Please welcome friend and author, Deborah Raney. I met Deb almost seven years ago on an email loop for writers, then in person at a conference. She's always kind and beautiful, and a great source of encouragement to all writers.
Tell us about your first Christmas memory?
I remember the Christmas Eve service at the little country church I grew up in. The wall behind the pulpit would always be covered with a huge mural depicting the nativity and I loved getting lost in that scene, imagining that I was there at that very first Christmas.
At the end of the service, every single person in the church got to bring home a brown paper bag filled with candy. Candy wasn't something we had around the house so this was a real treat and we made it last as long as we could - at least into the new year.
(rh: Funny how little things like candy can be such a blessing.)
Growing up, did your family have Christmas traditions? Tell us how you incorporated them into your family life. Or, how you created new ones.
I grew up with a brother and three sisters and we five kids took turns reading the Christmas story every year before we opened our gifts.
After that, we would present a little program for our parents, reading poetry or devotions or singing. Most memorable was the year my brother played Christmas carols on pop bottles. He worked for hours, filling the bottles with varying amounts of water so just the right tone would sound when he blew across the top of the bottle.
(rh: How cool.)
We've carried on the tradition of reading the Christmas story, only now it's my parents' twelve grandchildren who take turns reading. Two years ago my sister's foreign exchange student "son" read the Christmas story in Spanish, and soon there will be great-grandchildren old enough to take a turn reading.
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've always been pretty low-key when it comes to decorating. We put the tree up on Thanksgiving weekend, and we try not to be late because it comes down on December 26 without fail. I have a real aversion to Christmas decorations after the holidays are over!
(rh: I keep the tree up until the first week of January, but I'm ready for it to come down.)
Other decor includes a beribboned wreath on the front door, quilted stockings (hand-sewn by my cousins twenty-five years ago) hanging on the stair rail, and a sprig of mistletoe over the kitchen door my husband comes through every night after work. (He gets a kiss year round, but it's extra fun to kiss beneath the mistletoe.)
And I always set out a red ceramic reindeer that a darling little girl named Amy gave me years ago when I was her story hour teacher. Amy got married last Christmas and I helped serve the punch at her wedding reception.
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 dad is a big country western fan, so I remember listening to Charlie Pride's Christmas album a lot. Also, Doris Day, Patti Page and Pat Boone Christmas records playing on my folks' Hi-Fi.
But I think the Christmas music that is most nostalgic for me is simply the traditional carols that our church would sing from the hymnal beginning the Sunday after Thanksgiving. To this day, I can sing multiple verses of the old carols from memory.
(rh: O Holy Night is one of my all time favorite songs.)
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.
We always had our family Christmas at home after the church service on Christmas Eve. That's what we considered the "real' Christmas. But Christmas morning was special too because we always had one more present under the tree that was signed from "Santa."
As the oldest, I found out the secret about Santa (that he was my Dad) when I was eight years old, but at first I thought that meant my dad was Santa for ALL the boys and girls in the world. That didn't surprise me a bit since Daddy was the best at EVERYTHING!
(rh: Too funny, Deb. But what a great statement about your father and good dads everywhere.)
After I discovered the truth, I don't think my parents really tried to keep Santa a secret to the other kids. And even though the tags on those Christmas morning packages always said "Love, Santa," we always knew they were from Mommy and Daddy.
Seems to me snow and Christmas go together, but I've been a Florida girl for 33 years! Tell us about your Christmas setting?
Oh, growing up in Kansas, it was a BIG disappointment if we didn't get snow! But not so much that we couldn't make it to church or to my grandmother's house for Christmas with the cousins.
I can remember many years tramping through the snow on Christmas Eve to stand out in the yard and look up at the stars. It always seemed like that one star (the Bethlehem star, of course!) shined just a little brighter over our farm on Christmas Eve night!
Confession time. Shop on line or at the mall?
NOT the mall! But we have a little different tradition in our family. Once our kids became teenagers and were really hard to shop for (not to mention money was scarce back then!) we decided that except for the trinkets we put in the kids stockings on Christmas morning, we wouldn't give gifts. Instead, we gave them cash, and then we choose a day during the week between Christmas and New Years and we all go shopping together to spend our Christmas money.
(rh: Sounds good. Great time to hit the sales and extend the holiday cheer.)
This way, they can pool the cash they get from grandparents with ours and get what they really want, plus everything is on sale after the holidays.
We always begin our shopping trip by going out to eat as a family and this is the one time that nothing on the menu is off-limits. If they want prime rib, fine. Coke and a milkshake?
No problem. Dessert? You bet! Everybody's favorite part of the meal is when we leave our server a special Christmas tip (a $100 bill) and sneak away before we can see his/her reaction.
We always pray that the Lord will send us a server who really needs that little extra at this time of year. Our tradition became the inspiration for my novella "Circle of Blessings" in A Currier & Ives Christmas from Barbour Books.
Christmas grows more and more commercial every year. Setting the hustle and bustle aside, what does Christmas really mean to you?
Now that three of our kids are grown and living out of state, one of the biggest things the holidays mean is being together with those we love most in the world. It's wonderful to see our daughter and her husband establishing a Christian home and raising their two little boys to love and serve the Lord.
And it's special to still have my husband's grandparents (now 98 and 97!) to celebrate with. The love of our family through the generations is a great reminder of the ultimate gift God gave the world when He sent His son as a baby.
(rh: My grandmother is still living strong at 93!)
It's Christmas day, what's for dinner? Do you make cookies or other traditional foods?
Usually Christmas day is spent traveling to one of our parents' homes to celebrate with extended family.
At my parents' house, we still carry on a tradition of having my mom's wonderful, milky potato soup for supper with lots of saltine crackers and a vegetable plate. With the addition of lots of sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law - and growing teenage grandchildren, my mom has added a thick vegetable soup and breads to the menu, but it's still that potato soup that says "Christmas" to me!
(rh: I love potato soup.)
Tell us about your favorite Christmas memory.
When I was growing up, we lived just down the road from a wonderful couple who adopted us as their "honorary" grandchildren. Every Christmas, Don and Jewel would have the five of us, plus assorted other neighbor children to their home to decorate and bake Christmas cookies.
Jewel had a collection of dozens of cookie cutters, and a recipe for "painting" the cookies with an edible egg paint. When the cookies were done, we'd have a tea party with Jewel's special singing teapot filled with hot chocolate. One of my sister's lived in Don and Jewel's house after they moved into town and she inherited the teapot, and each of us got some of Jewel's cookie cutters. We still use them to make cookies from her recipe almost every year.
My husband and kids prefer a thick powdered sugar frosting to the egg paint, but the cookie base is always Jewel's. I dedicated "A Nest of Sparrows" to Jewel and named characters in the book after her and Don. She was a faithful reader even after failing eyesight forced her to listen to books on tape. Jewel passed away a couple of years ago at a very spry ninety-something.
What are your plans for this season?
We'll all be together at our daughter's house. Our sons will travel from Washington and Iowa and it'll be the first time my husband and our sons have met our second little grandson. We spent Christmas at our daughter's two years ago because our first grandson was just two weeks old then. I really like this new tradition of a new grandbaby every other year!
Any final thoughts on Christmas?
I just want to wish all my readers the most blessed Christmas ever!
(rh: Deb, what lovely stories and memories. Thank you!)
The official word on Deb Raney.
Deborah Raney is at work on her seventeenth novel. Her books have won the RITA Award, the HOLT Medallion, the National Readers' Choice Award and the Silver Angel from Excellence in Media, as well as being a finalist for the Christy Award. Deborah's first novel, "A Vow to Cherish," inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title.
Her newest series is the Clayburn novels with Howard/Simon & Schuster. She's had three books release this year: "Remember to Forget" from Howard/Simon & Schuster; "Within This Circle" (sequel to A Vow to Cherish from Steeple Hill) and "Missouri Memories," which contains Deb's novella "Finally Home."
She also serves on the advisory board of American Christian Fiction Writers. She and her husband, Ken Raney, have four children and enjoy small-town life in Kansas.
FREE BOOK ALERT!! Deb is giving away a copy of "A Vow to Cherish" and its brand new sequel, "Within This Circle." Leave a comment to be entered in a drawing.