There are a number of wonderful Christmas/holiday
stories (Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” is one of the best loved). We
all have Christmases past to remember, and this week’s post is “A Child’s
Christmas in Wales,” written by the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas about his childhood
Christmases in Wales. Originating from a piece that Thomas wrote for radio (and
recorded in 1952), I think of it as a prose poem, or at the very least poetic
prose—a Christmas retelling from a child’s point of view, a heartfelt memory
piece. Powered by the mythos of childhood and memories of an easier, simpler
time, it is one of Thomas’s most popular works.
Every Christmas Eve as far back as I can remember, we
had dinner with the family (my grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, pets) and, when everyone went home, I set out a plate of
cookies and a glass of milk for Santa, placed the plaster Baby Jesus in our crèche, and
my mom, dad, and I went upstairs. It was then that my father read “A Child’s
Christmas in Wales” to us. It was a struggle to stay awake but, somehow, I
always heard my father whisper the hauntingly beautiful concluding line. I still read the
story every Christmas Eve, even though my parents have both been gone for many
years. With the particular magic of a child’s love, I can almost feel my mom’s
hand in mine and can almost hear my dad’s voice. Dylan Thomas’s words never
fail to touch my heart. I hope they will touch yours too.
“A Child’s Christmas
in Wales” by Dylan Thomas
One Christmas was so much like another, in those
years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant
speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never
remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or
whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.
All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued
sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street;
and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my
hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that
wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the
carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.
It was on the afternoon of the Christmas Eve, and I
was in Mrs. Prothero’s garden, waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was
snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, is white
as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were cats. Patient, cold
and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. Sleek
and long as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling, they would
slink and sidle over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-eyed hunters,
Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles
Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes. The wise cats
We were so still, Eskimo-footed arctic marksmen in
the muffling silence of the eternal snows - eternal, ever since Wednesday -
that we never heard Mrs. Prothero’s first cry from her igloo at the bottom of
the garden. Or, if we heard it at all, it was, to us, like the far-off
challenge of our enemy and prey, the neighbor’s polar cat. But soon the voice
“Fire!” cried Mrs. Prothero, and she beat the dinner-gong.
And we ran down the garden, with the snowballs in
our arms, toward the house; and smoke, indeed, was pouring out of the
dining-room, and the gong was bombilating, and Mrs. Prothero was announcing
ruin like a town crier in Pompeii. This was better than all the cats in Wales
standing on the wall in a row. We bounded into the house, laden with snowballs,
and stopped at the open door of the smoke-filled room.
Something was burning all right; perhaps it was Mr.
Prothero, who always slept there after midday dinner with a newspaper over his
face. But he was standing in the middle of the room, saying, “A fine Christmas!”
and smacking at the smoke with a slipper.
“Call the fire brigade,” cried Mrs. Prothero as she
beat the gong.
“There won’t be there,” said Mr. Prothero, “it’s
There was no fire to be seen, only clouds of smoke
and Mr. Prothero standing in the middle of them, waving his slipper as though
he were conducting.
“Do something,” he said. And we threw all our
snowballs into the smoke - I think we missed Mr. Prothero - and ran out of the
house to the telephone box.
“Let’s call the police as well,” Jim said. “And the
ambulance.” “And Ernie Jenkins, he likes fires.”
But we only called the fire brigade, and soon the
fire engine came and three tall men in helmets brought a hose into the house
and Mr. Prothero got out just in time before they turned it on. Nobody could
have had a noisier Christmas Eve. And when the firemen turned off the hose and
were standing in the wet, smoky room, Jim’s Aunt, Miss. Prothero, came
downstairs and peered in at them. Jim and I waited, very quietly, to hear what
she would say to them. She said the right thing, always. She looked at the
three tall firemen in their shining helmets, standing among the smoke and cinders
and dissolving snowballs, and she said, “Would you like anything to read?”
Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there
were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked
past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in
caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we
chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the
motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the
daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed. But here a small boy
says: “It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it
down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.”
“But that was not the same snow,” I say. “Our snow
was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out
of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the
trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and
grandfather moss, minutely -ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening
the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards.”
“Were there postmen then, too?”
“With sprinkling eyes and wind-cherried noses, on
spread, frozen feet they crunched up to the doors and mittened on them
manfully. But all that the children could hear was a ringing of bells.”
“You mean that the postman went rat-a-tat-tat and
the doors rang?”
“I mean that the bells the children could hear were
“I only hear thunder sometimes, never bells.”
“There were church bells, too.”
“Inside them?” “No, no, no, in the bat-black, snow-white belfries,
tugged by bishops and storks. And they rang their tidings over the bandaged
town, over the frozen foam of the powder and ice-cream hills, over the
crackling sea. It seemed that all the churches boomed for joy under my window;
and the weathercocks crew for Christmas, on our fence."
“Get back to the postmen.”
“They were just ordinary postmen, found of walking
and dogs and Christmas and the snow. They knocked on the doors with blue
“Ours has got a black knocker....”
“And then they stood on the white Welcome mat in the
little, drifted porches and huffed and puffed, making ghosts with their breath,
and jogged from foot to foot like small boys wanting to go out.”
“And then the presents?”
“And then the Presents, after the Christmas box. And
the cold postman, with a rose on his button-nose, tingled down the
tea-tray-slithered run of the chilly glinting hill. He went in his ice-bound
boots like a man on fishmonger’s slabs. “He wagged his bag like a frozen camel’s
hump, dizzily turned the corner on one foot, and, by God, he was gone.”
“Get back to the Presents.”
“There were the Useful Presents: engulfing mufflers
of the old coach days, and mittens made for giant sloths; zebra scarfs of a
substance like silky gum that could be tug-o’-warred down to the galoshes;
blinding tam-o’-shanters like patchwork tea cozies and bunny-suited busbies and
balaclavas for victims of head-shrinking tribes; from aunts who always wore
wool next to the skin there were mustached and rasping vests that made you
wonder why the aunts had any skin left at all; and once I had a little crocheted
nose bag from an aunt now, alas, no longer whinnying with us. And pictureless
books in which small boys, though warned with quotations not to, would skate on
Farmer Giles’ pond and did and drowned; and books that told me everything about
the wasp, except why.”
“Go on the Useless Presents.”
“Bags of moist and many-colored jelly babies and a
folded flag and a false nose and a tram-conductor’s cap and a machine that
punched tickets and rang a bell; never a catapult; once, by mistake that no one
could explain, a little hatchet; and a celluloid duck that made, when you
pressed it, a most unducklike sound, a mewing moo that an ambitious cat might
make who wished to be a cow; and a painting book in which I could make the
grass, the trees, the sea and the animals any colour I pleased, and still the
dazzling sky-blue sheep are grazing in the red field under the rainbow-billed
and pea-green birds. Hardboileds, toffee, fudge and allsorts, crunches,
cracknels, humbugs, glaciers, marzipan, and butterwelsh for the Welsh. And
troops of bright tin soldiers who, if they could not fight, could always run.
And Snakes-and-Families and Happy Ladders. And Easy Hobbi-Games for Little
Engineers, complete with instructions. Oh, easy for Leonardo! And a whistle to
make the dogs bark to wake up the old man next door to make him beat on the
wall with his stick to shake our picture off the wall. And a packet of
cigarettes: you put one in your mouth and you stood at the corner of the street
and you waited for hours, in vain, for an old lady to scold you for smoking a
cigarette, and then with a smirk you ate it. And then it was breakfast under
“Were there Uncles like in our house?”
“There are always Uncles at Christmas. The same
Uncles. And on Christmas morning, with dog-disturbing whistle and sugar fags, I
would scour the swatched town for the news of the little world, and find always
a dead bird by the Post Office or by the white deserted swings; perhaps a
robin, all but one of his fires out. Men and women wading or scooping back from
chapel, with taproom noses and wind-bussed cheeks, all albinos, huddles their
stiff black jarring feathers against the irreligious snow. Mistletoe hung from
the gas brackets in all the front parlors; there was sherry and walnuts and bottled
beer and crackers by the dessertspoons; and cats in their fur-abouts watched
the fires; and the high-heaped fire spat, all ready for the chestnuts and the
mulling pokers. Some few large men sat in the front parlors, without their
collars, Uncles almost certainly, trying their new cigars, holding them out
judiciously at arms’ length, returning them to their mouths, coughing, then
holding them out again as though waiting for the explosion; and some few small
aunts, not wanted in the kitchen, nor anywhere else for that matter, sat on the
very edge of their chairs, poised and brittle, afraid to break, like faded cups
Not many those mornings trod the piling streets: an
old man always, fawn-bowlered, yellow-gloved and, at this time of year, with
spats of snow, would take his constitutional to the white bowling green and
back, as he would take it wet or fire on Christmas Day or Doomsday; sometimes
two hale young men, with big pipes blazing, no overcoats and wind blown scarfs,
would trudge, unspeaking, down to the forlorn sea, to work up an appetite, to
blow away the fumes, who knows, to walk into the waves until nothing of them
was left but the two furling smoke clouds of their inextinguishable briars.
Then I would be slap-dashing home, the gravy smell of the dinners of others,
the bird smell, the brandy, the pudding and mince, coiling up to my nostrils,
when out of a snow-clogged side lane would come a boy the spit of myself, with
a pink-tipped cigarette and the violet past of a black eye, cocky as a
bullfinch, leering all to himself.
I hated him on sight and sound, and would be about
to put my dog whistle to my lips and blow him off the face of Christmas when
suddenly he, with a violet wink, put his whistle to his lips and blew so
stridently, so high, so exquisitely loud, that gobbling faces, their cheeks
bulged with goose, would press against their tinsled windows, the whole length
of the white echoing street. For dinner we had turkey and blazing pudding, and
after dinner the Uncles sat in front of the fire, loosened all buttons, put
their large moist hands over their watch chains, groaned a little and slept.
Mothers, aunts and sisters scuttled to and fro, bearing tureens. Auntie Bessie,
who had already been frightened, twice, by a clock-work mouse, whimpered at the
sideboard and had some elderberry wine. The dog was sick. Auntie Dosie had to
have three aspirins, but Auntie Hannah, who liked port, stood in the middle of
the snowbound back yard, singing like a big-bosomed thrush. I would blow up balloons
to see how big they would blow up to; and, when they burst, which they all did,
the Uncles jumped and rumbled. In the rich and heavy afternoon, the Uncles
breathing like dolphins and the snow descending, I would sit among festoons and
Chinese lanterns and nibble dates and try to make a model man-o’-war, following
the Instructions for Little Engineers, and produce what might be mistaken for a
Or I would go out, my bright new boots squeaking,
into the white world, on to the seaward hill, to call on Jim and Dan and Jack
and to pad through the still streets, leaving huge footprints on the hidden
“I bet people will think there’s been hippos.”
“What would you do if you saw a hippo coming down
“I’d go like this, bang! I’d throw him over the
railings and roll him down the hill and then I’d tickle him under the ear and
he’d wag his tail.”
“What would you do if you saw two hippos?”
Iron-flanked and bellowing he-hippos clanked and
battered through the scudding snow toward us as we passed Mr. Daniel’s house.
“Let’s post Mr. Daniel a snow-ball through his
“Let’s write things in the snow.”
“Let’s write, ‘Mr. Daniel looks like a spaniel’ all
over his lawn.”
Or we walked on the white shore. “Can the fishes see
The silent one-clouded heavens drifted on to the
sea. Now we were snow-blind travelers lost on the north hills, and vast
dewlapped dogs, with flasks round their necks, ambled and shambled up to us,
baying “Excelsior.” We returned home through the poor streets where only a few
children fumbled with bare red fingers in the wheel-rutted snow and cat-called
after us, their voices fading away, as we trudged uphill, into the cries of the
dock birds and the hooting of ships out in the whirling bay. And then, at tea
the recovered Uncles would be jolly; and the ice cake loomed in the center of
the table like a marble grave. Auntie Hannah laced her tea with rum, because it
was only once a year.
Bring out the tall tales now that we told by the
fire as the gaslight bubbled like a diver. Ghosts whooed like owls in the long
nights when I dared not look over my shoulder; animals lurked in the cubbyhole
under the stairs and the gas meter ticked. And I remember that we went singing
carols once, when there wasn’t the shaving of a moon to light the flying
streets. At the end of a long road was a drive that led to a large house, and
we stumbled up the darkness of the drive that night, each one of us afraid,
each one holding a stone in his hand in case, and all of us too brave to say a
word. The wind through the trees made noises as of old and unpleasant and maybe
webfooted men wheezing in caves. We reached the black bulk of the house. “What
shall we give them? Hark the Herald?”
“No,” Jack said, “Good King Wencelas. I’ll count
three.” One, two three, and we began to sing, our voices high and seemingly
distant in the snow-felted darkness round the house that was occupied by nobody
we knew. We stood close together, near the dark door. Good King Wencelas looked
out On the Feast of Stephen ... And then a small, dry voice, like the voice of
someone who has not spoken for a long time, joined our singing: a small, dry,
eggshell voice from the other side of the door: a small dry voice through the
keyhole. And when we stopped running we were outside our house; the front room
was lovely; balloons floated under the hot-water-bottle-gulping gas; everything
was good again and shone over the town.
“Perhaps it was a ghost,” Jim said.
“Perhaps it was trolls,” Dan said, who was always
“Let’s go in and see if there’s any jelly left,”
Jack said. And we did that.
Always on Christmas night there was music. An uncle
played the fiddle, a cousin sang “Cherry Ripe,” and another uncle sang “Drake’s
Drum.” It was very warm in the little house. Auntie Hannah, who had got on to
the parsnip wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death, and then another
in which she said her heart was like a Bird’s Nest; and then everybody laughed
again; and then I went to bed. Looking through my bedroom window, out into the
moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the
windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them
up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I
said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.
Your writing prompt this week, after reading “A
Child’s Christmas in Wales,” is to delve deeply into your holiday memories and
to describe them in a prose piece or prose poem that is about a single memory
or a composite memory of many years.
1. Evoke the time, what you saw and did, who was
there with you, the sounds, the smells, the feelings.
2. Create images that emerge from the world of your
3. Think about the ways in which Dylan Thomas used adjectives to
enhance description and meaning—work toward doing the same.
4. Invite your readers to see and feel what you saw
5. Pull out all the stops: become the child you were
again, narrate the writing through your child eyes.
6. Think they way you thought way back when.
7. How do specific details in Thomas's writing invite readers to insights into childhood and adulthood? Try to create some special insights for your readers.
Over a hundred years ago, eight-year-old Virginia
O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York’s Sun, and the quick response
was printed as an unsigned editorial on Sept. 21, 1897. The work of veteran
newsman Francis Pharcellus Church has since become history’s most reprinted
newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in
books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps. I've read Virginia's letter and Francis Church's reply every year during December for many years. I hope it will touch your heart as much as it always touches mine.
DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.
VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the
skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think
that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All
minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great
universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared
with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of
grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love
and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to
your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if
there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS.
There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable
this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The
eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies!
You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas
Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down,
what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there
is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither
children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of
course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or
imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise
inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest
man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived,
could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that
curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all
real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand
years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will
continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
The first poem I ever had published was a letter to
Santa that I wrote in December of 1956 (I had just turned 8 years old and still believed in Santa Claus). My poem was
published in the Grover Cleveland Elementary School newspaper. Happily, my mom
saved all those early writings, and I have an original copy of the newspaper.
Your prompt for this week is to write a letter to
Santa in which you list the things that you wish for. These needn’t be material
things!You may also consider writing about what you believe or need to believe.
1. Think in terms of non-material gifts you’d like
to receive. (For example: spiritual well-being, healing from (and cures for)
illnesses, an end to homelessness and hunger, peace in the world.)
2. Think about your family members and friends. What
would you most like for them?
3. Is there a relationship in your life that needs
healing? What would you ask for in terms of that relationship.
4. What about our world? What would you ask for?
5. Is there something you want or need to believe? How
would you ask for that belief?
1. Observe the usual caveats: avoid the passive
voice, eliminate “ing” endings wherever you can, don’t use too many adjectives.
more one-syllable words than multi-syllable words in your last couple of lines
(think in terms of strong verbs and no superfluous language).
(minimal) repetition from another part of the poem—sometimes this can work very
Try to link the end of your poem to the beginning but not overtly—and don’t
5.Write beyond the last line, then go
back and find the last line hidden in what you’ve written.
your reader something to reflect upon.
toward something broader than the obvious content of your poem.
8. You may want to try a prose poem or to use letter format. Here's a letter from Santa Claus that Mark Twain wrote for his daughter Susie:
Mark Twain's Letter from Santa Claus
Written for His Daughter Susie
Palace of St.
In the Moon
MY DEAR SUSIE
received and read all the letters which you and your little sister have written
me by the hand of your mother and your nurses; I have also read those which you
little people have written me with your own hands--for although you did not use
any characters that are in grown peoples' alphabet, you used the characters
that all children in all lands on earth and in the twinkling stars use; and as
all my subjects in the moon are children and use no character but that, you
will easily understand that I can read your and your baby sister's jagged and
fantastic marks without any trouble at all. But I had trouble with those
letters which you dictated through your mother and the nurses, for I am a foreigner
and cannot read English writing well. You will find that I made no mistakes
about the things which you and the baby ordered in your own letters—I went
down your chimney at midnight when you were asleep and delivered them all
myself—and kissed both of you, too, because you are good children, well
trained, nice mannered, and about the most obedient little people I ever saw.
But in the letter which you dictated there were some words which I could not
make out for certain, and one or two small orders which I could not fill
because we ran out of stock. Our last lot of kitchen furniture for dolls has
just gone to a very poor little child in the North Star away up, in the cold
country above the Big Dipper. Your mama can show you that star and you will say:
"Little Snow Flake," (for that is the child's name) "I'm glad
you got that furniture, for you need it more than I." That is, you must
write that, with your own hand, and Snow Flake will write you an answer. If you
only spoke it she wouldn't hear you. Make your letter light and thin, for the
distance is great and the postage very heavy.
There was a
word or two in your mama's letter which I couldn't be certain of. I took it to
be "a trunk full of doll's clothes." Is that it? I will call at your
kitchen door about nine o'clock this morning to inquire. But I must not see
anybody and I must not speak to anybody but you. When the kitchen doorbell
rings, George must be blindfolded and sent to open the door. Then he must go
back to the dining room or the china closet and take the cook with him. You
must tell George he must walk on tiptoe and not speak—otherwise he will die
someday. Then you must go up to the nursery and stand on a chair or the nurse's
bed and put your car to the speaking tube that leads down to the kitchen and
when I whistle through it you must speak in the tube and say, "Welcome,
Santa Claus!" Then I will ask whether it was a trunk you ordered or not.
If you say it was, I shall ask you what color you want the trunk to be. Your
mama will help you to name a nice color and then you must tell me every single
thing in detail which you want the trunk to contain. Then when I say
"Good-by and a merry Christmas to my little Susie Clemens," you must
say "Good-by, good old Santa Claus, I thank you very much and please tell
that little Snow Flake I will look at her star tonight and she must look down
here—I will be right in the west bay window; and every fine night I will look
at her star and say, 'I know somebody up there and like her, too.' " Then
you must go down into the library and make George close all the doors that open
into the main hall, and everybody must keep still for a little while. I will go
to the moon and get those things and in a few minutes I will come down the
chimney that belongs to the fireplace that is in the hall—if it is a trunk you
want—because I couldn't get such a thing as a trunk down the nursery chimney,
talk if they want, until they hear my footsteps in the hall. Then you tell them
to keep quiet a little while till I go back up the chimney. Maybe you will not
hear my footsteps at all—so you may go now and then and peep through the
dining-room doors, and by and by you will see that thing which you want, right
under the piano in the drawing room-for I shall put it there. If I should leave
any snow in the hall, you must tell George to sweep it into the fireplace, for
I haven't time to do such things. George must not use a broom, but a rag—else
he will die someday. You must watch George and not let him run into danger. If
my boot should leave a stain on the marble, George must not holystone it away.
Leave it there always in memory of my visit; and whenever you look at it or
show it to anybody you must let it remind you to be a good little girl.
Whenever you are naughty and somebody points to that mark which your good old
Santa Claus's boot made on the marble, what will you say, little sweetheart?
Good-by for a
few minutes, till I come down to the world and ring the kitchen doorbell.
Your loving SANTA CLAUS
Whom people sometimes call "The Man in the Moon"
Holiday poems and stories have an enduring appeal,
and most of you are familiar with Charles Dickens’s story about Scrooge, Tiny
Tim, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to
With this prompt, we’re going to do some variations on the past,
present, and future theme, and you’ll need to think about your own past, present,
and future Christmases, Chanukahs, Kwanzaas, or other annual winter-season
Note: Did you know that Nobel Laureate, Russian poet
Joseph Brodsky was so taken with Christmas that he wrote a Christmas poem every
year (now collected in his book Nativity
Poems)? Click Here to Order
Here’s an example:
Star of the Nativity
By Joseph Brodsky (December 1987)
In the cold season, in a locality accustomed to heat
to cold, to horizontality more than to a mountain,
a child was born in a cave in order to save the
it blew as only in deserts in winter it blows,
To Him, all things seemed enormous: His mother’s
breast, the steam
out of the ox’s nostrils, Caspar, Balthazar,
of Magi, their presents heaped by the door, ajar.
He was but a dot, and a dot was the star.
Keenly, without blinking, through pallid, stray
clouds, upon the child in the manger, from far away—
from the depth of the universe, from its opposite
was looking into the cave. And that was the Father’s
And here’s one of my all-time favorite winter
Are We Done Yet?
By Gail Fishman Gerwin (from Dear Kinfolk)
When my daughter was four
we lit the Chanukah candles
on the wedding-present
atop the Lane record
our first purchase as a
In our new home we could
out the window at the house
where the Todds’ Christmas
in their den blazed lights
color, reflected by glossy
all leading to a star on top
to descend directly from
We chanted our prayers,
Barukh atah Adonai,
Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam,
allowed Karen to hold the
shamash, the service candle,
for her first time, hustled
to the other side of the
lest she set her pajamas
Our ritual complete, we
the girls—a doll, a book, a
from preschool (only a
sixty-four dollars for an
reads the bill I unearthed
basement as I rummaged
that crowded cavern where we
store our past).
Dinner, I told everyone, the
latkes already burning at
as they sat in oil on the
General Electric range.
Wait, Mommy, I have a
Karen said, what’s that in
over there? It’s a Christmas
tree, I told her.
Why don’t we have a
Because we’re Jewish, I
said. She wanted
to know then, before eating
cut into small pieces so she
choke, before crunching the
now on the edge of soggy,
When will we be finished being Jewish?
1. Write about a holiday from your past (dig deeply
into family memories).
2. Write a poem in which you compare winter holidays
of the past, present, and/or future.
3. Write about seasonal ghosts that haunt you.
4. Write about people from your past who are no
longer with you and how that impacts your present holiday season; or, write
about one special person with whom you always associate the winter holidays.
5. Write about aspects of winter holiday traditions
that remain part of your annual celebrations.
6. Write about the faith and/or cultural aspects of
your winter holidays.
7. Write about one unforgettable winter holiday.
8. Write about holiday food treats and how they
sweeten your memories.
9. Write about a holiday song that replays in your
mind because of its associations (or, write your own words to a Christmas carol
or other winter holiday song). 10. Write a poem based on an old Christmas, Hanukkah, or other winter holiday photograph.
11. Write about a historical holiday-time event.
12. Write about a winter holiday yet to come. You
might consider a fantasy poem with a futuristic sensibility.
1. Keep in mind that holiday literature can be
tricky—be sure to sidestep the pitfalls of sentimentality, schmaltziness,
nostalgia, and clichés.
2. Work toward fresh and original language, figures
of speech, and an integrated whole of language, form, and meaning.
3. Show through examples and imagery—don’t simply
4. Try to write in the active, not the passive,
voice. To do that, it can be helpful to remove “ing” endings and to write in
the present tense (this will also create a greater sense of immediacy).
5. Be on the lookout for prepositional phrases that
you might remove (articles & conjunctions too).
6. Think about your poem, what it reveals about
being human, and how your readers may relate to it.