Thanksgiving is a week away and Christmas is not far behind. The holidays resurrect all kinds of childhood memories. Why not spend some time this season committing your memories to paper. Even if you don’t have time to write a complete story, jot down ideas as they come to you during the holidays, ideas that can be developed later into a polished piece. Here are some suggestions to guide your thinking:
- Keep your stories personal. What was meaningful to you? What did you look forward to? Does one Thanksgiving or Christmas stand out more than the rest? Were there any disappointing moments? What are your favorite Christmas carols? What childhood traditions have you carried over to your own family? How are holidays different today than they were when you were a child? What was your favorite part of the holidays? What food did you like? These are just a few questions. The point is, make it your story.
- Anchor your story in its era. People of all ages love the movie A Christmas Story, a memoir-style story of a 1940s Christmas told from the perspective of nine-year-old Ralphie Parker. The film is lush with period detail, and yet its recounting of a child’s joy, longing, and disappointment seems to capture aspects of everyone’s Christmas memories. My children swear their Christmases were just like Ralphie’s, even though they’re decades apart. Include details that communicate your childhood era. For example, when I was a child, Christmas trees were decorated with colored lights and tinsel. By the time I became a teenager, tiny white lights were all the rage. So were flocked trees. For a brief time during those years, the late ’50s, I think, some folks favored ghastly aluminim trees, standing them in rotating bases and training colored flood lights at them–a kind of bizaare extension of the Space Age, I guess. Your childhood years had their own set of holiday fads. Red Ryder BB Guns? Cabbage Patch Dolls? Slinkies? Get them in your story.
- Include sense details. The holidays are a feast for all the senses. What do you remember? Write it down.
- Turn a vivid memory into a scene. Is there a memorable event–humorous, embarrassing, ghastly, joyous–that would capture something about the way your family celebrated holidays and bring to life the personalities of the people in your story? Try writing it as a scene, re-creating what people said (as you remember it), filling it with specific details of the setting and era.
- Look at old holiday photos for ideas. Pictures are good memory triggers. Pour over these pictures, looking for details that will enrich your story.
We’d all enjoy reading a story that recounted how our parents and grandparents celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas. What kind of details would you like to see in such a story? Use that as a guide for your own narrative.
One more thing… A few blog posts ago, I challenged you to write your life story in three pages. Writing short can be illuminating, forcing you to focus on the essential. Someone published a book recently called Six-Word Memoirs that attracted a lot of attention. Borrowing from this idea, AARP magazine published readers’ six-word memories of the holidays. Here are three of my favorite submissions, published on page 10 of the November/December issue:
- Grandma’s grater. Scraped knuckles. Delicious latkes. (Submitted by Anita Frimere of New York)
- Eating at the Big People table. (Submitted by Terese Hayes of Florida)
- Mistletoe: 47 years of sweet kisses. (Submitted by Nancy Prickett of California)
Now you try it…and while you’re at it, have a joyful holiday season!