Holiday memories from our authors

Growing up, my family always did a joint Hanukkah/ Christmas celebration.  Christmukkah? Hanukmas? My friends were jealous because they figured I got double presents, but actually my parents spread the gifts out over the eight nights and Christmas day.  I did open something each evening, but often they were what other kids called “stocking stuffers”—pairs of socks, a new toothbrush… or (my favorite) a book.
We picked our tree on Christmas day, most often for free. Yes our trees were sickly and bent, the picked-over ones, but there was something Christmassy about bringing a lonely curved tree into our warm home to be dressed up.

Brenda Sturgis imageTradition IS the key to making memories, and creating magic. Our family tradition involves a can of whipped cream. It began as one of those silly
little things that a grandmother does for her grandchildren, to enlist a giggle. No matter what the holiday, or celebration, my grandchildren
stampede into my kitchen, scrounge through the refrigerator and line up. 7 hungry children with mouths agape, waiting to see who can hold the most
whipped cream in their mouth.  This tradition is one that will surely be ingrained inside their hearts, whenever they pass the dairy aisle in the
grocery store.
-Brenda Sturgis, author of Still a Family (pub. Fall 2016)

Felicia Chernesky--Felicia and Stephanie, Christmas 1971[2]
Felicia and Stephanie (1971)
My sisters and I anticipated Christmas presents under the tree, but Christmas Eve was sacred. We’d help Mom cook—stuffed artichokes, angel hair aglio et olio, countless fish dishes, zeppole, strufolli—and set the table with her best china. After Mass we’d gather at the corner for a rowdy firetruck visit from Santa, who handed out Colorforms sets or treat-filled stockings. Every year, Mom (who is small in stature) was carried up to sit on Santa’s lap while the neighbors cheered. Later we’d exchange gifts; Dad always had something special for each of us. Then Mom and Dad played piano and we’d sing carols. Christmas Day with grandparents and cousins was wonderful, too, but Christmas Eve night was just for us.-Felicia Sanzari Chernesky, author of From Apple Trees to Cider, Please

laura hurwitz photoOur family is an interfaith one. My upbringing was Protestant while my husband is Jewish. This means our six children have always celebrated both Hannukah and Christmas. The menorahs (somehow, we have amassed four) are stored in the basement right alongside the Christmas decorations and my grandmother’s manger scene. It was never a matter of pitting Santa Claus and Christmas carols against potato latkes and applesauce but joyful holiday coexistence. Our family Venn diagram of Christmas and Hannukah shows the inevitable theological differences, but we have always celebrated the intersection and its commonalities: Light against darkness. Loved ones gathered round. Faith in all kinds of miracles.

Laura Hurwitz, author of Disappear Home

Holiday memories from our authors

Holiday Season traditions: from our authors

Holidays often challenge blended families. My divorced parents worked it out by having two Christmases for my brother and me. One with my mother and stepfather at home on December 25th, and the other, which we called “Little Christmas,” with my father, stepmother, and paternal grandparents.

Whitney (center) with cousins

My beloved grandmother Mari made sure my brother and I felt adored. She prepared an extra Christmas meal just for us with my cousins. The highlight of the tradition was the money tree. Mari hid coins of different values in tin-foil ornaments. The luckiest kid found the quarter. Now I laugh at the message of Mari’s tradition—you mean money does grow on trees?

Whitney Stewart, author of Meditation is an Open Sky

The original recipe card and last year’s batch of Lebkuchen trees

When I was a child, we had a World Book Encyclopedia. World Book sent out an annual Christmas package that included a book about how Christmas was celebrated in a different country, recipe cards with traditional cookies from that country and an ornament. I would sit by the Christmas tree and read those books over and over. I kept the recipe card from Christmas in Austria (1982) and still make the Lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies) every year without fail. It reminds me of how much I loved reading as a child.

Mandy Mikulencak, author of Burn Girl


Nancy I. Sanders and family
Nancy (right) is hugging her new doll in a red velvet dress.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, I knew that Santa Claus stopped in Florida first. Every Christmas morning, tucked deep in the toe of each of our stockings was a big, beautiful orange. The fragrance filled the room as my brother and sisters and I sat next to the crackling fireplace and peeled them open. I knew nobody could get oranges where I lived during winter. So I had Santa all figured out. He got them in Florida first! Santa still hides an orange in our stockings each year. It’s a tradition that we continue with our own children and grandchildren.

Nancy I. Sanders, author of A Pirate’s Mother Goose

When I was growing up, sometimes the snow held off until after the weather got really, really cold. This was black ice season, and the best skating ever. We had a little pond in our back yard. On holiday nights, we put sand in the bottom of paper lunch bags and lit candles inside. We put the lanterns all around the edge of the pond, and built a bonfire nearby. We skated under the stars until our toes were cold and painful, and then warmed up by the fire with cups of cocoa, while the grownups drank something mysterious. And, of course, we toasted marshmallows.

Sarah S. Brannen, author and illustrator of Madame Martine Breaks the Rules; illustrator of All Kinds of Families

The most unique holiday tradition in my beautiful seaside city (Portland, ME) is the Lobster Trap Christmas Tree. The tree stands over twenty feet tall, made from seventy-six real working lobster traps. The thing reeks of brine, salt water, and dead fish. (Now this is Super Schnoz’s kind of tree!)


The Lobster Trap Christmas Tree is a tradition in many Maine communities, from the tiniest island village to the big (by Maine standards) city of Portland. If you find yourself in Maine during the holiday season, take a good whiff and follow your nose to see this unique Maine holiday tradition!

Gary Urey, author of the Super Schnoz series

Holiday Season traditions: from our authors