Christmas Traditions: Diane Jortner

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When I think of Christmas traditions, the one that has remained with me started with a story, a story my father’s mother told him. And since mothers never lie—and I know that to be true, since I have been a mother these many, many years, I believe this story even today.

The Peter Elf story started during a rough time: the depression. Families struggled to get bread on the table, and shoes on their children’s feet.  My father was the oldest and lived way out of town in small home, on the family farm in Southern Alberta.  I visited it once or twice and was shown the back sleeping porch where the boys lay out the cots in the spring a summer. I learned to shoot tin cans on that property.
Grandma Lee, as we called her, mothered four rambunctious boys. (I know they were rambunctious, as I witnessed their tricks and laughs once or twice a year when we would get together as families.  To pass the time, help entertain, and teach valuable lessons, she told stories. Most of her stories, sadly, are lost in a time before typewriters and Word and icloud, but the story of Peter Elf lives on in the homes and memories of many of her descendants. As with most stories mothers tell, and most fables, this is a story with a message. The message is the gratitude.

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The Story of Peter Elf


 As told by my father Ken Lee 
who heard it from his mother May Lee

As the magical Christmas day approached, little Peter became gloomy and irritable. His fellow elves tried to cheer him up. “We are on vacation next week,” his friends cried. “Here you can tie the ribbon on Suzy’s package” Olaf offered. “Drink some of this amazing hot chocolate,“ Melinda urged.

But nothing would cheer up this pint-sized six-inch North Pole Elf.  He just sat on his workbench and stared out into the ice and snow covered land. Finally, at the request of the North Pole Happiness Committee, Santa himself called Peter into his cozy sitting room for a talk.
To read the rest of The Story of Peter Elf click over to
Diane’s website.

Even since childhood Diane (D. Lee Jortner) has loved fantasy and mystery. Playing with imaginary friends and writing and directing neighborhood plays filled her youth. The first of her historical fantasy series, CHIMMEKEN CROSSES THE DELAWARE was released in November 2014. Which you can get here. More in the series will be available soon.

Working as a marketing specialist for Xchyler Publishing introduced her to Steampunk and her first Steampunk story will be published in February 2015 in Mechanized Masterpieces II: A Steampunk Anthology.
Her YA murder mystery Corpse in Kitchen 3 will also be released in 2015. 
When not writing, Ms. Jortner teaches English Composition at Ivy Tech Community college in Valparaiso, Indiana or hangs with her husband Larry and her seven children and five grandchildren (and still counting).

Find her on Facebook!

Christmas Traditions: Valerie Steimle

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Unorthodox Christmas Traditions

As a child, my parents were unorthodox in celebrating our Christmas holiday traditions. There was a reason for that: we were Jewish. Hanukah brought wonderful holiday traditions to our house. Each of the 8 nights of Hanukah we would light the Manorah at sun down and play with dreidels (spinning tops). We would eat chocolate coins called gelt (Yiddish word for money) and in the mornings my father would make potato latckes (potato pancakes) for breakfast. The problem was we lived in a predominately Christian neighborhood and my mother felt bad (or guilty) that we couldn’t celebrate Christmas too so each Christmas we had a tree as well. One front window had the Manorah and the other front window had a somewhat decorated Christmas tree.

Now as an adult, I celebrate Christmas with my children (as I have converted to Christianity) but want to keep my Judean traditions. One front window has the Christmas tree and the other has the Manorah. Since my husband had been a Christian all of his life we added a few extra traditions.

Every December 1st, I hung a cloth Advent calendar with pockets big enough to hold small candies. Each morning, one child would take a turn to move the Christmas mouse to the next pocket and pass out candy to each child until Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Eve we read the Story of the Christ Child from Luke chapter two along with reading The Journey of the Magi which was one of my husband’s favorite. We would give one gift to each of our children that night to open which was usually pajamas and then in the morning we would sit in a big circle around the tree. My husband would pass out one gift at a time instead of the mad dash which made opening presents last much longer and we could savor every minute.

Part of the children’s Christmas stocking treat was receiving their favorite box of cereal so they would eat that for breakfast and we would eat Christmas dinner later that afternoon. Christmas was a reminder to all of us how grateful we were for the Savior and we would anonymously deliver a plate of Christmas cookies to our neighbors.

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Bio:
Valerie Steimle is the mother of nine children living in southern Alabama and has been a family advocate for the past 25 years. She is the author of five books including Thoughts From the Heart: Writings from the Gulf Coast of Alabama which is a collection of her column of living life in Alabama and what is important. Visit her website http://www.strengthenyourfamily.com or her blog http://valeriesteimle.blogspot.com for more information on her books or you can email her at valeriesteimle@yahoo.com

Christmas Traditions: Margaret Turley

Today’s post comes to us from an amazing lady, Margaret Turley. Don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered into the giveaway.

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As Nancy drifted off her thoughts went back to last Christmas. They were struggling financially, but otherwise things were pretty normal. It was Robert’s last year of law school and they knew that next year everything would be better. He already had a position offered to him at the law firm where he worked part time as a clerk.
Abby hadn’t asked Nancy or Robert for anything. She made gifts for the family. The purple elephant Sharon kept with her in the hospital used to be Abby’s favorite fleece blanket. She drew the pattern herself, cut out the pieces and sewed them together and then stuffed it with old stockings. Sharon hadn’t slept a night without her purple elephant until those first days in the hospital.
Ben got a monkey Abby made from tube socks. He loved playing with it.  She made a tie for Robert in Home-Economics class. Nancy was impressed with the scented candle Abby made for her. She even made an extra for Phyllis, her adopted grandmother.
The Christmas decorations had been sparse. Abby talked Robert into taking out his electric train that he got as a boy and they put it under the tree. In the afternoon while Nancy was cooking dinner she walked into the living room to check and see what the children were doing and found Ben and Sharon had placed some of the simple hand carved nativity set pieces in and on the cars of the train and turned it on. Like the co-conspirators they were they watched baby Jesus and two angels ride round and round the track in the cargo car, clapping their hands and jumping up and down with glee. They were so happy Nancy didn’t have the heart to scold them for their irreverence.
This Christmas scene is from the novel, Save the Child by Margaret Turley.

Christmas Traditions: A New One for Me and Mine

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So if you didn’t gather from the last post, I love Christmas!! I love the lights. I love the combining smells of cinnamon and conifer. Of course, I love every excuse to bake all things yummy and pretty. But what I love best are the stories. No shock there as I am a writer. In fact, every year that I am able I reread Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and A Cricket on the Hearth. This year I am adding, In the Dark Streets Shineth, if I can manage it, to my grown up Christmas reading.

But more than that I am adding two new Christmas traditions. Before I tell you what they are though, I am going to riff on tradition a bit.

I’m not one who is all for tradition for tradition’s sake. Too often we get stuck doing things just because that’s the way we’ve always done them. But thoughtful, meaningful rituals that mark the passing of the year can have a powerfully positive affect on our lives. Traditions connect us to our heritage. They remind of the struggles of the past, where we came from, and help us keep perspective as we move into the future. When we disregard tradition simply because it is old, we may call it out-dated, we lose the part of ourselves that is humble enough to learn from and honor the past and those that have gone before. And Christmas is a great time both to show reverence to that past and also to learn from its mistakes.

So this year, since my goals for the New Year mostly center on being the kind of mother I want to be, I am starting a new tradition with my kids. I have a pretty impressive collection of Christmas books. It is time they saw the light of day, and lit up my children’s lives. So this year, and I hope every year from now on, I will engage in a kind of literary advent calendar. A Christmas story every night. I do have a few that are a bit longer, and may take more than one night to read. And despite my kid’s young ages, I anticipate miraculous results. We will culminate with the story of the first Christmas read from the Bible on Christmas Eve. I will pop in each week to tell you which books we read and how they went.

For my second new tradition I wanted to start a yearly event for this blog. My favorite blogs have something that they do every year that is either fun or meaningful, so I figured, me too! So every day this week we will hear from a different author about the Christmas traditions they remember from childhood or do with their kids or whatever! Anyone who comments on the post will be entered into a drawing. We have four wonderful e-book prizes: The Anika Arrington bundle including The Accidental Apprentice and Mechanized Masterpieces- A Steampunk Anthology, Tamara Passey’s The Christmas Tree Keeper, Margaret Turley’s Never Again, or Diane Jortner’s Chimmeken Crossing the Delaware: An American Historical Fantasy. Winners will be announced on Sunday Dec. 7th. I hope you will enjoy getting to know how the Christmas Spirit is kept alive in their lives as much as I have. And that it inspires some new Christmas traditions of your own! Good Luck and happy reading!

Thanksgiving vs. Christmas: What season is it anyway?

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I got this comic as it cruised around Facebook. I just love the pie in the corner.

I have been meditating on this topic for some time. Pretty much since August when the first hints of merchandise hit the less visible store shelves, and my knee-jerk reaction was to throw ornaments at the stock-clerk. I’ve seen a social media post here or there about how it really doesn’t bother people.

“Commercialism has no effect on me!”

“Why not have one big holiday season that never really ends? It’s great!”

“It’s all the same, because all good things come from the same source.”

Perhaps it is because my natal day rests smack in the middle of the month of November that I feel a strange fidelity to Thanksgiving as a distinct entity. Or maybe I have a greater appreciation than many of my city dwelling friends for the blessing of the harvest. I am married to a farm boy. Perhaps I am just a Grinch at heart (you know, one that’s a few sizes too small). But the longer I ponder the more I believe it is my personal reverence for Christmas that leads me to shriek angry epithets at the giant candy canes that appear in the Target parking lot the day after Halloween.

You see I believe, whole heartedly, that familiarity breeds contempt, or at the very least, apathy. Human brains (especially adult brains) can only see the same stuff over and over again before they weed it out as white noise. Which means for me, all holiday decorations become white noise somewhere around November 20th. AND IT IS PISSING ME OFF BECAUSE I LOVE CHRISTMAS.

My adamance regarding the start of the season being solidly the day after Thanksgiving stems from a belief that the Christmas season is sacred. As the northern hemisphere darkens we look towards the light of Christ. We ponder the truth that like each of us he came into the world an innocent babe. Through miraculous and simultaneously humble circumstances he entered mortality. Yet unlike us, as he grew and learned he retained his innocence. He led a life of such goodness that all the universe became burdened with love for him. And that perfect love allowed him to break the bands of death, suffer for our transgressions, and then claim us as his own before the Father, that we might share in His glory.

The world cannot produce the preciousness of the Christ child. It cannot replicate the whisperings of the Holy Spirit that draw us nearer to our maker and teach us eternal truths. All the world can make is stuff that will eventually end up in a landfill. (Now envision Jim Carry’s green hairy face as he says, “You see what I’m saying here? In your garbage.”) And yet for some reason it is as if the corporate world thinks that they can copy/paste the trappings of a holy day enough times to make us think it is December 20th, and spend our dollars accordingly.

Yes we hang lights, we trim trees, we give gifts, but this should all be done with the meaning of each symbol in our minds and on our lips to our families and friends. That is not possible when “Grandma Got Run-over by a Reindeer” has been on the radio since November 1st. Keeping the season small forces us to keep it sacred. Minimizing the time we have for the trappings helps us prioritize.

By this point there are some (most) of you that are thinking that I am a total kill-joy. “What about Santa? What about Rudolph and Frosty cartoons? Can’t we at least sing Jingle Bells without you jumping down our throats?” I get it. I do. And I am all for children pouncing on their parents at 5am Christmas morning screaming Christmas carols and “look what Santa brought me!” But here’s the deal. Kids make their own magic, when the adults make meaning. When the grownups in their lives make things spiritual, their instinct is wide-eyed wonder. To me that is what Christmas is. It is viewing our Savior with the innocent astonishment of children who are understanding for the first time that angels, REAL ANGELS, appeared to shepherds who were just doing their jobs one night. Marveling that three men with the education and means to do and be whatever they wanted traveled hundreds of miles to lay extraordinary gifts at the feet of a toddler. To understand that the love of God was so powerful it called into existence a new star that shown so brightly it astonished the world.

Perhaps it is simply commentary on my own cynical nature. Maybe it is just me. But I want to be delighted when I hear the first crumby rendition of “Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart” come Black Friday on the radio, rather than roll my eyes in utter disgust when I stumble over it on Dia De Los Muertos. I want to step into the season of wonder deliberately. Not have it pushed at me by someone else’s retail schedule. And more than that I want my kids to know, this time, this month is different. This one is special. It’s not like the other times before. And that can’t happen if the season never really starts because for Walmart it never really ended.

I sincerely hope this rant hasn’t dampened anyone’s spirit. I only hope that it will cause you to pause and reflect on what having a season of Christmas means to you. Now you know what it means to me.

I wish all of you an excellent Thanksgiving: full of foods we tolerate for traditions sake (turkey is always dry, always. I will be roasting a chicken instead), awkward family conversations (“Indians should be glad we let them sell their jewelry on the side of the highway in AZ”- actual quote from a relative one year), and of course gratitude for the abundance that surrounds us in the USofA. And then I hope as I post about the holiday traditions and trimmings of my own life in the coming weeks you find them uplifting, fun, and full of Christmas magic in the heart of a very special season.