On this page, you can read essays submitted on the topic of “Holiday Memories.” Then, you can submit your own essays!
The Glow of Christmas
Mary’s grandmother smiles at her and urges the child to open the present that is wrapped in stripes of green and gold. Mary leans close under the tree, so close that pine branches catch in her hair and brush against her cheek. The sparkling lights tonight cast a glow over the scene. Mary lifts the square package and with a squeal of delight sets it on the coffee table as she tucks her pajama-clad legs under her.
Mary’s grandmother worries about her because Mary was only three when her mother died, and it is she among the three children who alone seems to carry the grief in her sad dark eyes.
But tonight Mary’s eyes are luminous as she carefully removes the golden bells attached to the bow on the package. She holds them up to her ear and shakes them with her small fingers. The bells are shiny, and the cheerful ring joins the sound of crackling logs in the nearby fireplace.
Mary carefully removes the green and gold paper and opens the box. She pulls forth a snow globe that glistens and glows in her hands as if placed in this scene by angels. Mary moves back into the multi-colored halo of light from the Christmas tree so as to better view her treasure. She shakes the snow globe and then turns it upside down and back several times.
Drawing the snow globe close to her eyes, Mary looks inside at the giant and friendly flakes of snow floating down over the miniature scene. She sees a tiny cottage, its windows glowing from the lights within. And nearby, midget pine trees sit in canopies of snow. Small birds perch on the trees, and rabbits crouch next to tiny snow-capped bushes. It is the glow of what is inside the house, what is unseen, that captures the imagination, that suggests a beauty more graceful even than this moonlit snow.
Now Mary’s brothers want to have a turn shaking the globe and gazing into its magic world. Mary generously hands the globe over to Nicholas who holds it close to the Christmas tree. The lights from the tree turn the scene blue, then green, then red, and yellow before returning to blue. The snow globe reflects ornaments from the tree – an angel, a glitter-covered pinecone, a red bulb, an elf.
Alexander takes his turn with the globe. He holds it up in front of the fireplace. The firelight casts an orange glow on the cottage and the snowflakes that cascade down around it. He carefully sets it on the table, noticing the way the candlelight dances on the curved glass.
Mary kisses her grandma and thanks her. She says that when she grows up she will have a house just like the one in the globe. “I will be the mommy and there will be a daddy and some children and we’ll all live happily ever after.”
Years pass and Mary has two children of her own. Every year, as Christmas approaches, Mary carefully unwraps the snow globe and places it on the coffee table. Her children ask her to tell them again about their great-grandmother and about the night she gave Mary this snow globe. Mary completes the story with these words: “That was when I wished that some day I would live in this house with children just like you!” Eleanor and Jared love this part of the story, as does Mary’s husband Jack who smiles over the rim of his reindeer-adorned coffee cup.
Many more years pass. An old woman walks down an icy sidewalk, clutching a cloth bag to her chest. Snow swirls around her, catching light from the streetlights. Eleanor reaches a house and pauses to gaze at it. This is the house of her daughter, her son-in-law, and her grandchildren.
The windows of the house glow warmly. Outside, trees and bushes stand sweetly, as if the snow on their branches were sugar frosting. A bird dances from one branch to another, then rumples its feathers comically to protect it from the cold. A cat skitters from the bushes and rubs against the woman’s legs.
Eleanor stands on the doorstep and rings the bell. Children swing open the door and light pours out like a river of gold, enveloping the old woman. Eleanor’s white hair, flooded with Christmas light, looks like that of an angel. The children shriek “Grandma!” and smother her with hugs and kisses. The cat slides through the open door, grateful to be home.
Eleanor laughs as she enters the house, and love enfolds her. In a little while, when everyone is settled around the glowing Christmas tree, she will pull forth from her cloth bag a package wrapped in green and gold. She can’t wait to see the lights in the eyes of her grandchildren.
The Saint and the Santa
When my father pulled our 1939 black Ford sedan into the Chicago intersection of Lake Shore Drive and Jackson Boulevard to make a left turn, a policeman blew his whistle, held out his hand to stop traffic, and approached the car.
“What in the Sam Hill?” Papa said under his breath. He rolled down the window cautiously, wondering what he’d done wrong.
The officer extended his hand and asked, “Where are you heading?” He peered into the car, his eyes stopping on my mother. I watched her profile as she smiled at him, an earring dangling beneath the lace cap of her Dutch costume. From the back seat, I saw my father’s shoulders relax. The officer was merely curious.
“The Museum of Science and Industry,” Papa answered. “My family is supposed to be on stage in two hours.”
The policeman’s scanned the three of us children, costumed and shy, sitting stone-still in the back seat. “Where are you folks from?” he asked.
“Grand Rapids,” Papa said.
“The Netherlands,” Mama offered, leaning over my father to look up at the officer. “We came here less than a year ago.”
“No kidding? You folks must’ve been in the war!”
My father’s eyes answered the police officer’s question silently. Sometimes when talking about the war there was too much to say, sometimes there was nothing to say. Sometimes we were just glad we had lived through it all, and yet sometimes—like right now—I could think of some very fond memories that could never have taken place if there hadn’t been a war to be in.
Taking the hint, the officer quickly changed the subject. After explaining the most direct way to the museum, he wished us good luck on stage and waved us on.
A college friend of my father’s had arranged for our participation in the 1946 Christmas Around the World program at the museum. On our way to the auditorium, we clomped on our wooden shoes through a long hallway lined with Christmas trees decked out in the traditions of many countries.
Dazzled by the grandeur of the lights, the decorations, and the huge trees, my mind wandered back to another Christmas, two years before, in war-torn Arnhem, our beloved city. We were evacuated, so our family and my mother’s parents had rented two rooms in a nearby village. For Christmas that year the seven of us shared one small chicken, garnished with potatoes and rutabagas gleaned from the fields, and fresh mushrooms found in the forest: a feast, compared to our usual meager fare of boiled potatoes.
And we had a tree. My father cut three pine branches, tied them together, and “planted” them in a bucket of soil. The amorphous shape kept flopping over until we leaned the tops of the boughs against a wall.
My brothers and I took charge in decorating the “tree.” From colored scraps of paper, we fashioned five-pointed stars and nativity scene characters, which we cut out and hung on twigs. On the forest floor, we found silver strips, radio distorters dropped from British planes to thwart German communications. These we draped on the branches. The bright tinsel sparkled, as candlelight transformed our ugly duckling tree into a Christmas swan.
That was then. Now, we were scheduled to enact the traditional Dutch St. Nicholas celebration. Although we had never worn costumes in the Netherlands, the Museum staff wanted us to don them, so Mother had hastily cobbled our outfits together. I felt proud and pretty in my lace cap and long skirt. My brothers grinned sheepishly when they tried on their wide, billowing breeches. We all needed practice walking in wooden shoes.
Someone led Mother and my brothers and me to a stage furnished with a living room façade: a wall with a single door and pictures of windmills and tulips. A decorated tree stood to one side. Mother tried to explain to the stage director that the December 5th St. Nicholas celebration and Christmas had nothing to do with one another, but the Christmas theme won over authenticity, so the tree stayed.
Mother tested the upright piano with a few chords and arpeggios. Satisfied, she rehearsed a song with us before the doors of the huge auditorium opened. But where was my father?
We retreated to the wings. Backstage sat a dozen or so “wooden shoe” dancers—girls from Holland, Michigan. A short, stocky man held the reins of a beautiful white horse, trying to keep the animal calm.
We peeked out from behind the side curtain at the gathering audience, a huge mass of people to our apprehensive eyes. Suddenly the street organ dance music began and the girls filed out, now quite composed and self-confident. The performance ended and the applause cascaded with thunderous appreciation. The curtain came down, and we took our place on the stage.
Mother opened the St. Nicholas songbook to a favorite that we all knew by heart, about the moon shining through the trees and St. Nicholas, astride his white steed, riding from rooftop to rooftop. When the curtain rose again, we were already singing.
The door of the backdrop opened, and a black-gloved hand tossed candy onto the carpet. We scrambled for the sweets, singing the traditional song that accompanied the action.
Then the door opened again. The white steed we’d seen back stage entered. Astride sat St. Nicholas in a white robe, a gold stole, and a tall mitered hat. St. Nicholas would have looked quite regal, except that the animal balked, its eyes growing big and round. And St. Nicholas, awkward in the saddle, certainly didn’t look as though he could handle a whole evening of rooftop riding!
Nodding to the good Saint, my mother played the introduction to “Welcome to Our House, Honored Bishop,” as my older brother and I sang. But not my younger brother, Hans who stood, open-mouthed, gaping at his beloved St. Nicholas. The audience fell silent, and my mother stopped playing to see what had captured their attention. We all stared at Hans.
Then, with a gasp, totally oblivious to his surroundings, Hans blurted out, “That’s Papa!”
Laughter exploded from the audience. Then applause thundered, as they realized they had witnessed a rite of passage for my brother: his entry into the adult world of realism. His childhood idol was, after all, merely mortal.
At the reception that followed our performance, a sea of people milled around us, smiling, murmuring appreciation for our skit, complimenting our costumes and our voices. We gravitated toward a table laden with platters of turkey, mashed potatoes, salads, and pies.
“All that food!” my mother exclaimed, choking back tears.
And then, we heard a jingle of bells and a booming voice. “Ho-ho-ho!” The crowd parted to make way for a corpulent Santa Claus walking toward my tall, lanky father, who was still dressed in his Bishop garments.
We watched every move of the jolly man with the magnificent white beard. Santa opened a large bag and held up a candy cane for Hans. A glimmer of wonder returned to my brother’s eyes as he stared at the warm, lively face.
Then a smiling Saint and a smiling Santa shook hands. And as two traditions mingled, a young boy’s faith was restored.
A Memorable Christmas
Anna Belle Staley
My first assignment in 1939 as a beginning teacher became a challenge, since my mother and I found ourselves in a pioneer situation north of Spokane and fifteen miles from the Canadian border. We lived in a two-room bunkhouse with a pot-bellied stove for heating, a wood stove for cooking and heating, and coal oil lamps for lighting. We bucketed water from a well about ten feet from the house and walked 100 feet or so to the outhouse.
The clerk’s two children and I trudged about a quarter of a mile each morning from our homes on a plateau. We proceeded down an over-the-shoe sandy path to another mesa where the isolated schoolhouse stood overlooking the Kettle River.
The rectangular-shaped schoolhouse had a foundation of approximately one foot in height with one end designed as a cloak room. We entered the building via a small two-step covered porch that led into a small entryway with one ample window. Atop the entrance, a peaked cupola housed a church-sized bell with its dangling rope extending into that access. The bell’s metallic tones echoed throughout the area each morning, reminding all who heard it that school had started.
At the approach of the season, I asked, “Do you know why we celebrate Christmas?”
A third grader responded, “It’s the birthday of George Washington.”
After a bit of clarification, we prepared a program that told the Christmas story and parents attended an evening program the likes of which they’d not seen, according to some. Each family brought a lantern or lamp to provide light. At the end of the presentation, each child received a bag of goodies from Santa Claus. Somehow we obtained a platform, and we made our own staging, costumes, and scenery. Since we had no piano or other musical instruments, all singing was a cappella. Crude? Yes. But, we sang “The First Noel,” “Away in a Manger,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” and “Joy To the World.” Together, enjoying the sound of all our voices –each child and parent sensed the true meaning of Christmas.
I know the year and one-half in that one-room schoolhouse laid the foundation for the creativity I possessed during my entire career. I developed a rapport with pupils, which in turn aided them in enjoying the activities of each day. Learning self-discipline prevented me from controlling their behavior. I had no interference from anyone as to the way I conducted the classroom. Pioneering really was fun!
Click here to see what others have written on OTHER monthly challenges!