Authors of "A Christmas to Remember," Hope Ramsay, Jill Shalvis, Kristen Ashley, Marilyn Pappano and Molly Cannon, discuss their real-life Christmas to remember in this exclusive blog post.
Nothing gets me into the holiday spirit faster than listening to Christmas music.
And I have a little secret: my favorite Christmas music is the traditional stuff. Every Christmas you’ll find me with the stereo cranked up, singing along to all four hours of Handel’s Messiah while I bake cookies.
So, when writing for this collection, I put together a playlist of favorite carols and songs, most of them traditional. I plugged in the earbuds, found a comfy spot on the couch, and waited for the Christmas muse to find me.
She did – right at the moment Silent Night came up on the iPod. I suddenly realized that I’d picked a playlist composed entirely of carols and songs with images of a stable and a star and a bunch of wise men searching for a miracle – all traditional Christmas themes based on the story of the first Christmas.
Some of my best family memories are attached to Christmas. Like getting bickering teenage girls to wrap presents for charity the year my arm was in a sling. You would have thought I was asking them to head out to the mines and do manual labor. But they did it; they wrapped all the presents, including the ones from me, holed up in their separate bunks so no one saw anyone else’s goods.
Then they played Santa for me as well. We didn’t get to bed until after 2 a.m. and still we woke up at the crack of dawn, excited. Only to find that someone had left the sliding glass door ajar. Raccoons had come in and not only unwrapped everything but trashed it all as well. Complete. Devastation. It took hours to clean up, and afterwards, I expected bad moods. Didn’t get it. Instead we all made breakfast together and, over bacon and eggs, told each other what we loved about each of us. It was the gift of words, and I’ve never been so proud of the girls or loved them more.
As a kid, we didn’t have a lot. My mom worked hard and made sure we had everything we needed, but she was rarely able to give us what we wanted. Except at Christmas.
My sister and brother and I would have to take turns, every third Christmas, getting the “big gift” (like a tape recorder, a record player or a small black and white TV). But we didn’t mind, seeing as Mom saved all year to spoil us on that special day in a myriad of ways that maybe weren’t so big but were always precious. And she did. Mom and my Auntie Bec took the stockings down, placed them where we were to sit on Christmas, and stuffed them so they were overflowing. As the days led up to Christmas, they spread all the presents across the floor of our mudroom so when we woke up on Christmas Day, the entire room was taken up with Christmas.
It didn’t even matter what was wrapped in those boxes. What mattered was that, even at a young age, it was not lost on us that it wasn’t just a day, but an entire year Mom worked hard and saved precious money to light up that family holiday and make it special for the kids she loved. And it wasn’t just that day we knew how much she loved us. It was just that she knocked herself out so that on Christmas we would be in no doubt. We never were. Not back then. Not until the day she died. And beyond.
Being a Navy wife, I spent a lot of Christmases in transit. If my husband had the leave available and we had the money, come the holidays, we packed up the car and headed to Oklahoma. One year, stationed in San Diego, I was going to school that semester. I had three finals the week we left for home, along with shopping, wrapping gifts, and packing. Something had to slide.
We left warm 70s weather for subzero temperatures and wind chills in the negative 20s. Our six-year-old, who'd owned nothing warmer than a jacket and jeans, acquired a new wardrobe, along with a great appreciation for cold weather that he nurtures to this day.
After a two-day drive, we arrived back in San Diego early one evening to balmy breezes and shorts weather. Happy to be home again, our son was the first one into the condo, where he skidded to an abrupt stop. "Mom! Dad!" he yelled. "Someone broke into our house!"
Yep, my holiday from cleaning along with the frantic preparation for the trip left the condo looking ransacked.
I love Christmas. The gifts are nice, but it’s the friends and family gathering, festive food eating, twinkly light stringing, holiday carol singing, and the Christmas tree decorating parts that get me going. I love that once a year an ordinary place is transformed into a magical, other-worldly one.
But I have another special reason for loving the Christmas season. Many years ago I got engaged to my wonderful husband on Christmas Eve. His parents always had their gift exchange on Christmas Eve and we were there, too. I’ll always remember his father calling out my name and tossing me a box. He liked to throw the presents so you had to have good reflexes. I opened it while they all watched and there it was. My ring.
He’d already asked, and I’d already said yes, but that made it official when he put the ring on my finger. We were young and didn’t have any money, but that was the beginning of our life together. Since then we have celebrated many Christmases together first with our three children and now with our grandchildren.
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