Category Archives: Holiday Blogging

Blogmas 2019 Day 12: Final Thoughts

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Today is Christmas Eve. I’m sitting in Max Porter’s coffee shop, with my sister Amy, working on my book. I’m not sure what she’s working on, but our laptops match, only mine is pink and hers is purple.

I ignore the Christmas music in the background, but maybe I shouldn’t. I am, after all, writing about Christmas. Last Christmas, while I was still traveling. But Christmas nonetheless.

Finishing that chapter, I pull my earbuds out of my ears. “What should I blog about, Amy?”

“Maybe you should give the Gospel message,” she says in a dreamy, over-dramatic voice.

“I know what you mean,” I sigh. “It feels like I should end this series with something very Spiritual and Deep. But I don’t know if I have any Spiritual, Deep thoughts about Christmas that haven’t already been said.”

But then I try to think of some anyway.

The song switches. “O Come O Come Emmanuel” begins to play.

As you may have noticed from earlier blog posts, I’m not a big fan of Christmas music. It’s not that I dislike it. I don’t mind it playing in the background for added festivity. But a lot of it is silly and doesn’t make sense.

However, I was struck this year by the song “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”

If I could write the final Blogmas post of my dreams, I would write about the season of Advent. I would write about the song “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” and the longing expressed therein.

I would write about how maybe the reason Christmas feels different when we grow older is that we are so much more aware, as Alison so eloquently put it, of the loss that is in this world. Of family members that have passed on. Or of children we wish we had, but don’t.

When we all gather together on Christmas Day, we’re aware of what our relationships with our family members should be like. And when we don’t have the relationship we want to have, we feel that loss.

This year I was determined that I was going to study Advent, and figure out what it was all about, and celebrate it. Because sometimes it feels like adulthood is about waiting. For a spouse. For children. For your career to take shape. For your relationships to be okay. And isn’t Advent all about learning to wait well? Waiting with hope, faith, and joy, and peace, and preparation?

So I did some Googling, and I learned some information. But honestly I still felt a bit lost. I didn’t start studying it until the first week of Advent, which was also the week of the school Christmas program, so I didn’t have a lot of extra time.

And this lack of study also means that now, when I wish to write on such topics, I don’t know what to say.

If you have books, articles, websites, etc related to Advent that you’d like to recommend, I’d be happy for some tips. Maybe with a year of study, instead of a week in intermittent Googling, I’ll know enough to do an Advent series next year instead of a 12 Days of Blogmas series.

As it stands, I don’t have the words to end this blog series the way I’d like to end it.

So I’ll just say, Merry Christmas everybody.

Emmanuel has come.

 

Blogmas 2019 Day 11: Countdown to Christmas

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26 days before Christmas

Jenny goes Black Friday shopping with her friends and comes home exhausted, with zero purchases. The rest of us stay home and feel lazy.

23 days before Christmas

It is Monday, the last week before the school Christmas program. I glue some streamers onto some Home Depot boxes to make hedges, as a prop for the play I wrote. I go to a thrift store and buy some brown children’s pants, a fuzzy woman’s jacket, and a felt gingerbread-man-making-kit, which I will somehow craft into a puppy costume.

Several students still don’t know their lines.

19 days before Christmas

It’s the day of the school Christmas program! In the morning, I find out that two of my actors are sick. I coerce two other actors, who are good last-minute-line-memorizes, to take their place.

An hour and a half before the program is to start, I find out that another student is sick. I give her two lines to another little girl who also had two lines. Congrats, now you have four lines!

The program goes off with very few hitches. The biggest hitch of all, in my opinion, was that not everyone could see the adorable first grader in his puppy costume. Because he was crawling, and the stage wasn’t very high, and there were lots of people there.

13 days before Christmas

We don’t do nearly as many Christmas parties in Oregon as they do in Delaware, but we do have one: Our young adult Sunday school class gets together to eat and play games.

There is no theme. No one wears ugly sweaters, and no one exchanges white elephant gifts, and we don’t play any silly party games where you have to shove balloons into pantyhose to make reindeer horns.

We literally just hang out and play normal games and eat amazing food and have interesting discussions, and it is spectacular.

10 days before Christmas

It is Sunday night. I get a text from the high school teacher. Can I substitute teach, starting Tuesday afternoon and continuing to the end of the week? He has a family emergency of sorts.

7 days before Christmas

It is a Wednesday morning, and I’m getting into the swing of this substitute teacher thing. The students have begun to prepare some fun party games, because on Friday, we will have a Christmas party.

Then the principal, Mr Chris, walks in. “We’re ending at noon today, and closing school down until after Christmas,” he says. “Too many people are sick.”

6 days before Christmas

The crowds of fun people have begun to arrive for the holidays. I have tea with my friends Shanea and Esta. Shanea presents us with exotic, delicious tea flavors from Malaysia. The three of us discuss the enneagram types of everyone we know.

4 days before Christmas

Mom, Amy, and I leave the house at 5:15 am. We go to the Gospel Echoes office and climb on the bus, where we encounter a number of other volunteers. We sit around, sipping tea and munching on coffee cake as we drive north to the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility.

We are here. We get buzzed through the doors. I take out my bobby pins when we go through the metal detector, because the ladies in front of me set it off, and now they have to get wanded.

First, we are at the minimum-security women’s prison. We unload boxes of cookies, and Christmas cards that were hand-colored by volunteers–mostly children. We set up in the cafeteria, and they file through. “Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!” we say. Shaking hands. Some of them smile. Some are stone-faced. Some cry.

As we’re wrapping up, preparing to go across the parking lot to the medium security section, we see that they’re setting up for another event. There are toys, and games.

And then the doors open, and the children come in.

“Mom! Mom!” this is their Christmas visit, with their children. We watch them hug, and cry, and laugh, and talk all over each other. We’re leaving now, but I can’t take my eyes off of them. What must that be like? It’s Christmas, and here they are, separated from their children except for this visit.

On the medium-security side, there are no children. At least, not today. We go through another metal detector, and then through doors, and doors, and more doors that slam behind us with a *click* or a *clank*! More women, in rows and rows. Hand them a Christmas card. Hand them a cookie. “Merry Christmas!”

My heart hurts. I’m sorry this is all I can give you.

2 days before Christmas

Matt is home, and it feels like Christmas now. We lounge around in our PJ’s and eat cookies. We talk weddings, and bitcoin, and Matt’s new job.

“Will you be working for NASA, or for a contractor?” I ask. “I’m confused.”

“Well, technically a contractor, but I’ll be working at the Johnson Space Center,” says Matt. “NASA can only hire so many employees, so they contract a lot of stuff out.”

“I say he’s working at NASA,” Mom says.

“That works,” says Matt.

Technically it is two days until Christmas, but the festivities will not end on December 25. There’ll still be the extended Smucker family Christmas gathering, and Matt and Phoebe’s engagement party. We’re celebrating Gotcha Day on December 29 this year instead of December 24, because Steven is still in Las Vegas. And then there will be the family Christmas, and the trip to the coast.

But I’m tired of blogging every day, so I’ll end this season of Blogging, the 12 Days of Blogmas, tomorrow, on Christmas Eve.

Blogmas 2019 Day 10: What To Do When It’s the Most Magical Time of the Year, but You’re Sick

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The least magical thing about the holidays is the way that we drop like flies as the flu rolls through.

When everyone else goes to the fun New Year’s Eve party, but you stay home in bed.

When you have an earache and a headache but you still have to go stand in the cold and take family pictures, because this is the only time all year that you’ll all be together.

When it’s three days before Christmas and you still haven’t gotten all your shopping done, but the idea of taking a shower, combing your hair, and braving traffic is more than you can handle.

This year I’ve been very healthy compared to the rest of my community, but I have spent many, many holidays of my life sick in bed and missing out on stuff. So here are my tips and tricks for surviving the terrible illnesses that plague this season.

First: Beware the finger foods!

I’m convinced that finger foods are the reason the holidays are so germ-filled. People come to holiday parties sniffing and sneezing, and we all stand around gabbing, or playing games, touching all sorts of germ ridden surfaces. And then we fill our plates with finger foods, and eat them, with our hands.

How much more unsanitary can you get?

After a really really really bad holiday season two years ago, I’ve become hyper-vigilant about finger foods during the holidays. I wash my hands immediately before I eat. I try to eat fewer of the sugary snacks, because sugar weakens the immune system. I never eat anything out of a communal chip bowl, unless there are tongs. And even then I wash my hands after touching the tongs, and before eating.

Actually, sometimes I just straight-up eat my snacks with a fork.

You can call me crazy, but hey, I’m the one who didn’t get Norovirus this year. I mean, maybe eating snacks with a fork is going too far, but making a habit out of always washing your hands and/or treating them to a squirt of hand sanitizer before eating finger foods will go a long way toward keeping you healthy during the holidays.

(Oh, and I guess I should also recommend getting the flu shot every year. I’m sure that helps, but it’s hard for me to really preach that one because I rarely get around to doing it myself. Oops.)

Second: If you’re sick over the holidays it’s okay to grieve 

Honestly, I’ve gotten to the place where I feel very resigned if I can’t do something special because I’m sick. “Oh well,” I think. “That’s just how the world works when you’re Emily Smucker.”

But I think maybe that’s the wrong approach. There are so many things that are special about the holidays, and if you miss out, I think it’s okay to grieve that loss. Healthy, even. Because if the holidays are special to you, and you don’t let yourself feel grief over that loss, it can turn into resentment or cynicism.

Third: Don’t be so hard on yourself

After grieving your loss, it’s time to let some things go.

It’s time to let go of the pressure to buy every acquaintance in your life a Christmas gift. You can buy them something next year.

It’s time to let go of your need to buy meaningful, unique, thoughtful gifts for your family members. Look at their wish list. Go on Amazon. Buy them exactly what they asked for. You can be more creative and thoughtful next year.

And for those who don’t have wish lists, buy them a gift card. Yep, you can be the lame-o gift card giver this year. It won’t kill you. And they will still appreciate it, I promise.

It’s okay to buy store-bought Christmas cookies. It’s okay to string a cheap garland over the window frame and call that “decorating.” The people around you don’t care about decorations and homemade cookies, they care about you taking care of yourself.

Fourth: Pamper Yourself

Stop! Don’t pig out on Christmas cookies. That’s a terrible idea. But do buy yourself cozy Christmas pajamas, and watch all the Christmas movies.

Oh, and here’s a tip: For Christmas, buy your friends and family members books that YOU want to read. Then, use your sick time to binge read them before you have to give them away.

Those are all the tips I have at the moment. How do you handle being sick over the holidays?

 

Blogmas 2019 Day 9: The End of the World (repost)

World's Funniest Jokes Humour | 2012... End of the World jokes and comics 

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Image result for end of the world 2012 comic

Do you remember how, seven years ago today, the world was supposed to end (according to some ancient Mayan calendar?) Personally, I had completely forgotten until I went digging into my old December blog posts, looking for Christmas memories. Then I saw this post, and the memories came rushing back. Man, we told some great end-of-the-world jokes in 2012. 

But anyway, I was amused by this story, and decided to re-share. 

Initially I dreaded December 21, 2012, because I knew how crazy facebook was going to be, with everyone saying “well I’m not dead yet!” and feeling clever.

Later I realized that I’ve only ever met one person who legitimately thought the world would end in 2012. Since no one is really scared, I concluded that “World Ending Day” would make a great holiday. What if, once a year, people actually lived like it was their last day on earth? What would you do differently?

In reality, I would probably spend time with my family, but half my family is on the east coast and the other half was at school today and my mom was terribly sick and could hardly talk.

In theory, I would do something beautiful like drive to the ocean by myself and leap through the frigid December waves. I didn’t do that either. I spent the morning watching “The Princess Bride” in my PJ’s.

I thought that at least I could cook a big feast for my family. I’m not much of a cook, but we had a big ham left over from “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” and I thought if I cooked it up tonight we could live on ham sandwiches for the rest of the week and Mom wouldn’t have to cook.

She is, as I mentioned before, quite sick.

Mom also gave me a list of errands that she would really appreciate if I did, and then she coughed and hacked and of course there was no way I could possibly refuse to do those errands for her. I probably would have done them even if it was legitimately the last day of earth’s existence and we would have no use for worcestershire sauce and ramen noodles ever again.

Now, maybe this whole Mayan thing fooled more people than I realized, because traffic in town was a nightmare. I missed turns and only had 25 cents for the parking meter and nearly hit a yellow car and started to go across an intersection even though there was a person crossing and in general had a very bad time of it.

I needed to get home and make supper. I had left for town later than I should have, due to general laziness and the charms of The Princess Bride, and traffic, as I said, was terrible. I was afraid I wouldn’t have time to cook.

After a few wrong turns, I found myself on some random road, and I wasn’t sure if I was going north or south or east or west. I was so tired and frustrated I burst into tears.

Tears are a bad idea while driving. They make it harder to see where you’re going. However, I eventually found my way to the interstate, and of course from there I knew I could find my way home.

As my tears dried, I had a sudden thought.

IT’S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD!!!

I laughed out loud.

Blogmas 2019 Day 8: Jenny and Emily Attempt to Make Santa Hats (A Video)

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Jenny and I ransacked the sewing room and attic for fabric, faux fur, cotton balls, yarn, and anything else we thought might be useful for making Santa hats. Then we sat down on Jenny’s bed and, with only our imaginations to guide us, tried to make Santa hats.

And we filmed the whole process.

Thanks for watching! We had so much fun making this.

In 2020, I hope to buy some video equipment and make even more videos. If you’re interested in subscribing to my YouTube channel, where they’ll all be uploaded, you can go to youtube.com/emilysmucker and click the red “subscribe” button. (But don’t worry, I’ll still share them on my blog too.)

 

Blogmas 2019 Day 7: Childhood Christmas Memories

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Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Today I’m googling “Blogmas post ideas,” because I spent all my blogging energy editing a video for tomorrow’s post.

Hmm…”Childhood Christmas memories” looks like a semi-promising idea. Let me recall a few Childhood Christmas memories.

Memory 1: The China Tea Set

When I was a kid I absolutely adored the book A Bargain for Francis. In it, Francis longs for “a china tea set with pictures all in blue.” And of course I longed for one too, after reading of her adventures.

One Christmas I opened my presents, and behold! There it was. A china tea set with pictures all in…well…blue and pink. But close enough.

I mean, it was a very cheap tea set, but I thought it was the best thing ever. I started having tea parties with my sister Amy. Mom would give us grape soda to put in the teapot, and I called it “purple mint tea.”

I think of myself as immune to product placement from internet influencers, but I’m totally susceptible to product placement in books. I wonder if that will become a thing. Or if it’s already a thing and I just don’t know about it.

Memory 2: The Christmas Play

When I was still young and cute, I was in the Christmas play at school. I don’t remember what it was about. I just recall that my character’s name was “Jessica,” and I had funny lines that made everyone laugh. “Clothespins anyone?” was one of them. Another was “is it raining?”

Then I grew into an awkward age where I was too young for the serious parts and too old for the cute parts. But I still wanted to be the star of the show. We were doing “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” and I was the first to volunteer to play Alice Wendleken, so I should have gotten the part. But instead, the person in charge (I don’t even remember who it was) gave the part to my cousin Jessi.

Instead, I was given this dumb role that had, like, two short lines or something. My character’s name was Maxine.

Well, I decided that I was going to rise above my circumstances. I was going to play Maxine to the best of my ability. Since she seemingly had no personality, I was going to create a personality for her.

I decided that Maxine would be a shy character, and I tried to say my lines in a shy way. Unfortunately, this also made me hard to hear. “Talk louder, Emily!” Sigh. How frustrating. They didn’t understand my true acting abilities. They didn’t understand that Maxine was supposed to be quiet and shy.

In adulthood, I’ve tried to milk a moral out of this story, but I can’t figure out how to do it. When I direct a drama, I want the actors to be content to make the most out of small roles. But I also want them to speak loudly.

Memory 3: My adorable brother

As a child I thought my brother Ben, who was three years younger than me, was the most adorable, hilarious human.

One December I saw him with a pair of my purple craft scissors, trying to wrap them up. He was giving them to me for Christmas, even though they already were mine. I thought it was the cutest funniest thing ever.

Another Christmas we got a box of gifts from Grandma, and one gift had developed a small hole in the wrapping. We all noticed the hole, and we all saw what appeared to be socks inside, but we were all too polite to mention it.

Then Ben said, “I know what this present is! It’s SOCKS!!!” And I thought it was the best “Emperor’s new clothes” moment ever.

Memory 4: Forcing Myself to Like Gifts

As a kid, I made up some weird Christmas rules for myself. Like, the worst thing ever, in my mind, would be to know what your present was before you unwrapped it. I did everything in my power to not know what I was getting until I pulled off the wrapping paper, and if I did find out earlier, I felt cheated. (That was part of the reason I refused to acknowledge that there were socks in the package in the previous story.)

Another Christmas rule was that I had to like my presents. No matter what I got, I forced myself to like it. If nothing else worked, I pretended that it was magic.

One year my brother Matt got me plastic African animal for Christmas. Little cheap ones. Normally, I was much more into girly presents like china tea sets. But I was determined to like this gift. I forced myself to play with those plastic animals all the time. I made them all into characters, and acted out stories with them. I told myself that African animals were much cooler to like than china tea sets. Because even though I liked girly things, all the characters in my favorite books were tomboys, so I wanted to be a tomboy too.

And what do you know, I liked that Christmas present after all.

This has been Day 7 of Blogmas. If you’re interested in reading a (fictional) Christmas story I wrote, click here. And come back tomorrow evening for what will be (in my opinion) the crowning jewel of this entire Blogmas series. That is, a fun video I did with my little sister Jenny.

 

Blogmas 2019 Day 6: Peace on Earth (A Christmas Story)

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Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Pexels.com

Important note: While the setting of this story is eerily similar to Brownsville Mennonite School, and it features a certain piece of greenery that also appeared at BMS under similar circumstances, I promise that this story is a work of fiction. The setting is real-ish, but the characters and plot are all made up. 

Peace on Earth
By Emily Smucker

Christmas had thrown up in the corner store. Decorations spilled out of bins. Kristen heard someone curse loudly, and when she walked down the chip aisle to investigate, she saw Clive, on a step ladder, struggling to hang a giant “PEACE ON EARTH” banner on the back wall. 

“Got any coffee?” she called to him. 

“Yep,” he said, pounding in one last nail. “Donuts too. You want a nice, fresh one or a half-price one that didn’t sell yesterday?”

“Give me the fresh,” said Kristen. “It’s gonna be a long day.”

“Oh yeah?” Clive jumped off the ladder and surveyed his work. “What’s happening over at the school today?”

“It’s just crazy this time of year. Everyone’s trying to get tests done before Christmas break, and plan the Christmas party, and practice for the Christmas program. But that will be over tonight, thankfully.”

“Your Christmas program is tonight?”

“Yep. 7 PM. You’re invited, if you want to come.”

As soon as the invitation was out of her mouth, she regretted it. Stocky, balding, chain smoking Clive was her friend, of sorts. She saw him every day on her way to school when she stopped in for her morning coffee, and she usually ended up ranting to him about her job. The students who never got their homework done. The parents who didn’t care. Clive heard it all. But the reason she told him these things was because he had no connection to her little church school. And anyway, what would people think if he showed up, with his yellow teeth and tattoos? And he’d for sure need at least one smoke break.

Oh well. She couldn’t exactly rescind the invitation now.

“Where is your school, again?” Clive asked. 

“You’ll see it on the right as you drive out of town. Parkville Mennonite Church.”

“Oh yeah, I know where that is. I didn’t realize there was a school there, too.”

“The school is just a few rooms connected to the church building. But the program will be held in the church sanctuary,” said Kristen.

“Maybe I should give you the sign for your school,” said Clive, pouring her coffee into a red to-go cup and fetching a donut with his little tongs. “It seems a little religious for me.”

“Huh? What sign?”

He nodded to the back of the store. Peace on Earth

Kristen resisted the urge to laugh out loud at the thought of hanging such a sign in her chaotic classroom. “You know, it would be a shame to take it down after you spent so much time hanging it up,” she said, handing over a $5 bill.

He handed her the coffee and donut, as well as her change. “It’s ironic, isn’t it? ‘Peace on Earth’ for the craziest time of year.”

It did seem ironic, but Clive was an atheist and she didn’t want to agree with his atheism. She smiled uneasily. “Um, well, thanks for the coffee! Merry Christmas, Clive!”

“Merry Christmas!”

As Kristen walked toward the door, the radio stopped it’s progression of Christmas carols for an important announcement. “It’s just about time for our Christmas tree giveaway! Caller number 9 will get a brand new Christmas tree…”

The doors of the corner store shut behind her as she walked towards her car, in the cold drizzle of December.

“Oh there you are,” said Miss Troyer when Kristen walked into the classroom. “Did Madison hand in her Social Studies PACE to you yesterday?”

“Yeah.”

“Did she quote the Gettysburg Address to you?”

“…No…”

“Oh. Okay. She needs to do that before she can take the test.” 

Kristen felt her heart sink, partially from the subtle failure vibes, and partially because this was one more thing she had to push a student to do before they’d be ready to leave for Christmas vacation.

“Can’t she just take the test, and study the Gettysburg Address over the holidays?” Kristen asked.

“Did Madison suggest that to you?” Miss Troyer asked. “That is a classic example of a student trying to make you forget. Don’t fall for it.”

This was the problem with being an assistant teacher instead of the head teacher. She had no power to give Madison grace, but she would, she knew, have to do all the grunt work to study with Madison until the Gettysburg Address was memorized forwards and backwards.

The door opened. Xander and Skyler Miller ambled in and stood sleepily by their desks. They were closely followed by Amber Troyer, Miss Troyer’s niece and Xander and Skyler’s first cousin. She usually rode to school with them.

“Miss Kristen, did you make my Mary costume yet?” Amber asked. She always whined when she asked questions, and it set Kristen on edge. 

“I told you, I didn’t have time to make a whole new costume,” Kristen replied. “I just shortened the lavender robe from the costume closet.”

“But it’s waaaay too big for me!” Amber whined.

“We’ll add a belt. You’ll be fine.”

More students were pouring into classroom. Danny, who always had a slight mildew smell, as though his shirt had sat in the washer too long before getting dried. Philip, who was at that stage of life where he thought making fun of people would make him cool and likable. And Madison, who was supposed to memorize the Gettysburg address.

“Wow Miss Kristen. You’re drinking corner store coffee again? What, there was no pond scum available?” said Philip, with a sideways glance at Madison.

Madison, as usual, ignored him as she walked past to her desk.

“Wait. Madison?” Kristen was just about to ask her about the Gettysburg address, when Terance came bursting into the classroom.

“Hey! Hey!” Terance always reminded Kristen of a puppy with too much energy, but today he was in rare form. “Hey, is Dave here? I need to borrow his truck.”

“Borrow his truck?” Mrs Troyer looked up from her computer. “Why on earth do you need to borrow Dave’s truck? The bell is going to ring in five minutes.”

“I won a Christmas tree!” he almost yelled.

“What!”

“Yeah! They were giving one away on the radio, and I was the ninth caller!”

“You need my help too, right?” said Xander.

“And mine!” said Skyler.

“I can help! Please Mrs Troyer, can I go help?” Philip chimed in. “Terance is too scrawny to heft a Christmas tree by himself.” 

“A Christmas tree? What’s this about a Christmas tree?” three more students were entering the classroom.

“I won a Christmas tree on the radio!” said Terance. “Where’s Dave?”

“You what?!?”

The bell rang, but everyone ignored it. “Quiet!” said Mrs. Troyer, her calm, chilling voice inches from being raised. “Quiet, or you’re all getting demerits.”

The students shushed. Then Dave walked in, late, and the uproar started again.

“Quiet!” Mrs. Troyer yelled, this time. She rarely yelled. Everyone, including Kristen, shrank into their desks. “Terance, I’m happy for you, but there’s no use picking up the tree now. Wait until after school, when you can take it straight home.

“But I don’t want to take it home, Mrs. Troyer. I want to give it as a gift to the class. The girls were talking about decorating the class for Christmas anyway.”

“There’s only three days left of school before Christmas break!”

“But don’t you want them to be pretty days of school? And don’t you want a real Christmas party on Friday? We can put the gifts for the gift exchange under the tree! Please please please?” He fell down on his knees before her, dramatically.

Mrs. Troyer couldn’t help but smile. “Fine.” Terance leapt up, a grin on his face. “But you have to be back by first break, because that’s when dress rehearsal starts.”

The uproar started again, as all the boys tried to convince Mrs Troyer that Terance needed them to go along and help with the tree hauling. Kristen just sat back and sipped her coffee. It was funny, she thought, how some students could get by with so much more than other students. Amber, for instance, was technically an angel student, as far as grades and demerits went. But her terrible whine made Kristen want to never, ever, give her what she wanted. But Terance, who was actually a rather naughty student, could get by with a lot just by being his happy, charming, joking self.

The bell jangled extra loudly as Kristen entered the corner store for the second time that day. 

“More coffee?” Clive asked. 

“Actually, I need a tree stand,” said Kristen. “You sell those, right? And some of those little Snickers bars to bribe kids with. And do you have some extra strength double sided tape? Is that a thing? The bricks keep falling off the Bethlehem Inn. Oh and safety pins. And yes, coffee.” She paused. “Rope! Do you happen to have rope?”

“I have thin twine, but if you’re planning to hang one of your students, I’m not sure it’s strong enough.”

She laughed despite the morbidity, because it hit a little too close to home right then. “Nope. Belts for the wise men.”

“And the Christmas tree stand?”

“Don’t even ask,” she said wearily, hunting down the twine and tape as Clive filled another coffee cup. She put all the items on the counter and he rang them up for her. 

“I hope your program goes well,” he said, handing her the receipt.

The “your program” grated on Kristen’s nerves. It wasn’t supposed to be her program. Mrs Troyer was directing it, and Mrs Bontrager, Madison’s mother, had volunteered to teach the music. When asked, Kristen had agreed to be assistant director, but she didn’t think it would mean very much. Maybe telling a few students to speak up or pay attention.

But before she knew it, it was her job to find costumes for everybody, and her job to scour Pinterest for set ideas, and her job to make sure the students knew their lines. Besides telling the students to speak up or pay attention.

Mrs Troyer sat on the front bench, directing, but that was it. It was similar, Kristen thought bitterly, to the way the entire school was run. Mrs Troyer did the important stuff, but Kristen got the brunt work.

But after Kristen had a few sips of warm coffee, and was alone in her car for the few minutes it took to get back to school, she decided that this assessment of Mrs Troyer was really unfair. Mrs Troyer was a great teacher, she really was. She was pragmatic. And while sometimes abrasive, you always knew where you stood with her. There was nothing false about her.

Kristen’s annoyance at the moment was mostly centered on Mrs Bongrager. Mrs Bontrager was a sweet lady, but…well…she was supposed to be the music teacher. Just music. But, “oh, don’t you think it would just be so much nicer if the wise men had belts?” She’d said. “Those costumes are just so shapeless.” And so there was Kristen, the afternoon before the program, buying twine at the corner store.

Her arrival back at school caused quite a stir. Everyone was in the church, going through the dress rehearsal. But Terance saw her and leaped out of his seat. “Did you get a stand for my tree?”

“Yes.”

Before she knew it, all the older boys had fled the sanctuary and were racing down the hallway that connected the church portion of the building to the school wing. “It’s just the little kids singing. We’ll be back soon,” said Terance, when Kristen tried to stop them. 

The tree was leaning against the wall in the school entryway. Dave and Terence wrestled it into the classroom, where they tried to set it up.

“It’s too tall!” Skyler called out helpfully. 

“We need to cut the top off,” said Dave.

“Let’s just set it up in the entryway,” said Kristen. “There’s plenty of room out there. Terance! Where did you get that knife?”

Terance looked at the giant knife in his hands. “Umm…”

“You know knives aren’t allowed in school, right? Hand it over. And let’s haul this back into the entryway.”

“But then the little kids will get the Christmas tree too! I want it to be just for us older kids!” Terance complained, somehow managing to still sound charming. “It’s my tree, I should get to decide where it goes. Come on. I’ll just use my knife to cut off the top, and then you can confiscate it,” he said, giving her puppy-dog eyes. 

Kristen’s patience was wearing extremely thin. But was this a battle worth fighting? Mrs. Troyer wouldn’t have allowed it. The girls would have gasped in shock at the very idea of mercilessly chopping off the top of that beautiful tree. But they weren’t here, and they didn’t have to deal with this.

“Fine,” said Kristen. 

The tone of her voice made all the boys straighten up and get to business. Terance hacked off the top of the tree, and the boys set it up in the stand and added some water.

Then it was Kristen’s job to get everyone back to dress rehearsal, including some girls who had wandered off to the bathroom and never come back. Amber’s voice drifted out of the bathroom door as Kristen walked up to it. “And I told her I had a nice dress I could wear to play Mary, and she told me I didn’t need to because she’d make me something, and then she made me wear this. Miss Kristen just wants to control everything.”

“You’re needed on stage,” said Kristen, opening the door. Her voice was tense. She’d decided, once and for all, that it was useless to try to liked by her students. 

The girls filed past her. Amber’s chin was up, but at least Madison looked ashamed. As they walked away, Kristen found herself confronted by Mrs. Bontrager. “Oh, Kristen!” said Mrs. Bontrager brightly, waving a program that Kristen had designed the day before. “Don’t you think it would just be so nice if the programs had a picture of the nativity on them? I just think that would be so nice. And I noticed there were no Bible verses in it. Don’t you think it would be so nice to have some Bible verses in it?”

By 6:50 pm, Kristen found herself perched on the back bench of the sanctuary, where the makeshift lighting and sound booth was located. She surveyed the program in her hands, still warm from the printer, but containing both a picture of the nativity and several Bible verses.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Kristen read the familiar verse and sighed. She was inches away from believing in Clive’s atheistic notions about Christmas. It did seem awfully un-peaceful, and currently, Kristen felt very little good will toward men. 

Oh! It was 7:00. She dimmed the lights, and the children filed in, singing as they came.

The program went relatively well, all things considered. Dave only forgot one of his lines. Only two bricks fell off the Bethlehem Inn. The sound system only glitched a couple times. And then they were singing the last song, the whole school, standing on the risers with their battery-powered candles which gave them all an angelic glow.

Peace on the earth good will to men

From Heaven’s all-gracious King

The world in solemn stillness lay

To hear the Angels sing

Afterwords there were finger foods in the fellowship hall. Kristen passed through the din, collecting costumes from all the places they’d been haphazardly strewn.

“I liked it. You did well.”

Kristen looked up, but the smell of cigarette smoke had already alerted her to who it was. “Clive! You made it!”

“Yep! Wouldn’t miss it. I’m not religious, but it’s a nice story. And the little kids sure look cute in their sheep costumes. You did good.”

“Thank you,” said Kristen. This acknowledgement of all the work she’d put into the production was gratifying. 

Then, “I brought you something,” said Clive. He held up a torn box of Christmas lights. “Someone knocked it down, and it busted. I was just gonna pitch ‘em, but I thought I might as well bring ‘em for you. You just got a Christmas tree today, right?”

“Yeah, well…”

“Hey Clive!” Terance was rushing by, his plate piled high with cookies and chips and green rice krispy bars. “Hey, what’s that?”

“Clive brought some Christmas lights for the tree,” said Kristen. She was surprised that the two of them knew each other, but it actually made sense. Terance was forevermore forgetting his lunch, and begging to be allowed to go to the corner store to pick up something to eat.

“Cool!” said Terance. He balanced his water cup between his plate and his chin, and took the lights in his free hand. “Xander! Madison! Look, I got lights!”

A crowd of students collected around him, and they all disappeared into the classroom. Great. Now they’d all be eating in there, leaving one more room to vacuum after everyone was gone. 

It’s over. The worst is over. You should be relaxing, Kristen told herself. So after one last trip to return the rest of the costumes to the costume closet, she got herself a plate of food and sat down next to Daisy, an old friend from high school. Daisy was already half done with her food, but Kristen launched into conversation anyway. “Remember when that was us, acting in the Christmas program every year?” she asked.

Daisy laughed. “Oh yes. Remember the year when I played Mary, and Mr Krabill wanted me to wear that awful costume that made me look actually pregnant?”

“Yeah!” said Kristen. “And then Myron was so jealous that Rob got to play Joseph, and help you hobble your way to Jerusalem.”

“Mr Krabill didn’t think my wobble looked pregnant enough. Or that Rob was helping me enough. It was so awkward!”

They laughed at the memories. Funny, Kristen thought, that only several years after that incident Daisy was pregnant for real. And married. To Myron.

“Oh, hey Kristen!” It was Myron himself. Before Kristen could respond, he’d turned to his wife. “Are you ready to go honey? I want to get home before the snow starts.”

“Wait, it’s gonna snow?” Kristen asked.

“Yep!” said Myron. Then, “Where’s Cassie?” he asked Daisy.

“Last I saw her she was in the rec room with her friends.”

Myron went off to fetch their daughter. So strange, Kristen thought. Only a few years older than me, and they already have a first grader.

“Well, I have to go,” said Daisy, shoving the last bits of her food into her mouth. “It was great catching up.”

“Of course!” said Kristen. “Drive safely!”

With the threat of snow looming, it didn’t take people long to clear out. Some people stuck around for a bit to help with cleanup, but soon it was just Kristen, Mrs Troyer, and Mrs Bontrager left. “I just think we should make things nice for church on Sunday!” Mrs Bontrager said, grinning sweetly, and Kristen rushed off to make sure the sanctuary was vacuumed, and the urinals were flushed, and the sticky juice residue was wiped off the table upstairs.

 She met Mrs Troyer in the foyer. “I’m taking off,” said Mrs Troyer. “It’s starting to snow, and I live up in the hills. But I think things are pretty much cleaned up. Maybe just double check that the lights are off.”

And she walked away, through the large front doors of the church.

The church was empty. Dark. Almost hollow feeling. Kristen walked down the hall, switching off all the forgotten lights. The women’s bathroom. The utility room. The far light in the kitchen. Then, into the school section, where she switched off the light in the office.

It was completely dark now, except for the faintest glow seeping under the door of the main classroom. Oh yes, the Christmas lights on the tree. Should those be switched off too? 

Kristen opened the door, and for the first time, saw the tree in all its glory.

In the dimness, you didn’t notice that the top was lopped off. It was strung with Clive’s lights, which twinked, faint and alluring. And there were other decorations too. Things the children must have cobbled together with construction paper, and tape, and some glitter and pipe cleaners from that random drawer in the yearbook room. All enchanting, and dangly, and festive.

The absolute stillness deceived her, and it took her a second to notice that she wasn’t the only person in the room. It seemed that Mrs Bontrager hadn’t left yet, and she sat cross-legged at the foot of the tree, flanked by her daughter Madison. Dave was here, and Terence. And Clive, too. Crusty old Clive, staring up at the beautiful tree, transfixed.

The snow began falling in earnest, tumbling softly in the glow of the lamppost outside the window. And it occurred to Kristen that the hard part really was over. Tomorrow it was just a couple self-tests and a bunch of tests, and then the Christmas party on Friday, and then there’d be a whole week-and-a-half of vacation. 

She should leave soon, she knew. Before the snow started sticking. But first, enchanted by the atmosphere, she, too, sat on the floor and enjoyed the moment. Because for the first time that season, she actually felt it.

Peace on Earth.