Posted in About the Book, Christian

The Hands and Feet of Christmas, A Christmas Short Story

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This isn’t the first time I have shared The Hands and Feet of Christmas. But it wouldn’t be Christmas without dusting off the Prider family and their heart-touching story. Whether it’s an old favorite for you by now or if you’re sitting down to enjoy it for the first time, I pray that it blesses your heart and helps you to focus on what’s most important during the Christmas season.

The Hands and Feet of Christmas

December 25, 1862; Maple Grove, Tennessee

Luke Prider bounded off his bed, too excited to feel even the cold wood against his bare feet. It was Christmas morning. His sister, Sue Ellen, had said that Santa wouldn’t visit them. Even his momma had tried to convince him that the Union blockade held a tight line and wouldn’t allow Santa to visit those in the South. But what did they know? They were only girls. They couldn’t possibly understand the power of a man on a mission.

His daddy was out there, even now, dealing with those Yanks. Sue Ellen may not have faith. His momma might have given up, but not Luke. He believed in Santa, just like he believed in his daddy. Santa came last night. He just knew it.

His feet pounded on the rough wooden floor as he ran to the tree. But the tree sat alone. Dark without the aid of the candles, the short cedar tree stood in the shadows in the corner of the room. Without his daddy to bring in a nice tall tree, they had to make due with whatever his momma and sister could manage alone. His little chest heaved as he took in the sight of the lone tree. Brushing a lock of blond hair away from his eyes, he turned to the fireplace. He had insisted they each hang a stocking above the fireplace, but they too were empty. There had to be something. Somewhere.

Dropping to his knees, he scurried under the tree, his hands patting the floor in front of him. Nothing. Backing away from the tree, he pulled his legs up to his chest and rested his chin on top. What happened to Santa? Luke tried his hardest to be good. He just knew he was better this year than last year. Santa came all those years before, so he couldn’t have put him on the naughty list this year.

Did he decide not to show because of Sue Ellen’s attitude? Luke’s frown deepened into a scowl. His sister would ruin something as important as this. But what if it wasn’t her? What if his daddy was hurt and couldn’t help Santa? What if those awful Yanks shot down Santa for trying to help the kids in the South?

Luke heard a soft, pitiful meow coming from outside. General, his kitten, must have left the barn and wandered up to the house in search of food. They were all searching for food these days. Momma kept making meals out of a little cornmeal and the remaining vegetables they kept from the meager crop this year. General wouldn’t find anything to eat, but he could at least come in out of the cold. Luke quickly rose from the floor and opened the door to let in the orange kitten. His momma would have a fit if she found out, but it was Christmas morning; somebody should receive something special today.

~~~

Santa came! Santa came!” Luke shouted, running through the house. Suanne Prider could barely open her eyes before her eight-year-old son leaped onto her bed, jumping and shouting all the more. “Santa came! Santa came! He really did; just like I said he would!”

Suanne rubbed her weary eyes and sat up. “Luke, what on earth are you talking about?”

He let out a deep sigh, and his shoulders slumped. Frowning at her, he answered, “Santa came.”

Suanne held a hand to her forehead and winced. He said that already. Several times actually, but it still failed to make any sense. She didn’t have anything to set out under the tree. She had tried her hardest to make the boy understand. They haven’t had meat on their table in over three months. Their savings had long since run dry, and Harry’s paychecks were becoming scarce. The Confederacy was running low on funds just as the rest of the South.

She wanted to get something for the kids this year to help make up for their father’s absence. With a heavy heart, Suanne had decided that any money found in their home would best be spent on clothes, shoes, or food. A simple gift would be too much to hope for.

Regardless of what she had said, the child went to bed last night holding out hope that Santa would indeed visit him. She didn’t look forward to a disappointing day, and it appeared as if Luke would make things even more difficult than necessary.

Her daughter, Sue Ellen, glided in next and carefully sat on the edge of the bed, her eyes showing her concern. Her fifteen years understood more than a young girl should. She remained silent and at least that was a comfort.

Taking a deep breath, she let it out in a rush. “Luke, honey, Santa couldn’t have come last night.” She prepared herself for his disappointment and for an onslaught of tears.

But he DID, Momma. Won’t ya listen to me. He DID come last night.”

She held a hand up, wearily, but the little boy rushed on. “I done been outside. I saw the presents he left us. He left them on the porch.”

Her brows turned down in confusion, and she met Sue Ellen’s worried glare. “What are you talking about?” she asked, throwing the covers off and sliding out of bed. She threw a thinning wrapper around her shoulders and tied it snugly around her waist before turning to the boy.

Luke leaped off the bed in the same way he got on. “Santa must’ve been in a hurry last night cause he didn’t come in and set the stuff down by the tree like normal. But I knew he’d come. I just knew it.”

Luke, please,” she said impatiently. “None of this is making any sense.”

Well, come on. You’ll see.”

Momma, I don’t know,” Sue Ellen said cautiously.

Luke rolled his eyes. Turning to his sister, he said, “You think you’re so smart, Sue, but you’re not. I know stuff too. I’m the man here now till Daddy gets back home. You should be showin’ me more respect.”

She huffed and crossed her arms over her chest. “That’s not gonna happen,” she muttered.

Children, please,” Suanne said before the fight could escalate. Thankfully, they were more concerned about the mysterious gifts so they dropped their argument without further prompting.

Lead the way, Luke,” she ordered. The boy eagerly left the room, scooping up General on his way to the door. “Luke,” she growled, “you know I don’t allow the animals in the house.”

He turned slowly to her with an impish little grin on his face. “It’s Christmas, Momma. Have a heart, would ya?”

Her frown deepened, but she said nothing more. When had she grown so hard? So joyless? Had Harry’s absence done this to her? The stress of struggling to raise two kids on no money? The worries and uncertainties of war? With a sigh, she whispered another prayer for peace and perseverance. It seemed like all she could do anymore was beg for the ability to continue.

Luke threw open the door and walked out, pointing excitedly. “See, I told ya! See! See!”

Suanne walked through the door and then stopped and stared where he pointed. A new stack of firewood rested on her porch. She held one hand over her quivering lips, her eyes burning with unshed tears. There would be enough wood here to keep them warm for at least a month.

Look at that on top, Momma.”

In a daze, Suanne moved closer to the bundles lying on top of the stack. She ran her hand over the two large folds of material. A tear slipped down her face as she glanced down at her children, knowing their ankles peeked out from under their clothes. She hadn’t the means for making anything new for them, or even for lengthening their current wardrobe. She swallowed the lump in her throat as she ran her hands across the cold jars of peaches and green beans. But it was the neatly wrapped, plucked chicken that opened the floodgates. She caressed the package with trembling hands.

See, I told ya. I knew Santa would come.”

No, son,” she whispered. “Someone much greater than Santa had been here last night.”

She felt his curious eyes on her. “Huh?”

It was Jesus. Only the hands and feet of Christ could have seen to our needs like this.” Swiping at the falling tears, she reached for the chicken with one hand and patted his boney shoulder with the other. “Come, we’ve got a Christmas chicken to cook.”

Together they gathered their precious gifts and returned inside, General trailing happily behind them.

 …and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Matthew 1:23

~Read Where Can I Flee to find out who acted as the hands and feet of Christ for the Prider family.

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If you’re looking for Christ-focused historical fiction or Civil War Fiction then you’ll enjoy the Ancient Words Series. The first two books are available and the third is soon to follow and highly anticipated by the readers. You can pick up both in ebook or paperback on Amazon.
Where Can I Flee  In the Shadow of Thy Wings 

And if you’re smitten by my 1860s Christmas tree, you can read about how I put it together.
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Posted in History

Christmas During the Civil War: From the Frontlines

0001Instead of focusing on one single letter, I’m bringing to you a collection of snippets from soldiers during the Civil War. I know that together, they’ll paint an accurate picture.

December 25, 1862:
“This is Christmas, and my mind wanders back to that home made lonesome by my absence, while far away from the peace and quietude of civil life to undergo the hardships of the camp, and may be the battle field. I think of the many lives that are endangered, and hope that the time will soon come when peace, with its innumerable blessings, shall once more restore our country to happiness and prosperity.” ~Corporal J. C. Williams

 

“During the days preceding Christmas, I received some boxes from home, full of nice comfortable things, and the letter which came to me at that time, you may be sure, made me feel homesick.” ~John H. Brinton

 

Wednesday, Dec. 25th, 1861, camp near Swan’s…
“This is Christmas & and very dull Christmas it has been to me.  Had an egg-nog to-night but did not enjoy it much as we had no ladies to share it with us.” ~ Robert A. Moore

 

1861:
“It is Christmas morning and I hope a happy and merry one for you all, though it looks so stormy for our poor country, one can hardly be in merry humor.” ~ Robert Gould Shaw

 

“December 25th
My dear sister,
This is Christmas Day.  The sun shines feeble through a thin cloud, the air is mild and pleasant, a gentle breeze is making music through the leaves of the lofty pines that stand near our bivouac.  All is quiet and still and that very stillness recalls some sad and painful thoughts.  The day, one year ago, how many thousand families, gay and joyous, celebrating Merry Christmas, drinking health to absent members of their family and sending upon the wings of love and affection long, deep, and sincere wishes for their safe return to the loving ones at home, but today are clad in the deepest mourning in memory to some lost and loved member of their circle… When will this war end?  Will another Christmas roll around and find us all wintering in camp?  Oh! That peace may soon be restored to our young but dearly beloved country and that we may all meet again in happiness.”  ~Tally Simpson

1864:
“December 26th  A despondent Christmas has just passed, yet people contrived to eat hearty and good Christmas dinners.  The soldier unfortunately have not even meat, and have had none for several days.  The Commissary General has singlely failed in his duties; while there is plenty of food in Georgia there is none here.  There is no sufficient excuse for this.  The food must be brought here, and the means to so provided and organized..” ~
General Josiah Gorgas

 

“The one worn-out railroad running to the far South could not bring us half enough necessary supplies: and even if it could have transported Christmas boxes of good things, the people at home were too depleted to send them.” ~General Gordon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in History

Christmas During the Civil War: On the Homefront

2047_1229winter20130134The following excerpt was taken from: L. Virginia French’s War Journal 1862-1865
Lucy Virginia Smith French was living in McMinnville, Tennessee during the war. Her journal tells the perspective of the Southern Homefront.  

Christmas 1862

“…On Tuesday evening Brooks Trezevant came to spend Christmas with us. He brought me as a Christmas gift 25 lbs of nice sugar, than which nothing could be more acceptable. On Wednesday having “made a rise” of a few dozen eggs (butter I could not get,) some turkies etc. I set to work cooking “Christmas goodies,” and succeeded “beyond my most sanguine expectations.” We had to be “Santa Clause” ourselves this season for cakes, apples and a little candy, and some picture books were all that could be procured for the children. We had to tell them Santa Clause couldn’t get thro’ the pickets, Jessie wanted to know why “the old fellows couldn’t go to his Quartermaster and get him a pass?” They seemed to enjoy their Christmas quite as well as usual however, notwithstanding that Santa Clause was blockaded. Indeed I often feel rebuked by the way the children take what is set before them never complaining or repining that it is not better, or that they must now do without this, that, and the other to which they have been accustomed…”

I loved hearing their explanation about Santa in her own words. I had found the “Santa and the blockade” fact during my research some time ago, so it was a treat to see it in an actual journal. I had incorporated this bit of information in the short story, The Hands and Feet of Christmas. You can read it here. You can also see my take on an 1860’s Christmas tree in last month’s post here.  

I also feel rebuked at the children’s ability to accept whatever is given to them without complaint. This is an area that I desperately need to grow in. 

Now, she goes on in her journal to talk about the gifts they exchanged that year and the activities. Keep reading to learn more about her experience…

“Mollie gave me a beautiful silver waiter for a Christmas gift, I got her a handsome pair of pins and cousin John a set of shirt buttons – gold and enamel. Mollie’s pins were gold and turquoise, I got Bouse 2 sets linen collar and sleeves – Ting and Bee white dresses – the Col. some new socks, and Brooks 6 pair of the same. (*Notice here that Brooks receives 6 pairs of socks. It pays to give a little sugar. 😉 ) To each of the servants I gave something, and so did Mollie…
On Christmas Eve we were “stormed” by some of the young folks, the members of the “dancing club” and they danced until about 2 o’clock. The children were delighted with the exhibition and sat in the dancing room, watching with all their eyes, until those sweet eyes closed of their own accord and they nearly dropped asleep in their little chairs. The Col. was showing the children to Capt. Butler, and had Jessie to play and sing for him. I was in the back room at the time. Soon the house became so still that I noticed it and went out to see what was the matter. I found all hands had quit dancing and adjourned to the other room to hear Jessie play. She acquitted herself very well indeed and was greatly complimented by her audience. I danced twice during the evening, once with the Col. and once with Capt. Butler. Sallie Rowan and Bettie Reed seemed to be the belles of the evening. We all noticed that Capt. Butler paid great attention to Sallie, and I could not help thinking what a beautiful couple they would make. Capt. B. I think very handsome, graceful, easy, and gentlemanly more so indeed than any man I have seen for years. He is really an elegant gentleman, and Sallie is a very lovely girl. I thought as I looked upon them both that night that I never had seen two persons whom I could more wish Walter and  Jessie to resemble, when they are grown, and this is the highest compliment I could pay either…”

 

Posted in History

1860’s Christmas Tree

2047_1229winter20130123I spent months studying Christmas during the Civil War as I wrote multiple Christmas scenes for my series. And somewhere along the way, I fell in love. The more I imagined the Harpers celebrating around their tree, the more I wanted to see it. So I set out to recreate an 1860’s Christmas tree. I cut a few corners and worked with a fake tree and electric candles so this is more of a likeness. But I did do my homework and paid very close attention to the details. Keep scrolling to learn how I did it!

2047_1229winter20130055Step one: Making cinnamon ornaments.
In all my research, I haven’t found an account of them using cinnamon ornaments at that time, but this is just the sort of thing that could have been made and hung on the tree.
I also found no record of them using glass balls, tinsel, or beaded garland during this time either, so I refrained from doing so. But they did put small baskets, boxes, music instruments, toys and cakes on their trees. I left off the cake and couldn’t get my hands on the other things.


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Next, I collected ornaments with that special homemade charm. Remember, they would have used toys, trinkets, small boxes, and dolls. So get creative here!


3The crowning jewel was this ornament with the hand-carved look.

Most of what hung on their trees was meant to be given out as gifts on Christmas day. This is the reason for the toys, trinkets, and sweets. We decorate our trees today with the idea of reusing the ornaments the following year.


2047_1229winter20130092 Since I used a fake tree, I decided to create a root ball by using a square of burlap and stuffing it and tying it off with a ribbon.


2047_1229winter20130096 Next up, I added some fake berries, pine cones, string of popcorn, apples, and electronic candles. They did use candles on their trees and you can still find real candles and candle holders, but I wanted something that could last a little longer. The popcorn and apples would have been common on their trees. And the berries and pine cones were available to even the poorest people and likely could have made an appearance.


2047_1229winter20130085 And last but not least, I wrapped empty boxes in brown paper and finished them off with ribbon that reminded me of patterns I have seen in period clothing.


2047_1229winter20130113 I took advantage of the moment and finished off the scene, by pulling together some props. I pulled out a small table, a couple homemade blankets, lantern, the letters used on my book covers, rocking chair, and a cup of coffee.


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Posted in About the Book

Deleted Scene: The Hands and Feet of Christmas

2047_1229winter20130116The Hands and Feet of Christmas

December 25, 1862; Maple Grove, Tennessee

Luke Prider bounded off his bed, too excited to feel even the cold wood against his bare feet. It was Christmas morning. His sister, Sue Ellen, had said that Santa wouldn’t visit them. Even his momma had tried to convince him that the Union blockade held a tight line and wouldn’t allow Santa to visit those in the South. But what did they know? They were only girls. They couldn’t possibly understand the power of a man on a mission.

His daddy was out there, even now, dealing with those Yanks. Sue Ellen may not have faith. His momma might have given up, but not Luke. He believed in Santa, just like he believed in his daddy. Santa came last night. He just knew it.

His feet pounded on the rough wooden floor as he ran to the tree. But the tree sat alone. Dark without the aid of the candles, the short cedar tree stood in the shadows in the corner of the room. Without his daddy to bring in a nice tall tree, they had to make due with whatever his momma and sister could manage alone. His little chest heaved as he took in the sight of the lone tree. Brushing a lock of blond hair away from his eyes, he turned to the fireplace. He had insisted they each hang a stocking above the fireplace, but they too were empty. There had to be something. Somewhere.

Dropping to his knees, he scurried under the tree, his hands patting the floor in front of him. Nothing. Backing away from the tree, he pulled his legs up to his chest and rested his chin on top. What happened to Santa? Luke tried his hardest to be good. He just knew he was better this year than last year. Santa came all those years before, so he couldn’t have put him on the naughty list this year.

Did he decide not to show because of Sue Ellen’s attitude? Luke’s frown deepened into a scowl. His sister would ruin something as important as this. But what if it wasn’t her? What if his daddy was hurt and couldn’t help Santa? What if those awful Yanks shot down Santa for trying to help the kids in the South?

Luke heard a soft, pitiful meow coming from outside. General, his kitten, must have left the barn and wandered up to the house in search of food. They were all searching for food these days. Momma kept making meals out of a little cornmeal and the remaining vegetables they kept from the meager crop this year. General wouldn’t find anything to eat, but he could at least come in out of the cold. Luke quickly rose from the floor and opened the door to let in the orange kitten. His momma would have a fit if she found out, but it was Christmas morning; somebody should receive something special today.

~~~

“Santa came! Santa came!” Luke shouted, running through the house. Suanne Prider could barely open her eyes before her eight-year-old son leaped onto her bed, jumping and shouting all the more. “Santa came! Santa came! He really did; just like I said he would!”

Suanne rubbed her weary eyes and sat up. “Luke, what on earth are you talking about?”

He let out a deep sigh, and his shoulders slumped. Frowning at her, he answered, “Santa came.”

Suanne held a hand to her forehead and winced. He said that already. Several times actually, but it still failed to make any sense. She didn’t have anything to set out under the tree. She had tried her hardest to make the boy understand. They haven’t had meat on their table in over three months. Their savings had long since run dry, and Harry’s paychecks were becoming scarce. The Confederacy was running low on funds just as the rest of the South.

She wanted to get something for the kids this year to help make up for their father’s absence. With a heavy heart, Suanne had decided that any money found in their home would best be spent on clothes, shoes, or food. A simple gift would be too much to hope for.

Regardless of what she had said, the child went to bed last night holding out hope that Santa would indeed visit him. She didn’t look forward to a disappointing day, and it appeared as if Luke would make things even more difficult than necessary.

Her daughter, Sue Ellen, glided in next and carefully sat on the edge of the bed, her eyes showing her concern. Her fifteen years understood more than a young girl should. She remained silent and at least that was a comfort.

Taking a deep breath, she let it out in a rush. “Luke, honey, Santa couldn’t have come last night.” She prepared herself for his disappointment and for an onslaught of tears.

“But he DID, Momma. Won’t ya listen to me. He DID come last night.”

She held a hand up, wearily, but the little boy rushed on. “I done been outside. I saw the presents he left us. He left them on the porch.”

Her brows turned down in confusion, and she met Sue Ellen’s worried glare. “What are you talking about?” she asked, throwing the covers off and sliding out of bed. She threw a thinning wrapper around her shoulders and tied it snugly around her waist before turning to the boy.

Luke leaped off the bed in the same way he got on. “Santa must’ve been in a hurry last night cause he didn’t come in and set the stuff down by the tree like normal. But I knew he’d come. I just knew it.”

“Luke, please,” she said impatiently. “None of this is making any sense.”

“Well, come on. You’ll see.”

“Momma, I don’t know,” Sue Ellen said cautiously.

Luke rolled his eyes. Turning to his sister, he said, “You think you’re so smart, Sue, but you’re not. I know stuff too. I’m the man here now till Daddy gets back home. You should be showin’ me more respect.”

She huffed and crossed her arms over her chest. “That’s not gonna happen,” she muttered.

“Children, please,” Suanne said before the fight could escalate. Thankfully, they were more concerned about the mysterious gifts so they dropped their argument without further prompting.

“Lead the way, Luke,” she ordered. The boy eagerly left the room, scooping up General on his way to the door. “Luke,” she growled, “you know I don’t allow the animals in the house.”

He turned slowly to her with an impish little grin on his face. “It’s Christmas, Momma. Have a heart, would ya?”

Her frown deepened, but she said nothing more. When had she grown so hard? So joyless? Had Harry’s absence done this to her? The stress of struggling to raise two kids on no money? The worries and uncertainties of war? With a sigh, she whispered another prayer for peace and perseverance. It seemed like all she could do anymore was beg for the ability to continue.

Luke threw open the door and walked out, pointing excitedly. “See, I told ya! See! See!”

Suanne walked through the door and then stopped and stared where he pointed. A new stack of firewood rested on her porch. She held one hand over her quivering lips, her eyes burning with unshed tears. There would be enough wood here to keep them warm for at least a month.

“Look at that on top, Momma.”

In a daze, Suanne moved closer to the bundles lying on top of the stack. She ran her hand over the two large folds of material. A tear slipped down her face as she glanced down at her children, knowing their ankles peeked out from under their clothes. She hadn’t the means for making anything new for them, or even for lengthening their current wardrobe. She swallowed the lump in her throat as she ran her hands across the cold jars of peaches and green beans. But it was the neatly wrapped, plucked chicken that opened the floodgates. She caressed the package with trembling hands.

“See, I told ya. I knew Santa would come.”

“No, son,” she whispered. “Someone much greater than Santa had been here last night.”

She felt his curious eyes on her. “Huh?”

“It was Jesus. Only the hands and feet of Christ could have seen to our needs like this.” Swiping at the falling tears, she reached for the chicken with one hand and patted his boney shoulder with the other. “Come, we’ve got a Christmas chicken to cook.”

Together they gathered their precious gifts and returned inside, General trailing happily behind them.

 “…and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Matthew 1:23

Note: “The Hands and Feet of Christmas” is a deleted scene from my novel, “Where Can I Flee.” This scene is not a spoiler, but it is a companion to WCIF’s chapter 34. If you don’t have a copy of Where Can I Flee, you can pick one up on Amazon. Merry Christmas from the Heaths and the Harpers. 😉