Some say it’s the tinsel and the trees and the ho-ho-ho, but as Inspirational writers, we all know what really makes Christmas tick … it’s that soul-deep, feel-good feeling that doesn’t come from eggnog and presents or stockings hung on the hearth. Nope, it comes from faith in God, redemption, family, and hope.
Which clearly explains why Christmas books are SO popular this time of year because people want—no, they crave—those wonderful feelings. And who better to give it to them than we Inspirational writers who know and write for the True Reason for the season?
So … how does one go about infusing Christmas into Christmas book? Well, I only know how I went about it, and since my Christmas book, A Light in the Window, just came out in paperback and is now on sale in ebook for $ .99, I decided this would be a great time to not only talk about this subject, but tell you about my ALITW PROMO CONTEST where you can win having a character named after you in my next book, a signed copy of that book, and a $50 gift card (details at the end of this blog). Of course, it doesn’t hurt that my artist hubby just made me a truly beautiful video for A Light in the Window starring my very own daughter. I mean, really—how can subjects like deep POV, power verbs, or writer’s block even compete?
They can’t, pure and simple. Because it’s the “the pure and simple” we’re all looking for this time of year, which is why I opted to list Christmas triggers we can use to do just that. I will also talk about a few (or we'd be here all day!) of the feel-good components I utilized in A Light in the Window (all bolded below) and other Christmas scenes in my books. Mind you, this is not a complete list by a long shot, but it’s a start and we can certainly add to it in the comments section, eh?
- Candy cane
- Christmas cookies
- Christmas decorations
- Christmas play or recital
- Christmas tree
- Food/drink (egg nog/wassail)
- Gingerbread men/house
- Greeting cards
- Hearth fires
- Ice Skating/Sledding
- Jingle Bells
- Lovable characters
- Music/Christmas carols
- North Pole
- Pine boughs
- Santa & Mrs. Claus
- Snowmen/Snow angels
- Soup kitchen/Salvation Army/parish fundraiser
- Sugar plums
- Three Wise Men
- Twelve days of Christmas components
Okay, take my Christmas story, A Light in the Window—please! ;) What do you suppose was the very first thing that came to my mind when I brainstormed this Marcy/Patrick prequel to my Daughter of Boston series?
Tradition! (all together now, hum the song from Fiddler on the Roof here).
You see, I knew I wanted to have the heroine Marceline O’Connor oversee the St. Mary’s parish fundraiser play that supports the church’s soup kitchen during 1895 (which was one of the worst depressions up till then). And no, I did not cheat and name the church St. Mary’s because of the Christmas movie The Bells of St. Mary’s, although that was a definite plus. I actually named the parish St. Mary’s way back in my Daughters of Boston series.
Anyway, I needed a title for the Christmas play and thought to myself, mmm … maybe an Irish Christmas tradition? So I googled that and BINGO! The #1 Irish Christmas tradition listed was none other than “a light in the window,” placed there from Christmas Eve to Epiphany to welcome the Holy Family. This actual tradition not only became the name of my book and the play within, but symbolism for the story itself where two men pledge their undying love to Marcy, but only one truly responds to the “light in the window,” meaning the love of Christ in her heart.
With setting, I have found that you don’t want to go on and on and on, but it is essential to set the mood of the room in the first few paragraphs at least, which is what I tried to do in this scene from A Passion Most Pure, where I used the five senses all bolded below—taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound) to convey a Christmas feel, along with things from my Christmas list above.
Faith was certain the parlor had never looked lovelier. She wished Mrs. Gerson could see it as she ushered her to a chair by the hearth. Her mother had every oil lamp, candle and light glowing, causing the tree to shimmer with a dazzling array of ornaments and candied fruit (sight). The air drifted with the sweet scent of pine and cinnamon (smell) while the fire crackled and spit (sound), warming the room with the cozy feel of family (sight/touch). Her father chatted with Mrs. Gerson as he stoked the fire while her mother divvied out mugs of steaming hot cocoa and coffee (taste and touch). Faith savored the rich residue of chocolate (taste) on her tongue, a tempting taste of the delicious things to come.
Under the tree, Katie was busy playing with the manger. She placed Mary and Joseph on their sides, covering them with her bear’s blanket. Steven lay prostrate beside her, galloping the camel like a stallion.
Katie snatched it away, a look of disapproval on her face. “Give me the horse. It’s time for his nap,” she said.
"It's a camel," he snapped, wrestling it from her hand. "Camels don't take naps."
"Mama, Steven took my horse!" Katie wailed.
Okay, let’s face it—toss some cute kids or pets into a scene, and hearts just automatically melt like snow on a salted sidewalk. Think about the favorite Christmas movies out there—A Christmas Story, A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street—all have a kid in a subordinate or main role. So I knew that A Light in the Window just had to have kids, especially since the story itself was about a parish Christmas play, right?
Here’s a scene where one of the heroes (yes, there are two!) meets a little girl who is a cast member—or “outcast” member, I should say—since she’s ostracized by the other kids because she’s bossy and poor. I don’t know about you, but this little ragamuffin won my heart as she eventually wins that of the hero and everyone else in the play.
“So … what’s your name?”
Hammer in hand, Patrick paused, one nail lodged in his teeth and another positioned against a kitchen cabinet façade while he, Sam and a few other men built scenery. The smell of sawdust and popcorn filled the noisy auditorium along with thick, humid air from the sweltering summer night. One of the little girls from the play blinked up at him, obviously more interested in pestering him on her break than playing duck, duck, goose with the rest of the kids in the cast. He studied her out of the corner of his eye, her impossibly thick eyeglasses magnifying her hazel eyes at least double in size. His lips quirked, angling the ten-penny nail straight down. “Atrick,” he mumbled, dropping the “P” in the absence of being able to press his lips together.
The little squirt squinted, nose wrinkling almost clear up to her eyes. “What kind of name is that—Aa-a-a-a-aaa-trick?” she said, grinding it out. “Sounds stupid to me.” She slapped a molasses-colored braid over her shoulder like a challenge.
Patrick pounded one nail into the wood, then spit the second into his free hand, righting it in the air. “P-atrick,” he enunciated, popping extra “puh” into the “P.” He placed and buried the nail with a single deafening whack, eyeing her with a slant of a smile. “And you are?”
“Matilda,” she said with a sharp thrust of her pointed little chin. “But my friends call me Tillie.”
He wiped sweat from his forehead with the side of his upper sleeve. “They do, do they? So, what should I call you?”
She cocked her head, assessing him through slivers of golden brown eyes. “You can call me Tillie, I guess, but only ‘cause you’re cute.”
His lips parted in a grin. “Funny, I was thinking the same thing about you.”
The little dickens actually blushed. “No you weren’t neither,” she said with a scowl. “Nobody thinks I’m cute.”
He jagged a brow, tucking a nail in his teeth while he fixed another to the wood. “I do.”
“No you don’t.”
Thwack! He drove the nail home and angled to face her, removing the other one from his mouth. “You calling me a liar, Miss—?”
“Dewey. Matilda Dewey.” She jutted her chin. “And you bet I am, mister, ‘cause ain’t nobody ever called me ‘cute’ afore, so you gotta be lyin’.”
Huffing out a sigh, Patrick scratched the back of his neck with the hammer, then peered up beneath slatted lids, his heart going out to the little dickens who couldn’t be a day over six. “Well, I’m not lying, Miss Dewey, and for your information, I happen to know a thing or two about pretty women.”
She folded her arms. “Ha! That proves it. I ain’t no woman yet and I ain’t pretty neither, leastways not accordin’ to Omer.”
He slacked a hip, hammer loose at his side while he scanned her head to toe, taking in the frayed grayish pinafore he supposed had been white at one time. He sighed. “A girl is just a woman not fully blossomed yet, Miss Dewey, and it’s easy to see you’re gonna be a pretty one when you’re finally in full bloom.” Hammer in hand, he motioned toward her head. “For instance, take your hair. Sure, it’s in pigtails now, but it’s the color of summer wheat at the edge of dusk, with just a glow of pink about it. And those eyes?” He shook his head as if he had no earthly idea why she couldn’t see what he saw. “Like polished amber, guaranteed to turn more than one male head down the road.”
Her nose rumpled in a scrunch. “What’s amber?”
“Ever see the eyes of a tiger, darlin’?” he asked, face in a squint.
“Well, they’re the prettiest honey gold you ever did see, downright hypnotize a man if he isn’t careful.”
Her face squished again. “What’s hip-no-tize?”
He shifted his weight to the other leg with an exhale as thick as her glasses. “You always ask this many questions?”
“More,” she said, eyes wise beyond her years and all too sober. “Which is why Omer hauls off and whacks me sometimes.”
The hammer suddenly felt like a 2-ton sledge. “Hits you?” he bit out, jaw clenched. “Who the blazes is this moron, anyway?”
She shrugged her shoulders as if getting whacked were an everyday occurrence, and Patrick’s gut felt like he’d swallowed a handful of those blasted ten-penny nails. “Ma’s friend. He don’t like it when I talk too much, so he whacks me.” She pulled up the sleeve of her arm, displaying a rash of ugly bruises from wrist to elbow and beyond, no doubt. “He done this and lots more I cain’t show ya on account of it ain’t proper, but see this?” Finger sliding her neck, she rubbed a whole patch of gray he’d just assumed was dirt, lips pursed as if it were a badge of honor. “Tried to whack my mama, but I spit on his boots, so he throttled me instead,” she said with no little pride. “Hurt like perdition, but least Mama got away.”
The hammer clunked to the floor when Patrick squatted to his knees, jaw hard but grip soft as he clutched her skinny arms in threadbare sleeves, the feel akin to twigs wrapped in tissue paper. “Why the blazes does your mama let him come around, Tillie? Why doesn’t she just kick the bum out?”
Her tiny rib cage expanded and contracted, deflating like the pride in her eyes. “For crying out loud in a bucket, mister, don’t ya think she tried? But he keeps coming around, drunk as a skunk and ain’t nobody can make him go away.”
A knot jerked in Patrick’s throat as he rose, eyes as steely and pointed as the nails in his pocket. “Can you give this Omer a message for me, darlin’?”
She tucked dirty fingernails into the tattered pockets of her pinafore. “Sure, I guess.”
He pointed the hammer like a threat. “You tell that worthless sack of dung that if he lays another finger on you or your mama, that me and my hammer are gonna pay him a visit, you hear?”
A grin split her face, complete with a missing tooth. “Jumpin’ toadstools, mister, shore would pay good money to see that! Iffen I had any.” She tilted her head as she studied him through those larger-than-life amber slits. “Say, how old are you, anyway?”
“Old enough to arrange a few of Omer’s teeth,” Patrick said with a wink.
Some of my favorite Christmas movies feature beloved priests or nuns, and they always give me a warm feeling in a movie or book, I guess because ministers, priests or nuns represent people who love and serve God and give to others. Just look at movies like Going My Way or The Bells of St. Mary’s, with Bing Crosby, or even The Bishop’s Wife with—be still my heart—Cary Grant. These are all movies that rise to a level of respect and sacred tradition just by virtue of having clergy involved. So I sure wasn’t going to miss out on putting a crotchety, stick-wielding nun or a beloved Irish priest into my Christmas novel! Here’s a scene where Father Fitzgibbon’s catches the two rogue heroes drinking stolen sacristy wine in his confessional and makes them pay ...
With a cumbersome sigh, Father Fitz tucked the bottle under his arm. “No, gentlemen, I’m afraid Hail Mary’s and Our Fathers have run their course here.” He shook his head with a grimace. “Trust me, I’ve stockpiled them for you both since you crossed the threshold of St. Mary’s, so now it’s time to put your money where your mouth is.” His chin inched up with a steeled sobriety Patrick had seen many a time. “And since time is money, you will pay through the nose with as much community service as I can possibly bleed from the both of you.”
“And if we won’t do it?” Sam said, a glint of challenge to his tone.
Father Fitz studied Sam with a firm tilt of his head, the faint shifting of a jaw that Patrick recognized all too well from countless hours of detention with a man few students defied. “You know, it’s a curious thing, Samuel—your mother has been after me to come to dinner for months now, so perhaps I should come next week, imparting some information that just may batten your hatches a wee bit.”
Patrick’s eyes weighted closed. Great. Another knock-down, drag-out with Pop.
“I think I may just chance it, Father,” Sam said, the dark stubble on his jaw as menacing as the stubborn gleam in his eye. “I can live without my mother’s approval.”
“Ah, yes, Mr. O’Rourke, but the question remains—can you live without money?”
Sam blinked. “Pardon me?”
Humor played at the edge of the priest’s mouth, which was compressed like his jaw in a battle of wills. “Money, Mr. O’Rourke. You know, remuneration for a job well done that allows you to buy a round a drinks at the corner pub, dazzle a pretty girl with an ice-cream soda, or purchase the proper clothes befitting the neighborhood rakes?”
The blood drained from Patrick’s face as quickly as it did from Sam’s.
“Yes, well, you see, gentlemen,” Father Fitz continued in a tone as matter-of-fact as his smile, “a priest has friends in high places in addition to the Almighty, you know. Such as, shall we say, the Herald?”
Patrick’s eyes lumbered closed, the lump in his throat as tight as the noose Father Fitz was cinching around their necks. Both he and Sam needed their jobs at the Herald if Patrick was going to go to college and Sam was going to rise to management.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever told you boys, but Arthur Hennessey and I go way back.” Father Fitz nodded with a faint smile, eyes trailing into what apparently was a fond trip down Memory Lane. “Actually coached him on the parish league, if you can imagine that.” He snapped out of his reverie, his smile brightening considerably. “Of course that was way before he took over as CEO of the Herald, you understand. Although I have to admit, nobody tossed a meaner knuckleball.”
Patrick stifled a groan. Except you, Father Fitz ...
“So … “ Patrick jolted when the priest clapped his hands, his grin almost as loud. “I look forward to seeing you gentlemen at the fundraiser meeting next week, where you’ll learn all about just why absconding with the sacristy wine is not a good idea.”
“This is blackmail, Father,” Sam said with a scowl.
Father Fitz blinked, a wedge popping at the bridge of his nose. “Yes, I suppose it is, Samuel …” He quickly dismissed his concern with a wave of a hand. “Well, no never mind,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders, his smile veering into dazzling, “I’m on good terms with the Man upstairs—I’ll just absolve myself.”
I don’t know about you, but every time I hear the song, O Holy Night, I get tears in my eyes, so I knew that I wanted that song to play an important part in my book. Here is an emotional scene where a little girl in a wheelchair is wheeled in by her brother to audition for the play, and I strongly feel that the reader’s familiarity with this song helps to elicit the emotion I was trying to convey:
Marcy took a quick swipe at her eyes and leaned forward, awarding Holly the brightest smile she could muster. She noted the faded calico dress the little girl wore that appeared three sizes too big and a pale face that made her appear like a china doll with liquid-brown eyes. “Holly, are you ready to read from the script?”
The little girl nodded, chestnut hair trailing fragile shoulders as she gave Marcy a sweet smile. “Yes, ma’am,” she whispered, her voice so soft and wispy, Marcy worried that no one would be able to hear.
“Start at the beginning, then, sweetheart, reading the script just like you’re that little girl in the play who’s excited about Christmas, all right?”
Holly nodded again and paused … right before she belted out the lines as if they were coming from an entirely different little girl.
“Excellent!” Marcy said with a grin when Holly had finished. “Are you ready to sing, and do you know the Christmas carol, Oh, Holy Night?”
“Perfect!” Marcy glanced up at the piano. “Julie, let’s try C major, all right?”
Whether it was the fact that it was late and everyone was tired or whether it was the sight of a frail little girl in a wheelchair who longed to be a part of the play, the room stilled to a hush. Marcy’s breath suspended as she waited, the pounding of her own pulse in her ears drowning out Julie’s musical intro. And then, in the sweet and soulful song of a little girl, a steamy and noisy auditorium became the gate of heaven itself as a sound so poignant rose in the room, Marcy had no power over the tears that slipped from her eyes.
For several thudding heartbeats after the last note was sung, the silence was almost painful, an ache in Marcy’s chest over the loss of a voice that had ushered them into the very presence of God. And then, in a blast of applause that swelled to the ceiling, the audience shot to their feet along with Marcy and Sister Francine, dewy-eyed over a delicate little girl who may not be able to walk, but whose voice could soar to the sky.