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A Calf for Christmas cooking in the kitchen
"A white Christmas," she said happily. "It's been a longtime since we've had one of those"

Illustration by William Gwaltney, 12 for his story "A Calf for Christmas" published in Stone Soup, November/December 2007.

A note from Emma Wood

I grew up celebrating Christmas. Even though I’m now all grown up, it remains a very special time of year for me. Returning to Christmas every year reminds me of all the Christmases I’ve celebrated in my life, and it makes me feel nostalgic. This means I am filled with longing for the past. Being nostalgic makes me eager to recreate the traditions I grew up with: like my mother, I listen to the Vienna Boys’ Choir as we trim the tree, make Spritz cookies, eat a lot of raw dough, and if I am in New York City—where I grew up and my parents still live—I enjoy going to hear Christmas carols at church on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, I usually get up early and go running in Central Park. Then my family and I make pancakes and open presents while listening to Handel’s Messiah. Later in the day, we go to our family friends’ house, the Darlings, for dinner, and enjoy a special Christmas cake called a Bûche de Noël.

But since I got married, I have had to learn to embrace new traditions—and to get used to celebrating Christmas in a new way. My husband has a large family in Utah. He and his parents and his sister open presents in the morning at their grandparents’ house. A big part of their Christmas is the stockings, which they fill (usually to the point of spilling over!) with little gifts like yummy snacks, chapsticks, and socks. Later that day, all of his aunts and uncles and the many cousins descend on the house for Christmas lunch. Everyone hangs out in the living room, talking, reading, maybe even watching a movie, or taking a nap. Sometimes, the younger kids go outside and play in the snow. It is a fun, relaxing day.

Once my husband and I have a family of our own, we will have to decide which traditions from our childhoods we will want to keep and which new traditions we would like to introduce into our family. Whatever holiday you celebrate, I invite you to think about what traditions your family has this time of year, and what makes this time of year feel special for you. Or maybe, for whatever reason, you hate this time of year. Regardless of how you feel, I encourage you to try to explore those feelings and the reasons behind them through writing or art. Can you write a piece or take a photograph that captures your or your family’s holiday “mood”? When you’re done, please consider submitting your work via Submittable.

I hope you are savoring the time you are spending together as a family or with friends. You are making memories that you will treasure as an adult.

Happy holidays!


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This week on the blog

Stone Soup has published beautiful watercolors and photographs of birds by Sierra Glassman over the past couple of years. (Her “Mountain Quail” is even the cover of our new edition of The Stone Soup Book of Animal Stories!). Now she has written a wonderful blog post about Passenger Martha, the last passenger pigeon.

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Published in Stone Soup,
November/December 2007,
and in the Stone Soup Book of Festival & Holiday Stories

A Calf for Christmas

Written and illustrated by William Gwaltney, 12

It was Christmas Eve, and everything was ready. Presents had been purchased with great care months before. Yesterday they had been wrapped in dozens of pretty papers and decorated with beautiful bows. Now they sat like sparkling jewels in a pirate’s treasure chest, under the fragrant boughs of a giant spruce. The farmhouse was filled with tinsel and holly and light.

The dining room table was covered with a white tablecloth, and red and green candles stood in silver candle holders waiting to be lit. Golden streams of light poured down from the dining room chandelier onto plates heaped high with frosted cookies in the shapes of snowmen and reindeer and elves. Soon these plates would need to be moved to make way for the huge Christmas Eve feast that was almost ready.

From the kitchen came the smells of cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla, and of a golden brown turkey almost too big for the oven. On the stove, every burner was in use. Steam was pouring out from underneath the lids on various pots, fogging up the windows in the farmhouse kitchen. The sink was filled with pots and pans and utensils, and the counters were happily cluttered. As the mother worked, chopping, stirring, and checking the pots, she sang along with the Christmas carols coming from the nearby radio.

Suddenly the door to the outside burst open and happy voices filled the air. Having finished their evening chores, the children rushed into the house, each trying to be the first to reach the Christmas cookies in the dining room. Max, thinking himself too old for such childish behavior at twelve, slowly removed his shoes and walked seriously into the kitchen. He called out to his younger sisters, “You leave those cookies alone! You’ll all spoil your appetites for supper!” His mother grinned.“Now you sound like me,” she said. “Before I know it, you’ll be taking over my kitchen and doing the cooking as well.”

“Not a chance,” replied Max. “You are the only person in the world who can make dinner smell this good.” He inhaled deeply. “Did you know that it’s starting to snow out there?” he asked. “There’s already almost two inches on the ground.” A broad smile lit his mother’s face and her brown eyes twinkled.

“A white Christmas,” she said happily. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had one of those. Have you and your sisters finished your chores?” Max nodded. “Great,” his mom replied, “Now where’s your father?”

“He’s still out in the back pasture,” Max answered. “I think he’s…” But before he could finish, the door to the outside once again blew open.

Into the kitchen came Max’s dad, his hair wet, his clothes rumpled, and a grim look on his face. “Molly!” he called to Max’s mother. “Call the vet! That cow with the white face is having trouble calving. She’s been trying since early this morning, and I went out just now thinking she’d have a nice calf on the ground. But she’s made no progress since I last saw her. I’m not even sure that the calf’s still alive but we’ve got to do something.” . . . / More

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