Please welcome author and friend, Kathryn Mackel. She's written us a very honest and heart felt interview with a desire to comfort and touch those who may have grown up without the ideal Christmas.
Thank you, Kathy!
When Rachel offered the opportunity to revisit our Christmas memories, I jumped at the chance. Who doesn't love Christmas? I put my tree up early, consider November 1 the kick-off for Christmas music, can't wait for the snow to blanket the woods.
But in answering Rachel's questions, I have to admit that there is a deliberate gap in my memories, a stone I have placed across a tomb of emotion. I grew up in an alcoholic home. About the time I realized that Santa didn't come down my chimney, I also understood my father had a drinking problem. This problem caused Christmas and other occasions to be a time of anxiety and dread, rather than joy. I don't need to go into details because if you have also experienced this, you know the drill.
I hesitated to share this - not because that tomb is filled with decay - but because I did not want to dishonor my father. Rachel and I emailed and prayed and it seems fitting to share this because so many others share this pain.
And what is so important is this. Despite the drinking and the horrific holidays, my father loved me and my sisters deeply. When I was in my mid-twenties, he stopped drinking. I don’t know why - I still consider it something of a miracle. And so the memories pick up from there, with my own children to love. With all the wounded Christmases, my sisters have been marvelous in offering new memories. Golden, blessed memories of family and warmth and love.
This is God's redemption, not just for my life but also for my parents.
This is the true gift of Christmas, the gift of God: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." (Ez. 36:26)
(rh: Said so well, Kathy.)
Tell us about your first Christmas memory?
We had an awesome advent tradition. On the first day of December, my parents put 24 pennies on the window sill. Every night we'd remove one. I remember being barely tall enough to see over the sill, and watching those pennies disappear. When we got to the very last penny, I was nearly out of my mind with excitement.
(rh: What a great tradition!)
Growing up, did your family have Christmas traditions? Tell us how you incorporated them into your family life. Or, how you created new ones.
The best presents under our tree were from Uncle Henry. He was generous and also very artistic so they would be amazingly wrapped. When we got home from church on Christmas Eve, my parents allowed my sisters and I to open one of Uncle Henry's presents.
My husband's birthday is Christmas Eve so it's always a challenge to celebrate with him and still make it out of the house in time to do church. We have a birthday lunch and then enjoy friends stopping by.
Around 4, we'll open all our presents. This allows my adult kids to sleep in the next day while Steve and I visit a couple of our friends and see what Santa has brought them!
I'm trying to initiate a new tradition with my grandson (almost 4). I bought him a Nativity set and we play with it, going through the Christmas story. He loves saying the line "do not be afraid!"
(rh: A great line to love. )
I help direct youth choir so I have to be at our early Christmas Eve service. It is quite raucous and wonderful. My grandson comes with me and sits in the front pew, pretending to sing as I direct the choir. I hope someday he will actually sing in his own choir.
When do you put up your tree? At my house, it goes up right after Thanksgiving. My husband works assembly and outside lights. I do the rest. Describe the decorating at your house.
We always had real trees and would put them up a couple weekends before Christmas. A few years ago, I put up the tree and had a three-day migraine until I dragged it out to the front porch. Since then, we've had an artificial tree which allows me to put the Sunday before Thanksgiving. This year, my grandson (visiting from Ohio) put it up with me. It takes a long, long time - maybe 8 hours - but he hung in with the process.
We have many beautiful blue spruces around our property but I haven't yet talked my husband into outside lights.
What is your favorite Christmas song or album? I grew up with a Johnny Mathis Christmas CD and it's still one of my favorites. My other is a copy of Mel Torme singing his "Christmas Song."
My favorite Christmas song is "Welcome to Our World" by Michael W. Smith. I love the line "Word now breaking heaven's silence." Even typing it gives me chills.
Growing up, I loved Bing Crosby's White Christmas album.
Christmas morning, my parents didn't want us in the living room until the tree was plugged in. So, we'd wake up early, five a.m. or so, and bang on the floor to stir my parents awake. Relive your childhood Christmas mornings for us.
I waited until I smelled coffee brewing. Then I knew I could get up. The problem was getting my sisters up, they're 4 and 7 years older, so they were past Santa around the time I was really digging him.
Seems to me snow and Christmas go together, but I've been a Florida girl for 33 years! Tell us about your Christmas setting?
Living next to the New Hampshire woods, we're Currier and Ives. We can look out at our ancient stone wall that borders the white woods, and just breathe in beauty. No matter how deep the snow, I hike those woods every day.
(rh: If I was there, I'd hike with you, Kathy! Sounds beautiful.)
It's Christmas Eve, describe your day and evening.
See my Christmas tradition for the day, but evening-wise, I do early family service because I help with youth choir. Steve and I sing in the sanctuary choir so we do the late service together.
I know my kids are getting old (28 and 30) because they now come to the early service so they can get to bed. Then again, rumor is that a couple years ago, they went home and watched the Simpsons all night.
Confession time. Shop on line or at the mall?
I hate shopping. (I do love spending money, however.) It's all online. We're big into watching television shows on DVD so this year we should be getting Lost, Season 3, and Heroes, Season 1.
(rh: Online does make shopping easy, doesn't it?)
Christmas grows more and more commercial every year. Setting the hustle and bustle aside, what does Christmas really mean to you?
We are so blessed to miss the hustle and bustle. We have the online shopping, the woods, the music.
In the quiet of my heart, apart from all the family activities, Christmas comes down to this - and I'll quote Michael W. Smith's song again.
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood will save us
Unto us is born.
Both my son and grandson were born right before Christmas. When I held them in my arms and understood their utter helplessness and innocence, I got the smallest glimpse of what God had done to allow His son to be born as man. I love this season but I remind myself what His coming cost both Father and Son, and why.
It's Christmas day, what's for dinner? Do you make cookies or other traditional foods?
I'm part Slovak so our traditional Christmas meal is stuffed cabbage. My kids won't eat it but my husband and I love it. And it's so healthy! I don't make cookies because I'll eat them but I do put out the foil-wrapped peanut butter cups and Hershey kisses. (And eat them instead.)
(rh: Okay, Kathy, I'm all for traditions, but stuffed cabbage? I'm with your kids. LOL.)
I also make Christmas breads, in the form of a wreath, tree, or sometimes snow man!
(rh: That sounds fun!)
Tell us about your favorite Christmas memory.
Probably my son's first Christmas. He was a couple weeks old, a big baby already in size 6 month clothes so he filled out his red outfit. He made his debut with Steve’s family on Christmas and a week later with my family.
Not to leave my daughter out, she played John the Baptist when she was 3 months old. Kind of pretty to be a locust-eating prophet but she filled the role beautifully.
What are you plans for this season?
Very, very quiet because both our kids and their families will probably be out of state. We'll do the two church services, visit our friends, relax. Go to a movie, visit Steve's family.
We see my family in Connecticut at the end of January. It's a wonderful way to celebrate because the hustle and bustle is long over, everything's on sale, and the kids love having a second Christmas.
(rh: I love celebrating after Christmas either with family or shopping!)
Any final thoughts on Christmas?
It's the little things that count. Playing with the Nativity set. Making cookies together. Watching the Simpsons with your adult kids and enjoying them double over with laughter will last long beyond any gift under the tree.
(rh: You are so right, Kathy. I love to laugh, especially with family and friends.)
The official word on Kathryn Mackel:
Kathryn Mackel is an accomplished screenwriter and novelist who has worked extensively in both mainstream and Christian-themed entertainment.
Kathryn has written for Disney, Fox, and Showtime. She was the credited screenwriter on her own novel, Can of Worms, and for Frank Peretti's Hangman's Curse (with Stan Foster).
Her novels include the Christy-finalist The Hidden, as well as the fantasy series The Birthright Project. Writing as Kathy Mackel, she is the acclaimed author of Can of Worms and other novels for middle readers published by Putnam, Avon, HarperCollins, and Dial Books. Her latest release is the thriller Vanished, from Realms.
FREE BOOK ALERT!
Leave a comment to enter to win a free book! Kathy is giving away three copies of her latest release, "Vanished." Woo hoo.
Visit Kathryn's web site and blog at www.kathrynmackel.com