Do you have a Christmas memory that stands out as particularly significant? Maybe an incident involving a family member or friend or maybe the year you learned giving was better than receiving? It could be a hodgepodge of memories centering around a family tradition. Have you shared that memory about a Christmas past?
We’re reading the classic “A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote for our December Book Club selection. Capote wrote this short story in 1956. He tells of one Christmas when his seven-year-old self and an elderly cousin celebrated in their humble, simple way. A poignant, beautifully written story, ” A Christmas Memory” will take you less than an hour to read in it’s entirety. The story has been published numerous times and adapted for both stage and television. While YouTube has both the 1966 version, narrated by Truman Capote himself, and the 1997 version produced by Hallmark I recommend reading the story to immerse yourself in the time and place. Capote’s writing is magical.
Set in the south in the 1930’s, “A Christmas Memory” is full of evocative description. Capote draws on all the senses as he begins his story.
Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs place in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.
The boy and his elderly cousin proceed to make fruitcakes, cut down a Christmas tree, make decorations, and special gifts for one another – kites that they fly on Christmas afternoon. This is their last Christmas together. The boy is sent to military school and they correspond by letter but the elderly cousin gradually descends into dementia and begins to confuse the boy with another. He knows when she passes on.
And when that happens, I know it. A message saying so merely confirms a piece of news some secret vein had already received, severing from me an irreplaceable part of myself, letting it loose like a kite on a broken string. That is why, walking across a school campus on this particular December morning. I keep searching the sky. As if I expected to see, rather like hearts, a lost pair of kites hurrying toward heaven.
Reading “A Christmas Memory” made me think about my own Christmases past. It reminded me that our stories can be made up of simple memories and feelings. Often writing a story enables us to find the deeper meaning that we knew was there all along, it just needed words to bring it to life.
What can we learn from “A Christmas Memory” in writing our own stories? Pay attention to the small details that will draw our readers into our world. Capote is a master at description, engaging all the senses as he writes:
The black stove, stoked with coal and firewood, glows like a lighted pumpkin. Eggbeaters whirl, spoons spin round in bowls of butter and sugar, vanilla sweetens the air, ginger spices it; melting, nose-tingling odors saturate the kitchen, suffuse the house, drift out to the world on puffs of chimney smoke.
As we’re writing we can consider what we saw, heard, smelled, touch, felt. Memories of holidays often bring with them specifics: the smell of the freshly cut tree, the snow gently falling, the taste of warm gingerbread, the sound of carolers. Adding these small details can help our readers immerse themselves in our stories and connect to the memory we are sharing.
Writing your Christmas memory
Jot down several ideas for your story then let them percolate in your mind for a bit. Your memory will begin to make connections and before you know it a story is ready to unfold. Ask other family members for details you might not remember, but write your perspective. We all remember events in our unique way. Write a rough draft. Don’t worry about getting every word right. Just get your thoughts down on paper. Let your draft sit, then come back to it and rework it until it captures your memory correctly. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be written so that it won’t be lost. Once you’ve put your memory to paper, why not give it as a gift to your family this year.
Sharing your Christmas memory
– Upload it to FamilySearch along with a photo. Tag all those in the story so that it will appear on their page as well.
-Record yourself reading your memory and upload the audio to FamilySearch. What a treasure for your posterity to discover years from now.
-Use one of the many book publishing websites to turn your memory into a book with photos.
-Make a short video from old family photos or video clips, add your narration and some background music, then upload to YouTube.
Best of luck in your family history endeavors!