I’m (not) dreaming of a white Christmas

Last week the flash fiction prompt set by Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch was to write a story using two objects, people or ideas that don’t go together. There was quite an assortment of responses, including mine. You can read them all here.

This week Charli has continued in the same vein, challenging us to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that pairs something seasonal with something odd. 

In Australia that’s easy. We’ve already got Christmas in summer. Most people around the world would say you can’t get much odder than that!

But it is summertime in Australia and Christmas is just around the corner.

While we enjoy warm days at the beach and in the pool, picnics in the park and barbecues in the back yard, hoping the big storm doesn’t get us this time (like the one that hit Brisbane on 27 November); those from whom we have inherited our Christmas traditions are cooling down in the Northern Hemisphere, many looking forward to a (not too) white Christmas.

 

Shops here are playing traditional (northern) carols with snow, sleighbells and mistletoe; decorations are tinged with fake snow and cards show snowy scenes with families huddled around the fireplace.

While there is an increasing number of songs and books with an Australian flavour many are merely innovations on the traditional such, as “The Australian Twelve Days of Christmas”, “Aussie Jingle Bells” or “An Aussie Night before Christmas”.

Some Australian Christmas picture books

Some Australian Christmas picture books

One innovation that I particularly like is The Twelve Underwater Days of Christmas by Kim Michelle Toft. Kim is an Australian who uses her talents as author and illustrator to educate children about the things she feels passionate about: ocean life and coastal habitats. Her illustrations, hand-painted on silk, are absolutely stunning.

12 Underwater days

In addition to the visual beauty of the book there is great value in the supporting information through which Kim explains the importance of conserving each of the creatures included in the book. While written by an Australian, the application of the book is not limited to our shores. Creatures from all over the world adorn the pages.  If you ever wished to own a book simply for the beauty of its illustrations, this is a great choice.

One original song I enjoyed listening to on the radio as a child is “Six White Boomers”. Despite the reasons that make me reluctant to mention it this year, it is a delightful tale of a joey who rides on Santa’s sleigh, pulled by six huge white kangaroos, to be reunited with his mother on Christmas Day.

Peter CombePeter Combe has written two albums of original, but with a traditional rather than specifically Australian flavour, Christmas songs for children, including this one:

Some Christmas traditions popular with Australian communities are Nativity plays, carols by candlelight and Christmas parades. Many classes and schools perform their own end-of-year “break-up” concerts to which parents and the wider community are invited.

Using the traditional Nativity play as the setting, Mem Fox created an original and fresh story in Wombat Divine. It is a delightful tale of Wombat who loved everything Christmas. When finally he was old enough to be in the Nativity Play he rushed along to the auditions. Unfortunately it was difficult to find a part that was just right for Wombat. Can you guess which part he got? You’ll have to read the book to find out! Children all over the world will identify with Wombat and his predicament and enjoy the heart-warming tale.

Books are wonderful gifts to give or receive at any time. The titles I have mentioned here are perfect for giving, reading and sharing at this time of year. When I was growing up there was always a book for Christmas and birthdays, a tradition that I have continued with my extended family and friends. You can almost, but not always, guarantee that if it is a gift from Norah, it is a book.

After my siblings and I had grown up and swelled the family numbers with partners and children of our own, my Mum used to say, “There’ll be no presents this year.” It wasn’t that she wasn’t a giving person, for she was. It was just that there were so many of us! When she passed away this year she had about fifteen grandchildren and eight grandchildren, in addition to her remaining nine children and their partners. (I’m saying ‘about’ for grandchildren and great-grandchildren in case I’ve missed some in the count!) You can imagine how daunting a task it would be to go shopping for all these people ranging in age from six months to sixty! However it was always surprising how frequently she did not follow her own rules and had a small something wrapped up to present to many of us.

This year there will be no presents from Mum, and more sadly, we will be without her presence.

Although I have borrowed my Mum’s words, “No presents” for both flash fiction pieces included in this post, the stories do not cast aspersions on her generosity. I have simply explored how the oddness of no presents or presence at Christmas time may have impacted Marnie, a character I have been developing in my flash fiction pieces, at different times in her life. At this stage of my writing I am still investigating her character, discovering a little more with each flash piece as her once indistinct figure begins to step out of the shadows and take shape.

This first piece is written about a difficult time for teenager Marnie and a situation that may be the catalyst for her leaving home.

 

No presents

Marnie jerked backwards avoiding the predictable grope. In so doing she collided with her mother, sending her sprawling onto the tattered sofa.

“Aargh!” her mother screamed. “Look what you’ve done!”

Marnie watched the liquid from the upturned glass merge with the patchwork of stains collected in the carpet. If it was her blood it would not have mattered more.

“I … I’m sorry,” she stammered. But her sorry was for all the years it had been like this.

He smirked, raising his hand to strike, “No presents for you this year!”

“That’s right!” She ducked. “No presence!”

 

So as to not be too dismal at this time of year, I have written a second piece about a younger Marnie for whom there still seems a glimmer of hope.

 

No presence

With faces as bright as their Christmas wear, the children bubbled into the room, each carrying gifts for the Kindness tree, “for those less fortunate”.

Parents fussed, removing smudges and replacing wayward hair before blowing kisses and hurrying off for the parade.

And there was Marnie: no parent, no Christmas dress, no gift, no smoothed-down hair; no smile.

One last chance.

“Marnie!” I beckoned, and held out my Christmas cape and crown. “Will you be my special helper?”

Our eyes locked communicating more than any words. Her smile was my reward.

“I’m proud of you,” I whispered.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction pieces.

30 thoughts on “I’m (not) dreaming of a white Christmas

  1. Greg Mischio

    Nice piece Norah. So sorry to hear about your Mum. Reading this, it reminds me of my mother, who loves to buy presents for the family. We’re not quite in double-digits like your clan, however!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you Greg. I appreciate your comment and wishes. Best wishes to you and your family for Christmas time. Enjoy the presence and the presents! 🙂

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  2. Marina Finlayson

    Nice to hear an Aussie perspective on Christmas! Sorry to hear about your Mum. My own Mum died at Christmas four years ago, so Christmas is something of a bittersweet time now. Best wishes to you and your family.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for stopping by Marina. I’m sorry to hear about your Mum. Her passing at Christmas time certainly mixes up the emotions even more. Thanks for your wishes. I return my best wishes to you and your family.

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  3. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Great flashes Norah. I too am looking forward to where Marnie goes. Amazing these characters that are born out of Charli’s flashes. Your description of Christmas is obviously one that I am used to also. I keep my fingers crossed that we escape any more weather such as Brisbane has just experienced but I fear with the increasing frequency of these events it is unlikely. You have given me some ideas for my nephews Christmas stockings. Australian boys growing up in Switzerland should know some of these Australian creatures. It does make Christmas a sad time when you see that empty place at the table and I’ll be thinking of you this first Christmas without your Mum.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Irene. I appreciate your support re my flashes and wishes re my Mum.
      I agree that it is a good thing for boys in Switzerland, or other places, to know about Australian creatures. We certainly know about theirs! I’m pleased you could see the value in some of the books I mentioned. 🙂

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  4. Sarah Brentyn

    I’m a sucker for gorgeous illustrations in children’s books. We have some with “eh” stories but we still sit together and marvel over the drawings or paintings. Much has already been said. I’m happy to see your character grow up in more ways than one. She could have sunken inside but instead is lashing out (which can be a good thing–as in this circumstance).

    Have a beautiful holiday. This time of year is always tough when missing a loved one because it is “supposed” to be about family. It’s tough all year, of course, but I hope you can still enjoy Christmas.

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  5. writersideup

    Norah, about 18 years ago (?) I illustrated and revised an australian Christmas story with koalas. It never went anywhere and the dummy still sits here. The man who wrote the original story misled me (due to his ignorance and my naively trusting him), so my two months of illustration work and practically rewriting it was somewhat wasted. Anyway, it took place in Australia 🙂 It makes me wonder what you decorate instead of pine trees 🙂

    Nice scenes with Marnie and most of all—sorry about your mum passing 😦 Hugs…

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    1. Norah Post author

      Oh Donna Marie, I’m very disappointed to hear about your bad experience with an Australian ‘author’ and Christmas story. Is it possible the illustrations could be re-purposed?
      Australian Christmas trees are generally the fir/pine variety. When I was a kid my Dad used to cut down a sapling gumtree in the bush not far from where we lived, and it would be our Christmas tree. The smell of gum trees always reminds me of Christmas!
      Thanks for your comments re Marnie, and wishes re Mum. Much appreciated. 🙂

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      1. writersideup

        Ah, Norah, the author wasn’t Australian…he was American and lived two towns over from me. The book took place in Australia though 🙂 And no, the illustrations can’t be repurposed. I have the dummy here and it’s something I’m proud of, but that’s all it’ll ever be. It’s fine by me. That was over LONG ago! 🙂

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        1. Norah Post author

          I’m pleased the author wasn’t Australian, and that you have moved on from this disappointing experience. It’s a shame that the illustrations can’t be repurposed, but I am happy to hear that you are proud of them anyway. 🙂

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  6. Pingback: Reindeer Games « Carrot Ranch Communications

  7. Charli Mills

    Christmas in Australia must be so rich with local details like wombats and a sleigh pulled by roos. How fun to explore that in children’s books (I’m thinking of my grandnephews who are learning that my gifts involve books). Just as we hope not to get hammered by a three-day blizzard at Christmas, I hope yours is hail-free. Those pictures of the storm with missing roofs and the family stuck in their house are like those from tornado alley in the states come April or May.

    Wow, Norah, the progression of Marnie’s story is deepening. Like you say, her character has stepped out of the shadows. Like Geoff, I’m pleased to see the rise of her feisty nature. I imagine it is the result of survival and hope to see the story come full circle to “thrival.” The second flash stung my eyes with tears. That teacher is going to have such an impact no matter where the story leads you. I’ll keep these two together in sequence in the compilation.

    May your mother’s gifts in the past linger with you as you face the first Christmas without her. She certainly left behind a legacy and an amazing daughter. ❤

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Charli, Thank you for your comment and your wishes for a hail-free season. I hope yours is blizzard-free also.
      Your grandnephews are so lucky to have a great aunty to give them books as gifts. When I wrote this post I realised how few original Australian Christmas stories I am aware of. Maybe I should add that to my growing list of things to write, one day …
      Thanks for your encouragement re Marnie. She really grew out of your prompts. I do like the thought of thrival and think that she must end up there one day, but I think there is probably a lot of pain first. Thanks for putting them both in the compilation. It was neither necessary nor expected. 🙂
      Thank you for your wishes re my Mum and Christmas time. I hope you and your family enjoy the Christmas season. Will you be together?

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  8. Annecdotist

    Like you, we sometimes get hailstorms at the height of summer – in the year of the Olympic they were so big and powerful they damaged the roof of someone’s car. Yet I’m amazed that the Australian greeting cards still feature snow. My dad always used to indicate that as Jesus was born in the Middle East snow was inappropriate on Christmas cards even in the UK. However, having experienced one Christmas in the Sinai, I know that it can snow in that part of the world.
    I enjoyed both flashes and the clever way you link them together. So kind of you to find a way of rescuing the younger Marnie from being shamed by her classmates. Looking forward to seeing how she develops.
    Hope your Christmas is sufficiently jolly, despite missing your mother

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    1. Norah Post author

      A lot of damage can be done by hail! I was lucky this time – a few little dents in my car but not too bad, in fact nothing compared to the damage suffered by some people.
      We do have some cards with Australian scenes, but they are often humorous ones; which isn’t a bad thing I guess, though some people may consider them a bit irreverent, which also may not be a bad thing!:)I’d be interested to know about your Christmas experience in the Sinai. Is there a story I can read?
      Thanks for your encouragement with Marnie. I’m definitely enjoying developing the character more fully.
      Thank you for your Christmas wishes. I hope yours is a happy time too! 🙂

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      1. Annecdotist

        I’m afraid you’ve got me with the Sinai story – it’s okay for an anecdote doesn’t have the emotional punch to make a story IMO.
        So, I’d read in my guidebook that thing to do was climb Mount Sinai in the evening, bed down there overnight and wake up to the sunrise. The problem was that it was very cold on arrival so checked into the hostel at St Catherine’s monastery. Woke the next morning to snow for which, of course, I didn’t have the right clothes. For some reason, it was also difficult to get food. Three of us decided to chance it and get up early the next morning, walk up in the dark with probably only one torch between us and get to the top as the sun came up. Which is what happened, fairly straightforward, although I do recall it took a long time to get warm again, despite travelling down to the beach the same day, where it was hot. One of those days was Christmas, although I can’t now remember which.

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thanks for sharing your Mt Sinai anecdote, Anne. It sounds like it was a good thing, since you didn’t have appropriate clothing, that you didn’t go up the night before.
          What a contrast – snow on the mountains then heat at the beach. When I was in Tasmania someone there commented that Tasmania was the only place you could go surfing in the morning and snow skiing in the afternoon. Maybe it isn’t quite true that Tasmania is the only place!
          While it might be okay for an anecdote to not pack the emotional punch, I think this one has the potential for doing so.

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  9. TanGental

    I think we are going to enjoy Marnie and her feisty streak. Good to know she has one friend out there even if she might be without that friend in her later years. It is said, though for such a family time of year to be so tainted; and sadder to know it is the truth for a lot and not just fiction. Your recommendations and the Wombat esp are much more like it!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment,Geoff, and pointing out Marnie’s feisty streak. I’ll have to think about how and when that develops! Thanks for helping me develop her character. It is sad that this time of year brings difficult and sad times for many people. I hope it is a happy time for you and your family! 🙂

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            1. Norah Post author

              I haven’t checked your post yet about the bungee jumps, but I have noticed notifications coming in so I assume you survived okay. Apologies I have been a bit otherwise occupied of late and am behind with my reading. Best wishes for safe travel home and a joyful reunion. 🙂

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  10. Rebecca Patajac

    Wonderful pieces, both of them. The first, very powerful and thought provoking, and the second, inspiring and heart warming. I only hope someone treats my little ones with so much adoration and care. The simple “I’m proud of you” can lift a child’s spirits infinitely.
    Beautiful.
    I thank you for the resources you have taken the time to find and link, they are lovely. I adore your desire to gives books as gifts, they’re such a precious possession that I hope more and more people are finding joy in.
    My thoughts are with you and your family this Christmas, I’m sure your mum will be cherished. Best wishes for the season.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Rebecca, Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I’m pleased you enjoyed the flash fiction pieces and that the contrast between them was obvious.
      I’m sure your little ones are adorable and I, too, hope they are treated with the respect and care they deserve.
      It’s lovely to meet another book lover and giver. Fortunately there are a lot of us around, but there’s always room for more!
      Thank you for your wishes. I wish you and your family much happiness also.

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