So it’s not my usual posting time Friday. I’m a little behind schedule.
But it IS still Friday! So there’s that 🙂
Given the complete and total over-scheduling of late – not just mine, but my fellow judges and probably most of you guys because, let’s face it, Hanukkah is already underway and it’s only 10 days until Christmas! – it’s pretty much of a miracle that there’s a post going up at all! I have an imminent appointment with a hairy scary tangle of Christmas lights on the agenda, and a recipe to try that involves actual yeast and letting things rise, and who knows how that kind of thing might end!
But here we are, and THAT means it’s time to discuss something of great importance! Something we cannot go even one minute further without settling!
You know it and I know it!
And I know it’s really been weighing on your minds!
No, not the meaning of life (although clearly that is important too…)
I’m talking about something much less philosophical and much more immediately crucial!
Namely, which reindeer are you?
I tried three different quizzes. Two of them said Cupid because for me the holidays are all about love and family. (The other one said Prancer and that I would always be the best dressed person in the room for photographs… I don’t know what went wrong with THAT one because, well, have you SEEN me? 🙂 )
Since I know none of us can go another second without knowing where we are on Santa’s team, feel free to check out the quizzes and let me know how you line up! 🙂 Also, if you got consistent results! Also, if anyone gets Rudolph, who in my book is technically not one of the hard core team since he was a recent addition to the original 8 who did the job unaided for time immemorial! You’ll notice there is no mention of him in Clement C. Moore’s classic poem! But I digress… Take a quiz or two or three and let me know how it goes 🙂
Alrighty, now that THAT’S settled, what do you want to talk about?
(Always a good topic!)
Or maybe what’s on your Hope-I-Get-It gift list?
(I’m guessing either an agent or a book contract or both are at the top of most of our lists 🙂 )
Or maybe the insanity of ruining perfectly good chocolate by trying to make it taste like gingerbread?
(I am not making this up! Lindor truffles has a gingerbread flavor! I saw it in Kohls! And of course I had to try one because I love chocolate (as you may have heard 🙂 ) and I also love gingerbread… but I’m sorry to say that in my opinion it was an extremely misguided idea! Feel free to debate, but I’m going to take a lot of convincing. However technically, I guess this isn’t really a separate topic but falls under the category of “chocolate” above…)
you’d like to know who the Holiday Contest Finalists are???????!!!!!!!
Far be it from me to disappoint you! Ready or not, here they come! 🙂
The 7th Annual Holiday Contest
Except first a few words from our sponsor.
Which is, er, me.
First, I want to thank EVERYONE who found time in their busy holiday season schedule to write an entry for this contest – all 78 of you! The overall quality of the entries was amazing! There were no easy cuts. My assistant judges and I found something to like in every story and hated having to cut anyone! You guys did an amazing job and really rose to the occasion. So much creativity and great writing! You should all pat yourselves on the back and have a celebratory bonbon! (I recommend something besides gingerbread-flavored chocolate 🙂 )
Second, I want to thank EVERYONE who took the time to go around to as many of the 44 different blogs as you could, as well as the 34 entries posted in the comments here, and read and leave supportive comments for the writers who worked so hard on these stories, and especially those who took the time to share many of those entries on social media to draw in other readers. In this business where rejection is a common and unavoidable part of the process, it means a great deal to writers to know that their work was read and enjoyed, and to receive a few kind words about their writing. It is one of the best things about this community – that people are so generous and kind to each other.
Third, before I list the finalists, I want to say again how really difficult it was to choose. There were so many fabulous entries. The sheer volume meant that many great stories had to be cut. So if yours didn’t make the final cut please don’t feel bad. There was a huge amount of competition. Judging, no matter how hard we try to be objective, is always subjective at a certain point – we all have our own preferences for what makes a great story. And the fact that you didn’t make the final cut DOES NOT mean you didn’t write a great story. (And remember – we had VERY specific criteria, so if you wrote a great story that just didn’t happen to fit the combined parameters it might not have made the finalists, but it’s still good!) Everyone who plonked their butt in a chair and worked hard to write a story for this contest is a winner! You showed up. You did your best work. You practiced your craft. You wrote to specifications. You bravely shared your writing with the world. And you have a brand new story that is now yours to hone and tweak if you like and maybe submit at some point to a magazine or as a PB manuscript. So bravo to everyone who entered! I’d also like to point out that someone who entered the 6th Annual Holiday Contest in 2016 embellished on her story a bit and ended up selling it to an editor! It is going to be a published picture book! So that could be you, too! 🙂
Finally, I’d like to be very clear about the voting process. Due to the large number of entries, there are 12 finalists listed below. I have deliberately listed them by title only, so as to help with objectivity. Please read through them and choose the one you feel is best and vote. You are MOST welcome to share a link to this post on FB, twitter, or wherever you like to hang out and encourage people to come read ALL the finalists and vote for the one they think is best. Please do that. The more people who read and enjoy these stories the better, and the more objective votes we get the better. HOWEVER (and I want to be very clear on this) please do not ask people to vote for a specific number or title, or for the story about Dasher and Dancer’s dreams of Broadway stardom or whatever. Trolling for votes or trying to influence the outcome is counter to the spirit of this competition which is supposed to be based on merit. I thank you in advance for respecting this.
Remember that the judging criteria were:
- 1. Kid-appeal! – These stories are intended for a young audience (ages 12 and under), so we’re looking for stories that children will enjoy and relate to. Entries that were well-written but lacked child-friendliness or whose humor or content felt more appropriate for an older or adult audience did not make the cut. Sadly there were several GREAT entries where the judges felt the emphasis was too much on the relationship between Santa and Mrs. Claus (too adult to be appreciated by kids) or where the humor was directed at things adults would find funny but were less applicable to kids, etc. At least one of our favorites fell into this category 😦
- 2. Holiday Surprise! – the rules state a Holiday Surprise story, so it must be crystal clear that the story is about Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or whatever you celebrate, and it must contain a surprise! 🙂 Most people did a good job with this, but there were unfortunately some that felt predictable and some that just didn’t feel that surprising.
- 3. Quality of story – entries must tell a story, including a main character of some kind and a true story arc even if it’s tiny 🙂 Entries must not be merely descriptions or mood pieces. I’m happy to say you guys did a great job with that in this contest!
- 4. Quality of Writing: check your spelling, grammar, punctuation etc. If you’re going to rhyme, give us your best 🙂 Overall writing quality and use of language are also important. Rhyme is so tricky! Some of you do it amazingly well – really! But there are always a few stories that are clever and fun and might have made the finals if written in prose, but problems with the rhyme (usually the meter) keep them from getting there.
- 5. Originality and creativity – because that is often what sets one story above another.
We cut 66 entries to leave you with these 12. It was very hard! We did the best we could. You’ll find some poetry (surprisingly little in this list of finalists – weird how that works out!) some prose; some for younger readers, some for older; some funny, some quieter; and a mix of holidays. I hope you’ll all find at least one of your favorites on the list below.
#1 Waiting For The Winter Gift
“Mama, what will we do when winter comes?” Little asked.
“What deer always do,” Mama said, “slow down and eat what we find.”
“Can’t we hibernate like Bear?” asked Little.
“We’ll be cozy beneath the pines,” Mama said.
“We could dig snow tunnels like vole,” said Little.
“Our winter coat will block the chill,” said Mama.
“Let’s vacation like goose!” said Little.
“And miss the winter gift?” said Mama.
“What’s that?” said Little.
“A surprise to wait for,” Mama said.
Soon snowflakes fell.
“Is it time?” Little asked.
“Not yet,” Mama said.
“Are you certain the gift will come?” Little asked.
“It always comes,” Mama said.
Little tired of twigs, bark and pokey pine needles.
She dreamed of acorns, buds and spring flowers.
Finally, on the coldest of evenings, Mama’s whisper woke her.
They crept to the edge of the woods.
“I can’t see!” said Little.
“Shhh,” said Mama. “Wait.”
Little peered into the darkness at a lone pine.
Suddenly, it gleamed with light.
“The tree!” Little said.
“Shhh,” said Mama. “Wait. And listen.”
Dim shapes gathered around the pine.
Soft voices filled the air.
“The first Noel, the angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay…”
As the carolers sang, a boy dragged a sled full of cracked corn toward them.
“Merry Christmas,” he whispered, leaving the sled behind.
Little’s tummy tingled hopefully.
“Is that for us?” Little asked.
“Yes,” said Mama.
And soon Little and Mama’s bellies matched their full hearts.
#2 Just Desserts
Every year at Christmas, it’s my job to pick a game,
so this year I suggested that we each should draw a name.
Last night we went shopping, then came home and wrapped the loot,
piled up mounds of gifts, and settled in to have a hoot.
No one knows the trick I played, to make me get the most
(and I’m not gonna tell them now- I’m not the one to boast).
What a plan! I bet I’ll get all kinds of awesome stuff.
Robots, nun chucks, tablets…I just hope I get enough.
Morning’s here, we all rush down, I feel like I could burst!
“Settle down,” Mom says. “Let’s all take turns. Now, who goes first?”
Looking at the shining paper, fluffing all the bows,
picturing the things we’ll get, I hope it’s good. Who knows?
Gracie picks her gift up first and shakes it in surprise,
tears off all the wrapping, “Oh, I can’t believe my eyes!
It’s everything I wanted! Thank you Mommy, thank you Dad.”
A doll? Who needs a doll? I guess for her, it’s not so bad…
Maybe Ollie’s present will be something more my speed.
Building blocks?! That’s baby stuff. It’s not quite what I need.
My turn! This one’s heavy! I just can’t believe my luck!
I yank the paper off and find… “A GIANT FRUITCAKE! YUCK!”
No big deal, there’s fifteen more, all labeled with my name.
But ripping each gift open, one by one… THEY’RE ALL THE SAME!
#3 Essie The Hen And Her Christmas Surprise
It was almost Christmas and Essie loved nothing more than chatting
and scratching and fussing over excited chicks.
Then one day, a horse trampled her foot.
The kind farmer made a bed for Essie in the kitchen.
Essie tried to tell Nettle the dog all about it, but Nettle hardly noticed her at all.
Each day, Essie waited for Nettle.
Then in the evenings, she did her friendliest best.
She chatted about her grand chicks.
She chatted about her great grand chicks.
She even chatted about her great great great grand chicks.
Time went by, Essie began to hobble about while Nettle did nothing but sleep.
What a lonely Christmas this will be, thought Essie. So she decided perhaps she could help.
Essie tidied the woodchips by the fire.
She picked up Nettle’s spilt food.
She even watched for dangerous intruders.
Nothing seemed to work.
That night, as the fire’s last embers glowed, Essie dreamed of a merry Christmas.
Then she noticed something strange.
Nettle was a big squirming monster!
Essie hid but then …
“One, two three, four, five … six glorious pups!” she squawked.
When Nettle went outside, the pups shivered and whimpered
Essie hobbled straight to the basket …
and hopped on top of the pups.
“Cloork, cloork!” sang Essie.
Nettle stared at Essie sitting on her pups, sniffed her then sat beside the basket.
What a merry Christmas this would be after all! Brock!
#4 Travelin’ Blues
Mom writes books about different cultures. We’re home for a bit while we catch up with friends and school work. Then — off again!
The only time this is a problem is Christmas. Every year, a new place. I just want to be home.
This is how it goes before Christmas:
“Mama, can we go home for Christmas?”
“Not this year, Kels. This year we’re going to [insert name of faraway country].”
And then we’re off.
I’ve gotta admit we’ve been part of amazing Christmas celebrations.
When I was seven, fireworks and ice cream in Brazil: spectacular!
Thirteen desserts in France. YESSS!
A sauna on Christmas Eve in Estonia: interesting?!
Last year, two Christmases.
Iceland in December: books and pretty fried bread. Perfection.
Ethiopia in January: 4:00 a.m. candlelight procession. Intense.
This year, I’ve had it. I wanna go home.
We’re in Australia. I say, with grump:
“Mom. Let’s go home for Christmas.”
She just gave a tired smile and kept typing.
Today we’re off to wherever we’re going. Don’t care where.
We’re late, rushing to get settled with our flight standbys: earbuds, neck pillows, books. Mom pulls out a gift bag.
I know it must be her buttering me up for another traveling Christmas.
As the flight attendant says “…and then straight to the States,” I read the words “DTW” at the end of the printed itinerary that was in the bag. Detroit. Michigan. Home. Heaven on earth.
“Surprise,” Mom says quietly.
Best. Christmas. Ever.
#5 Santa’s Delivery Dilemma
On Christmas Eve, Santa awoke early, ready for his annual journey.
Nice list? Check—toys loaded for delivery. Naughty list? Done—coal on board. All the reindeer had their check-ups and international travel vaccinations last month. The sleigh had its annual tuneup last week. Just a pre-departure test flight remained.
But as the reindeer whisked him into the sky, Santa noticed Rudolph’s nose flickering. Then Rudolph sniffled and sneezed. The sleigh jolted, suddenly losing altitude. Clearly, Rudolph was too sick to fly!
“What are we going to do?,” worried the other eight reindeer. Laden with gifts, the sleigh needed another strong flyer to complete its deliveries before Christmas morning.
“I will summon some Arctic alternates!,” said Santa. “We must believe—in ourselves and in Christmas miracles.” Soon, a menagerie of candidates arrived at Santa’s snow-covered driveway.
A moose plodded up but had no flying experience. “Next!,” called an elf. An athletic polar bear volunteered but was dismissed for exceeding the weight limit. “Next!” A snowy owl eagerly fluttered up but wasn’t strong enough for the position.
As Santa considered his predicament, he sensed something behind him. “I’m well-suited for this task,” a voice whispered. Looking back, Santa stared…
a pink unicorn stood behind him!
“You’re…actually…REAL?,” Santa gasped. “I stopped believing…in unicorns…years ago,” he admitted.
Satisfied after one last test flight, Santa began his important journey—led by Trudy, the unicorn, who proudly flew with an LED light duct-taped to her horn.
#6 Racing The Sun
Mrs. Claus adjusted Santa’s hat.
“This night always makes me nervous,” she said.
“I’ll be fine,” Santa said. “Quick as a wink and back before the sun is up.”
They kissed goodbye just as the head elf opened the door.
“Lift off in 5 minutes!”
The reindeer were waiting.
Santa said, “Fly like the wind. We stay ahead of the sun tonight.”
They understood and soon galloped at full speed into the dark night.
The journey was smooth as Santa whooshed around the South Pacific. Packages flew from his nimble hands through Asia, Africa and Europe.
But then the sleigh was slammed by a meteor shower.
“We have to find shelter!” cried Santa.
The reindeer flew toward earth and landed in the Canadian Rockies.
Santa checked his watch and looked at the sky. We’re running out of time, he thought.
Finally, they could take off.
Santa worked at a frantic pace through Mexico and South America. An amber glow emerged from the darkness as he delivered the last present.
“Home! On the double!” shouted Santa
Dawn was breaking as the sleigh touched down at the North Pole.
“Ouch!” cried Santa as he touched a sizzling blister forming on his cheek.
The elves whisked him inside to Mrs. Claus.
“Tonight was too close,” Santa said as he quickly brushed his fangs.
Mrs. Claus pulled the drapes tight and opened his coffin.
“In you go,” she said. “I’ll see you tonight.”
She closed the lid and chuckled.
If the kids only knew.
#7 Rigby And Tuttle: The Pinecone
It was Christmas, and Rigby Bear still didn’t have a gift for his friend.
“What to get the otter who has everything?” Rigby wondered.
He lumbered through the neighborhood, thinking….
and slathering peanut butter onto bread. (Rigby always brought a snack.)
Soon he passed a persimmon tree.
“Persimmon popovers!” said Rigby. “Tuttle loves them! Luckily, I’m the best baker in town.”
But Rigby had given popovers before–
on Valentine’s Day,
April Fool’s Day,
and even Teacher Appreciation Day.
“On second thought,” said Rigby. “Popovers aren’t surprising.”
He bit into peanut-buttery bread. (To help him think, of course.)
Rigby padded into the countryside…
and past a pumpkin farm.
“Pumpkin pie! Good thing I’m an excellent baker.”
But he had given pie, many times before–
on Tuttle’s birthday,
and even National Paperclip Day.
“Come to think of it,” said Rigby. “Pie isn’t surprising.”
He shuffled into the forest…
but couldn’t dream up a Christmas surprise.
Huckleberry tarts? No.
Granola bars? No.
Frosted eclairs? Nope.
Rigby plopped down and sighed. “I only know how to bake. I can’t make anything else.”
He reached for a slice of bread…
picked up a pinecone instead…
and slathered it with peanut butter.
Just then, Tuttle appeared, wearing bird-watching gear.
The icky-sticky pinecone clung to his fur…
and thirteen little birds perched on his paw, happily pecking peanut butter.
“A pinecone birdfeeder, for me? Thanks, pal!” said Tuttle. “What a surprise.”
“It sure is,” Rigby agreed…
#8 Binah’s Journey
It was the first night of Hanukkah and everyone had gone across to the Mazur’s for latkes, leaving Binah alone to think for the first time since she arrived.
She could still hear them through the walls. It was always noisy in the crowded tenement.
Binah missed the village where she’d lived with Zayde, Bubbe, and Papa. She could run through the nearby fields and breathe fresh air!
Last spring, the pogroms began. Every week bought destruction and fear. One day Papa disappeared.
In August, Binah was sent aboard a ship to join family in New York.
Kneeling near the stove on the cold kitchen floor, Binah dragged her overcoat from under the narrow bed she shared with her cousin Sally. She fumbled in the pockets until she found the large wooden dreidel Zayde tucked inside that day she had to say goodbye. It was large and lopsided, just like Zayde. Binah wondered if she’d ever see him again?She stood the dreidel on end and tried a spin but it toppled right over showing the lucky letter, gimmel. Looking closer, Binah noticed a tiny crack. She put her thumbs on the gimmel and pushed. The side slid open.
Tickling her fingers into wool batting, Binah pulled out a coin, then six more, a gold watch, pearl earrings, and a little paper scroll.
Unrolling it, she read: “Binah—Use these treasures to help build your shining future in America. Always remember I love you, zeisele. I know you will succeed.”
#9 Family Is Home And Home Is Wherever It May Land
Hazel found a safe spot, deep in the arm of a needly fir. She wove a fluffy nest and welcomed her new litter.
Winter winds blew. Swoosh! Whoosh!
Frost sparkled. Crickle! Crackle!
The field mouse and her growing family snuggled until…
Hazel and her children held tight as they went topsy-turvy. Their home was dropped, dragged, then propped upright again.
The mice peered at their woodsy neighborhood from the inside out. Gasp!
Mesmerized, they peeked at the people dancing, decorating, stretching high to place a star.
Snap! Lights twinkled
Choo-choo! A train chugged.
Children hung stockings.
Parents pointed at the clock.
Everyone went upstairs.
After awhile, Hazel and her curious little ones jumped down to explore their new surroundings.
They hopped on the train and rode ‘round and ‘round the holiday town. Whee! Then…Bump! Thump! Thump!
Black boots tromped toward the tree.
Squeakkkkkk! Eeeeeeeek! Hazel and her family raced back to their nest, hoping the big guy with rosy cheeks, twinkly eyes, and white hair, hadn’t seen them.
He piled people presents high; books, blocks, dolls.
Then, he looked straight at the mice. Yikes!
He stretched his black-gloved hand toward them. They froze!
The big guy’s hand opened. Surprise!
Presents: coverlets of silky curls, bits of carrots and cookies, and mouse-sized cups of warm cocoa.
He winked, and waved and left.
Even though temporary, Hazel and her family celebrated the wondrous night at home, together.
#10 Vegan Cut-Out Cookies
Sammy was allergic to a lot of things. He couldn’t have milk or gluten. Peanuts made his face puff up and corn made him throw up.
His mother found a recipe for cut-out cookies called Zucchini Coconut Oil Vegan Sugar Cookies. It was a big deal to create something sweet.
He poured and mixed just the right amount. He rolled the dough out. He cut out a Santa, star, and stocking.
He baked them, cooled them and decorated them. He covered them with homemade frosting and fruit.
As he finished he started to worry. Would Santa like his treat? Would he be delighted with his sugary sweet?
He put out the Soy milk and Vegan cookies out on Christmas Eve. Hoping and praying that Santa would like them.
As He stayed awake in his bed. Thoughts of dread danced in his head. What if he was allergic to coconut?
As he was almost asleep he heard a BUMP! THUMP! Followed by STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!
Wow! Santa was heavy. I wonder if I could sneak into see him trying my treat.
Sammy snuck quietly down the hall. He peeked around the corner. He had to muffle a yell.
Santa wasn’t human at all. The Santa Stegosaurus tromped around his living room gulping down the cookies and milk.
Santa Stegosaur turned to Sammy and said, “Thank you! Finally, a kid that knows I’m an herbivore.”
“Yyyou’re welcome,” said Sammy a smile crossing his face. Who knew that Santa was a dinosaur.
#11 Lizard In A Blizzard
Down south in December
It’s usually warm,
Except for the year of
The wicked snowstorm!
One lizard, Negrita,
(Which translates as “bold”)
Chose to take action,
To get out of the cold.
She peered in a window
And what did she see?
A cozy, warm house
With a huge indoor tree!
So she hid on the porch
And trembled and shivered
Then darted inside
When a box was delivered.
Straight for the tree,
She skittered so fast,
Ignoring the squeals
Of the people she passed.
She clambered up branches
And hid on a bough,
As somebody shouted,
“Get it out, now!”
Huge faces came near,
Peering in through the greenery,
But Negrita stayed still
To blend in with the scenery.
Big hands came in next,
Fingers grasping and groping,
“Don’t let them find me,”
Negrita sat, hoping.
The fingers came closer.
She thought she was doomed.
‘Til: “The thing’s disappeared!”
A jumbo voice boomed.
For hours she stayed there,
Continuing to hide,
Thinking, Maybe I would have
Been safer outside.
A branch below rustled,
A human was back!
But instead of chasing Negrita,
They brought her…a snack?
A tiny young human
Carried fruit on a tray.
“It’s not milk and cookies,
But I hope it’s okay.”
“You’re feeding the pest?”
“It’s not a pest,
It’s our new decoration!”
So, tucked amidst tinsel,
And safe from the blizzard,
The first Christmas Tree Lizard.
#12 Christmas Wildfire
Black bear pawed at the ground by a big douglas fir and snorted, “This one.”
Elk wrapped the tree with honeysuckle vines, carefully tucking in the ends with his antlers.
Bluebird dotted the needles with red Christmas berries.
Jackrabbit dangled wild carrots, joyously jumping to the highest branches.
Coyote paced around the tree and howled with delight.
Black bear grunted, “Quiet.”
Jackrabbit’s nose twitched, “Smoke.”
Elk raised his antlers, “Danger.”
Bluebird chittered, “Run, run, run!”
Coyote snapped at their feet to hurry.
After their long flight, the animals huddled under a strange tree on Christmas Eve.
Jackrabbit rubbed his long ear and squeaked, “Our Christmas tree?”
Black Bear let out a low growl and tucked jackrabbit under his arm.
In the morning Great Horned Owl swooped low and hooted, “Safe.”
The animals meandered through black trunks.
Puffs of ash followed Jackrabbit’s jumps.
Black bear shook soot from his fur.
Bluebird landed on Elk’s antlers and rapidly tweeted, “No. No. But Santa. Oh dear. No.”
Then they froze.
Their Christmas tree stood alone. The green needles were covered in Christmas berries, wrapped in honeysuckle, and dangled with carrots. Only one thing had changed. The tree glistened with a coating of Christmas snow.
Jackrabbit cried, “Saved!”
Black Bear nodded, “Unexpected.”
Elk bellowed, “Miracle.”
Bluebird trilled, “Santa! Santa! Santa!”
Coyote howled with delight.
Having read (and probably re-read and re-read!) through these 12 fabulous finalists, please VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE in the poll below by Monday December 18 at NOON EST. I’m hoping the full weekend will give you enough time but I’m including Monday morning too just in case! Winners will be posted on Tuesday December 19 and we can celebrate and then all get on with our busy holiday schedules!
Congratulations to the finalists! And thank you all so much for taking the time to write (if you did), read, and vote! These contests simply wouldn’t be what they are without all of you!
I can’t wait to see who the winners will be!
Tune in Tuesday… same bat time, same bat station 🙂