

I would like to try some of these dishes, but they could keep the brussel sprouts (ewww!) and the forcemeat  😛

Writing Prompt: Tell us about one tradition that is important to your family. It doesn’t have to revolve around Christmas. It could be birthday celebrations, or summer vacations. How did it get started?  Do you see yourself continuing this tradition for many years to come?

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