My Christmas Tradition

by Betty Boyd

file0001298428842I have been living in the Tennessee Valley for twenty years. While married to my late husband, we never really celebrated the traditional Christmas. So most of my adult life, I did not have any Christmas traditions. Growing up, our family had the usual waiting for Santa Claus to give us gifts, but that’s as far as it went.

I had always wanted to attend midnight mass. I joined St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Athens, Alabama in 2009 and joined their choir later that year. They sang every year at midnight mass. Here was my “in.”

The choir starts preparing in late October. I wasn’t sure I could get into singing sacred Christmas songs this early, so I decided to listen to what each song was really saying about the birth of Jesus. This made it easier for me to sing.

Just after Thanksgiving, the pressure is on in rehearsals. The choir director is making sure we go through all the music as many times as we can fit in, to make it as perfect as possible. I am starting to feel nervous, for this is the first midnight mass in which I will be singing.

The day has arrived. It is Christmas Eve, and I hope I am prepared for this special event. Throughout the day, I keep thinking–can I do a good enough job to show God I truly glorify and love Him? Though I have participated in some form of choir all my life, I have never been this nervous about singing. Am I up to the challenge?

I arrive at the church at least 45 minutes early. The singing for the midnight mass starts at 11:30 while the congregation files in. The choir’s music is performed by two brothers on acoustic electric guitars, along with other electronic accompaniment. We have a small choir of 10 people, which makes it both beautiful and unique in performing.

The live music helps me sing better with the choir. We sing throughout the two-hour-long mass. As each song is performed, I feel closer and closer to God. For the first time in my life, I feel as though it is really Christmas.

file0002074159204Singing at midnight mass has been my tradition for five years now. I practice with the choir in preparation. I find the songs more beautiful and their meaning more special. Singing at midnight mass inspires me to know that the true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

May your Christmas be blessed by the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

A Long Time Ago in a Faraway Place…

by Betty Thomason Owens

A long time ago in a faraway place…

Sounds like the beginning of a fairy tale, doesn’t it? I can imagine scrunching down in my bed, getting ready to hear a wonderful story that helps me drift off to sleep. A story filled with marvelous things, like fairies…and princesses and kings.

What story do you read or tell on Christmas Eve? What story beckons to your imagination? “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” Many of us know that one by heart.

Then there’s the story of the animals that spoke at midnight on Christmas Eve. And the true story of the Christ child, born to Mary in Bethlehem, a long time ago…a faraway place. Shepherds came in from the fields, sent by an angelic host. The three wise men arrived, bearing strange gifts. The Christ child cooed in his makeshift cradle—a manger—a humble beginning for a king.

Leonardo DaVinci

Leonardo Da Vinci

The magic of Christmas glows in our hearts. The traditional telling, whether we read it or say it from memory, passes on the tradition of belief. And belief lends strength to the hearer. How will they hear unless someone speaks the message? How will they believe if no one teaches?

It may have all the earmarks of a fairy tale, but it’s grounded in truth. We’ve fictionalized it over the years, but the facts remain. If you open the Bible and read it directly from the Word of God, you find truth that touches hearts and ignites a fire within.

So plant the seeds of faith in your children and grandchildren, nieces, nephews, friends. Tell the story, or read it aloud to them. Share the faith that burns in your heart because someone shared it with you. And never forget the Christ child born in a manger, who grew up to change the world.

May you and your family have a wonderful Christmas and holiday celebration. Peace on earth, good-will to men!

Betty Thomason Owens

One of My Favorite Christmas Traditions

silver nativity

By Jennifer Hallmark

“How do you keep Christ in Christmas at your house?” My friend, Tracy asked me. My mind drifted automatically to the nativity scenes I display at Christmas. In the past, two main scenes decorate our house amidst the many snowmen I collect. This year I’m also adding a third. Let me tell you about them and what they mean to me.

First is my silver-plated set given to me by my mother and step-dad. It’s an elegant rendition of that first Christmas, each piece handcrafted and detailed. It reminds me of all that is beautiful during this season. From decorations, to selfless acts to large choirs singing songs of adoration, at Christmas time, beauty is on display.

My second set came from a local department store during a sale after Christmas. This ceramic set is more down-to-earth, a closer portrayal of the reality of a stable, hay and animals that surrounded the Savior’s birth. This set reminds me of the reality of life, the hurry, the bad mixed amongst the good during a season full of people with faults and failures, people a lot like me.Jennifer Hallmark ceramic nativity

I received my third set this year, a gift from my brother and his wife for my fiftieth birthday. Handcrafted in Talkeetna, Alaska, near where they live, this set has two spruce trees and an igloo. Some might think it odd knowing Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but I see symbolism in it as well. Jesus came to earth to save us all from the Eskimo in Alaska to the Aborigines in Australia to the Native Americans in the western United States.

Jennifer Hallmark alaska nativitySo as I decorate for Christmas and watch my granddaughters carry around baby Jesus and ask me questions about these different renditions of Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus, once again Jesus is lifted up in the Hallmark household.

Writing Prompt: Make a list of your favorite Christmas decorations and detailed descriptions and personal meanings of each. File this to use in an upcoming short story, novella, or novel.

A Train Station Christmas by Nike Chillemi

The Writing Prompts Crew would like to thank Nike Chillemi for contributing the following short, short story. We hope you enjoy the read.

Montauk, NY Railroad Station
December 24th, evening
Alexandra “Alex” Mink, Private Investigator

"Courtesy of Stock.xchng"Christmas Eve, what a way to usher in the holiday, performing surveillance at a train station. At least it kept me busy and prevented me from dwelling on the recent losses in my life. Who was I kidding? I couldn’t stop thinking about my undercover FBI agent fiancé having been gunned down by the gang he’d infiltrated. Nor could I forget my State Trooper partner’s murder. That’s why I’d left the force and become a private cop.

Standing on the platform, I wrapped my black-leather jacket around me against the bitter wind coming off the Atlantic. Flashing back to the designer jobbie with the fluffy fur hood the salesgirl at the outlet store tried to push on me, I had to admit, that one now had some appeal. Mine was lined, but what beat out that other coat is this one had side pockets large enough to conceal my Beretta.

My client, an eccentric billionaire with a phobia against calling the police, had a killer after him. So he hired me for protection.

My cell phone rang. It was Kirby, my part-time assistant, a full-time gamer, and a techno wiz. He had determined the hit man would come to this northern, seaside resort-town on the commuter train, appearing to be a holiday traveler.

The day before yesterday, I’d spent hours in my car staking out the station. Yesterday I’d used Kirby’s car for surveillance. Today I checked out the place on foot. The trains had come in regularly, expelling passengers laden with luggage and gaily wrapped holiday packages.

The only thing of note was the elderly pot-bellied gent with a scruffy white beard they’d recently hired as a janitor. The man had to be in his seventies. So, it wasn’t likely he was my hit man.

My cell phone rang. “Alex, I’ve got new info. You’re looking for an attractive dark-haired Latino with a mole near his nose. The women find him debonair. Oh, and Merry Christmas.” Kirby chuckled as he rang off.

I walked inside, glad to get out of the cold. Then I moseyed up to the ticket counter, asked for a schedule, sat on a bench, and pretended to peruse it.

The janitor, wearing a pair of plaid flannel overalls, dutifully swept the station. As he came my way, he nodded, smiled. “Merry Christmas, Miss.”

I forced myself to smile back, not feeling in the least cheery and bright.

A train pulled to a stop at the platform. Passengers rushed through the station for their cars parked in the lot, or a taxi. A man in a wool overcoat carried a large cardboard box with the image of a nativity scene on its front. He set the box down to the side of the ticket counter and asked for a monthly ticket for January.

The old gent ambled over to the box. Holding onto his broom for support, he dropped to one knee. When he briefly bowed his head, I got the impression he was praying. Nawh, couldn’t be.

I stood and took a few steps toward him.

Just as the commuter turned to retrieve his box, the old man stood and walked away. He murmured something like, “I remember it well. The glory shown in the night sky.”

“Excuse me. What did you say?”

“Nothing, dear. What are you doing here at this late hour on Christmas Eve? That was the last train.”

“I’ve been waiting for someone, but he didn’t show.”

“I’m sure a lovely young lady such as yourself has folks to spend this joyous night with.”

With my punk-spiky black hair, I’d been called a lot of things, but lovely young lady usually wasn’t one of them. “I have a friend or two I could crash in on.”

He seemed to usher me toward the door and I found myself walking with him, though my professional gut instinct was to wait.

The door of the men’s room opened and there stood a drop-dead-gorgeous Hispanic male who could’ve adorned the cover of GQ. And yup, he had a mole by this nose.

“Do you think I don’t know who you are?” He pulled from under his black-leather duster an AK-47 with its stock cut down and trained it on me.

I had to give him points for the cool black leather.

The old gent stepped in front of me before I could get my Beretta out of my pocket, and I’m a fast draw. Then time seemed to slow down and a faint glowing appeared around the old man.

“Ah, but the thing is, you don’t know who I am.” He hurled his broom as if it were an Irish Shillelagh and it crossed the room in a nanosecond. It knocked the wind out of the pretty boy and set him on his derriere.

I rushed over, kicked the AK-47 out of reach, and slapped a pair of hand cuffs on our unhappy guest. Then I called 911.

As the police left with the would-be assassin in tow, the old janitor said to me, “You’ve done a good thing. The world is safer with this evil man put away. You made Christmas a bit merrier than it might’ve been had that one had his way.”

Author Information:

IMG_1320Nike Chillemi has been called the crime fictionista due to her love of a good mystery story. Alexandra “Alex” Mink will be one of four female detectives and/or operatives, each having their own novel in the upcoming Authorized Operations series. Of course, the female detectives will each have a dashing male hero as her counterpoint. The first novel, introducing the series, HARMFUL INTENT, will debut in the spring of 2014. To find out more about Nike and her suspense stories:

Nativity photo Courtesy of Stock.xchng.

Christina’s Christmas Traditions

2013-12-13 00.11.50

By Christina Rich

A few days ago my husband took one look at our tree and asked who put the candy canes on the branches. For as long as I can remember there have been candy canes on our Christmas trees. It’s a tradition I had thought, up until yesterday, that my mother had started or carried over from her own childhood. I was surprised to find out that it wasn’t, it was my dad. I haven’t had the chance to ask him where or when he started this tradition. Was it something his mom did, or had he been out shopping one day, bought some candy canes and decided to put them on the tree? It’s something I intend asking him.

20131213_001740Another Christmas decoration that has always been a part of my childhood is the poinsettia. Now, this one I have no doubt comes from my mother. She loves them, always has. I can remember one year, not sure if it was still during Christmas or if it was several months later as my mom has always tried to get them to survive for as long as possible, but I recall snails, lots and lots of snails. I do believe I was more fascinated with the snails and where they came from. I think I was five or six and somehow believed that poinsettias birthed snails. This year is the first year I’ve received one and I won’t lie, I keep looking for the snails. 😉

2013-11-28 21.58.21Father Christmas has always been present. This is another tradition that comes from my mom. I’m not sure why. I just always remember Father Christmases all through the house. There is something magical, more so than with the cartoon-like Santa Clause, about Father Christmas. Perhaps, it’s because they have more of a human quality to them than Jolly St. Nick. Maybe it’s the idea that a man with a white fatherly beard spreading good will really exists, one who carries himself with grace, kindness and love. Or maybe it’s just the historical feel to them that I love. Who really knows, but I do appreciate the artistry that goes into creating the images of Father Christmas.

20131213_005556Another piece of Christmas that has always been around and that I’ve tried to carry on with our own decorations is the collection of nativity scenes. I heard the Christmas story many times as a child, but it wasn’t until I came into my own faith that I truly understood the significance of the Christmas displays. I have a few nativities. Some were given to me, others I’ve picked up, which have been on the cheap side because (dollar specials) we just haven’t had the sort of finances to spend on some of the more extravagant pieces. This one though, is special. It was given to me by our former pastor and his wife whose friends brought it back from Israel. Pastor and his wife knew how much I love Israel, and the fact that they thought of me… still touches my heart. Although it’s not much bigger than the size of my hand it is one of the more precious pieces I own because of the spirit and heart that it was given in. It’s one that I cherish and keep out all year long.

What are some of your family’s decoration traditions?