Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Spirit of Christmas

The Spirit of Christmas 

by Christina Cole

Christmas is always a special time, both in my own life and in the lives of the characters I create. The holiday season plays a role in my newest western historical romance, due out from Secret Cravings Publishing in January, so it was important for me to do a little research to learn how Christmas was celebrated in the past.
I found that by the mid-1800s, Christmas traditions in America were very similar to those we know today. They included brightly-decorated trees, the exchange of cards and gifts, caroling, lots of festive foods, visits from Santa Claus, stockings hung by the fireplace, and many religious celebrations.
Of course, farther west, in rural areas and sparsely-populated villages, celebrations were sometimes quite humble. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote of  receiving precious gifts: a tin cup, a shiny new penny, a heart-shaped cake, and a peppermint candy. In the west, many gifts were homemade, and wintry weather often interfered with holiday plans, but despite the hardships of life on the prairie on in rough, unsettled territories, the spirit of Christmas lived on. 
Several years ago, my family and I visited the National Frontier Trails Museum in Independence, Missouri for their annual Christmas celebration. In addition to visiting with and hearing stories from Laura Ingalls Wilder (through the talents of a gifted re-enactor) , we toured the old railroad depot. This brought back a wealth of memories for me. Many of you know I lived with my grandfather while growing up. He was a railroad telegrapher, and touring this depot was like stepping back into my childhood.
Upstairs, where the agent and his family lived, the table was set for a festive Christmas meal.

In the old west, tables probably weren't this ornately set, but I cherish this image. To me, it somehow exemplifies the beauty of the holiday season and the importance of home and family. I had this vision in mind as I wrote about Emily Sue Phillips on Christmas Eve.
As a little gift to readers, I'm now sharing two short Christmas excerpts from the story, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not.  I hope you enjoy them.

In this excerpt, Emily Sue reflects upon Christmas, childhood, home and family. 

Each year on Christmas Eve, the Phillips family gathered in the parlor at sunset for a festive celebration. Emily loved Christmas. When she’d been a child, the holiday always meant gaily-wrapped presents beneath the tree, Mama’s holiday cakes and pies, sweet cinnamon candies and peppermints, and fresh oranges tucked inside stockings hung on the fireplace mantel. Once upon a time, she’d actually believed in Santa Claus. In fact, she’d believed in the jolly, bewhiskered fellow for a good many years. She wished now she could go back to those childhood days, those simpler times when she could make wishes and, as often as not, they came true. Of course, she knew now that it was Pa, not Father Christmas, St. Nicholas, or any other legendary figure who brought the gifts she cherished.
     Earlier that morning, Kat's husband had cut down a lovely spruce tree and brought it to the house. Emily and Mama had worked together for most of the afternoon, adding ornaments, bows, tinsel, and tapers, but then Mama had been called away. The Sherwood family was about to get a brand new baby for Christmas. Soon after she left, a heavy snow began to fall. Mama would not be able to make it home until the weather cleared.
Alone now, Emily lit the candles one by one, reflecting on how many things had changed over the years. Kat now celebrated Christmas Eve in her own home with her husband and children. Mama did very little holiday cooking and baking these days since she was usually too busy attending to her midwifery or caring for Pa. His days were numbered; he wouldn't be with them forever. Each year when Christmas came around, Emily wondered if this might be their last together. The thought brought a tear to her eye. For all his faults -- and her father had many -- she loved him dearly.
With the candles glowing brightly, she stepped back to gaze upon the magnificent sight. The sweet scent of pine filled the air, mingling with the aroma of hot spiced cider and frothy cocoa. For a moment, her spirits lifted. Christmas possessed a special magic.

In this excerpt, Emily Sue receives a visit from Benjamin, the young man she loves. They've been through some difficult times in their relationship in recent weeks.He has brought a gift wrapped in butcher's paper and tied with a coarse jute string. 

"Why are you here? Why are you doing this?"
"It's Christmas. I'm giving you a gift. That's what Christmas is all about."
"Not really, but I won't quibble over theology. My point," she said, her voice growing cooler with each word, "is that you've made it clear you don't want anything to do with me. Of course, then you do an about-face and tell me how much I mean to you, but in the next breath, you're sending me away again. You've got me so confused, I don't know what to think."
"I'm sorry. I know I've put you through a lot over the last few weeks."
"And this is supposed to make up for it?" She took the gift he held out. Its szie and shape alone, plus its weight in her hand, clearly made known its contents. She turned toward the tall spruce with its glittering tapers and shimmering tinsel and slipped the crudely-wrapped present beneath the fragrant pine branches. Next to the other gifts, Ben's contribution looked woefully out of place.
"You're not going to open it?"
"I can't. It's not Christmas yet," she explained. "My father won't allow us to open even a single gift until Christmas morning."
"Are you sure you can't make an exception?"
"Sorry, Ben. No exceptions."
A crestfallen expression showed on his face. "I hoped to be here when you unwrapped it. I wanted to know if you liked it."
"I'm sure I will," she said in quiet voice. She would cherish anything Ben gave her.
But her reply did not appease him. He huffed out a short breath. "How can you say that? You don't even know what it is."
Emily rolled her eyes. "It's a book, Ben. It's not like it's any great mystery." Lifting the present again, she hefted it up. "I appreciate it, all right?" For the life of her she couldn't understand why she was acting like such a spoiled brat. Too many emotions were vying for control.
“I swear, you’re impossible.” Ben nodded toward the tree as she placed the present beneath it once more. “Fine,” he said. “There’s your gift. Yes, it’s a book. A book of poetry, to be precise. It’s nothing terribly fancy. I got it from old Asa Taylor at the mercantile. I hope you enjoy it.” He turned and walked away. “Merry Christmas,” he added in a gruff voice.

     Although Christmas may not be so merry for Emily Sue Phillips and Benjamin Brooks, I sincerely hope your holiday is filled with warm wishes, true love, and the joy of family and friends. It is a special time of year. Enjoy! 

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not 
Coming in January 2015
Secret Cravings Publishing

For more information, visit Chistina Cole's Love Notes on Facebook.


Robyn Echols said...

Christine -- Looks like a fun story. I enjoyed your Christmas excerpts. Sounds like the romance is a little rocky, but going in the right direction. I look forward to reading it when it comes out.

Robyn Echols writing as Zina Abbott

christinacoleromance.com said...

Thanks, Robyn/Zina for dropping by. Keep me posted, please, on your new releases.

vicki batman said...

Hi, Christina! and congratulations on the lovely book. I read the Little House books and remember how ecstatic they were to receive a peppermint stick. Happy holidays, my friend.