Holiday Short Story - Creative Non-Fiction

We're excited to share the stories that have been submitted for our Holiday edition of the Writes of Winter contest! We received five submissions:

A Royal Christmas - Gillian Corsiatto

Beyond the Sparkling Lights - Vonda Peterson

First Snow - Remy Martin

All I Got for Christmas - Jock Mackenzie

Getting a Cow for Christmas - Melody Germaine

A Royal Christmas

by Gillian Corsiatto

The conductor, our faithful director, skims through the band. Once we are all ready, he raises his arms. This indicates to us to bring our instruments up and get ready to play. My tuba is heavy but after the summer marching season I have become quite good at figuring out how to maneuver it up into playing position and down into rest position. In marching band terminology, these positions are called “set” and “form check.”

Baton in hand, he indicates to us to start our first song. Our selection is a collection of bouncy, fun Christmas tunes. I played the same songs last year and I will come back to them for all seasons I am involved with the Red Deer Royals. These songs and this outdoor performance are simply tradition.

After our first song, my section leader tells me to blow into my tuba and fiddle with the valves to keep it from freezing, as a cold instrument is much harder to play than a warm one. Occasionally the wind picks up and we have to scramble to catch the flimsy music stand before it’s blown over. Our sheet music is clipped to the stand so we don’t have to worry about pages flying about.

It’s getting dark and that means that very soon, downtown Red Deer will be aglow with twinkling Christmas lights. The name for the event, Red Deer Lights the Night, is a very fitting title.

By the end of our concert repertoire, my lips and hands are starting to feel cold. And, while I am proud to wear my marching uniform, the wind goes right through it and chills my body as well. Still, we wait for the lights.

And when they come on, it’s all worth it.

After the performance, my fellow bandmates begin packing up their instruments. Their tiny cases make me jealous when I compare them to my huge tuba case. I take a moment to sympathize with the tenor drum players, as their cases, much like mine, are awkwardly and uncomfortably large.

Before I put my tuba away, my mom gets a picture of me.

In the picture, I am holding my tuba down at my side and have my heels together in a perfect “form check” position. I was trained to stand this way during my first marching season. My long hair, in braids for this performance, hangs down the front of my uniform, and I am smiling softly at the camera. Behind me are some twinkling lights wrapped festively around trees. The lights reflect off of the shiny brass of the tuba in a mirror like way.

I look back at the picture several years later when I am no longer a member of the Red Deer Royals, but now on staff. Though many things have changed between then and now, it would never truly be Christmastime without all of the concert band renditions of popular Christmas tunes that I hear every year, yet somehow, never get sick of.


by Vonda Peterson

I’m floating above the City of Red Deer, seeing it all in miniature.The snow is glistening on the abundance of trees that shade the streets and trails. The Red Deer River, a frozen snake. The sky void of clouds revealing an expanse of blue. As the glorious day submits itself to the night, little pockets of lights emerge, some sparkling, flashing, while overhead the twinkling of stars. It’s almost Christmas. City Hall Park is illuminated so brightly it pauses me to reflect on the service of others. And so, I whisper a thank you. These lights lead my eyes to follow the streets in various directions as the lights spread out like the legs of a spider.My name is Archie.How I love my city! I daydream a while. Looking back at my innocence as I allowed my pain to be eased by those addicting drugs.

Bustling through the streets, the Christmas shoppers stop to share a few words with friends they meet.There is laughter amongst the children as they skip along the sidewalks, some trailing their parents, others leading the way.The bells of the Salvation Army volunteers ring out as the pot is flowing over.Carollers belt out familiar Christmas songs. My eyes focus on Ross Street Patio as I connect to the sound of children’s music, and the excitement of little children gathered around the entertainment of our own local, Spandy Andy.

Refugees living in scantily furnished apartments, dreaming of a time when they can return to their home country.A little girl wearing a ragged coat, glances up at a woman whose arms are laden with shopping bags.She wonders when her mother will be able to work again.A disheveled old man in worn and dirty clothing, eyes on the ground.His thoughts speed through his life, moments on the battlefield, the loss of the woman he loved, his struggle with addiction. He seems invisible. But no; someone stops to say hello and have a chat, and the man’s demeanor changes.

A young man yelling hate messages at the top of his lungs as he tweaks the various moves of his “happy dance” through the middle of the street, oblivious to those around him.I finger the naloxone kit in my pocket and thank my community for my recovery.

While the city glistens with festive lights and the air resonates with laughter, there is another side that often remains hidden. The quiet struggles of refugees, the homeless, and those battling personal demons persist amidst the holiday cheer. The question arises: Will the fortunate see and hear the less fortunate? Will the community of Red Deer unite to support those in need and remove the stigma from their struggles? In the midst of this holiday season, a whisper of excitement stirs in the wind, and I feel something extraordinary on the horizon. There is hope for recovery. Yes, Christmas is coming!

First Snow

by Remy Martin

Milton was a Kenyan volunteer with Canadian Crossroads International excited to be living with us in Canada for a few months. One day when I stopped to collect him, Milton threw open the door and leapt out at me, excited. His lanky frame was clad in circus layers of borrowed plush garments which flapped around him like woolly pennants. He boomed at me: See, Josfin! It snowed! We had been treated to the first abrupt autumn dump of white – Milton’s saturated colours contrasted against it.

Oh, Josfin, I am so happy! Imagine! I was walking down the street in town, and I noticed little pieces of paper were falling all around me. It was so strange but no one else seemed to notice this thing. I had to ask someone - didn’t they see this paper? why was this thing happening? I suddenly realised that this must be THE SNOW! Not paper, it was cold, then no longer there. Magic! I was full of joy and said to each person I passed “It is snowing!” They of course were already aware that it was snowing but I can not understand why they were not delighted at this thing.

I tried to remember what that felt like – when was the first time I saw snow? Couldn’t remember, but I assured Milton that I do feel wonder every year of my life. In fact, I don’t think I could live where there is no snow. Usually, the first fall is big chunks of solid-looking nothingness that float/fly/plummet from the sky. To stand amid such snowflakes should feel like combat but they just meet and melt. I love to take my dog outside when he has not been aware that it’s been snowing.I delight in his reaction of mild surprise at the sudden change in his environment, then, his prance steps, his puppy leaps into whiteness, his snarfing nose-jobs in the closest mounds. What brighter day than one with snow and blue skies and footfall traces of girl and dog friend? I am a snow miser and even resent rotten Spring that creeps in to make my banks dirty, hard and ugly to be rudely scraped away and discarded in unwholesome heaps.

When it was my turn to live in Kenya, I struggled to explain things about home to African friends curious about life in Canada and would sometimes call upon Milton to corroborate my outlandish tales. For those who didn’t live on the mountain, cold weather and snow were fabled and intangible.How to explain it? Winter is like the ice box: same frost, same temperature. Even colder.

But how could this be? It is crazy (hands waving the notion away). No. No one should live in a home as harsh as an icebox! Agreed. It doesn’t make sense. I am sure my credibility was shot on other issues by this outlandish talk. I eventually compressed my descriptions of snow and winter to just magical! Not surprisingly, this was understood.

Photo by Yann Allegre on Unsplash

All I Got For Christmas . . .

by Jock Mackenzie

As a kid, Christmas was the big one.

One Christmas in particular stands out in my memory – not clearly enough that all the details remain, but the essence of it will never be forgotten. I was about seven. Christmas morning had gone pretty much as all the others had. Our stockings had contained significant little treasures as well as the traditional Mandarin orange and nickel in the toe, the grandparents’ gifts had been opened first from those under the tree, then the others, and finally the biggie – the one from Mom and Dad.

When I opened my present, I was shocked and amazed. This was it? Just one six-gun with imitation pearl handles (actually white plastic with a black, raised Texas longhorn’s head). The gun opened at the top. It was too big for my hand and was hard to twirl.

I don’t remember what Rob, two years older, had received or what Laura, four years younger, had been blessed with, but I felt cheated. How could they do this to me? Sure, it was a nice gun, but this was it? I’d been good, really good lately. And all I got was a gun.

Then the guilt began to set in. How could I be so ungrateful, so selfish, so self-centered? Didn’t I have a wonderful life, good food to eat, warm clothes to wear, a nice house, and so much more than those poor children in Africa.

I looked at my dad, sitting in the big, dad’s chair. He was drinking his usual frothy eggnog that Mom made for him every morning all year round.

“Do you like your gun, laddie?”

“It’s great, Dad. And it opens up and you can see where the bullets should go. It’s a bit too big to twirl but I’ll grow into it.”

“Well, I’m glad you like it. We weren’t sure what to get you this year. Say, would you mind going downstairs and getting another log or two for the fireplace?”

Of course, when I got down to our unfinished basement, the brand-new bike was sitting out in the middle of the floor with a bow and card with my name on it. It was easily the best present I’d ever received. It was a Raleigh, three speed, with hand brakes. It was blue and white with chrome . . . and I felt awful. How could I have thought all those things?

Soon, the thrill of the bike overcame the other feelings which, for the time, were set aside. It’s been a long time since that Christmas, and my children are now older than I was then. I remember that day with its mixture of emotions. Every Christmas since has been wonderful in its own way. I guess that Christmas was wonderful too; I had received a better gift than the gift itself.

Photo by Mel Poole on Unsplash

Getting a Cow for Christmas

by Melody Germaine

As a child, I studied piano on my mother’s upright in the front parlour. My clumsy fingers and wandering mind meant I was a terrible player, quitting lessons at age 12. I don’t like being awkward and terrible, so I was relieved to stop disappointing my teacher, my mother and myself every week with my lack of progress or perfection. Unfortunately, I also loved to sing and accompanying yourself was an important skill that I was giving up on. Was it the big loud piano on display in our front window, being listened to and judged by my family, because my friends played cooler instruments? In any case, I decided I would reignite my interest in playing IF I had a piano keyboard that I could practise whatever music I wanted in my room, at whatever volume I wanted or using headphones so no one would ever hear how badly I sucked. So, at 13 I asked my parents for a keyboard for Christmas.

Throughout the holiday season, my parents started telling me that I was going to get a cow for Christmas. Seriously? I wanted a piano! My stepfather had long been a farmer, but he’d learned computers after selling his farm and moving to Red Deer, even before meeting my mother. Still, he’d always tried to spur an interest in curling, cross-country skiing, knowing how to take care of a flat tire, understanding acres and hectares, farm life and more. I was convinced my parents were going to register me for 4-H and make me raise a baby cow in the middle of Anders on the Lake. I had one uncle near Lacombe who pastured cattle during the summer months to fatten them up and sell them before winter, but he was surely too far north for my busy parents to drive me every day to feed and love on a calf only to have to sell him to a butcher when it was big enough. That idea terrified me. I love Alberta Beef, but I don’t like thinking about where it comes from. I was the kid who cooed over any cute baby animal. So, we started bargaining: I didn’t need any other presents as long as I could have a keyboard. No cows.

Well Christmas morning finally came, and one of my first gifts under the tree ended up being a little ceramic creamer in the shape of a cow. Ha ha. Thanks, Mom. (Still have him!) We opened all the presents under the tree and nothing had been remotely the size or shape of a piano keyboard and boy, was I disappointed. At least they hadn’t presented me with a 4H membership. Then my stepdad pointed at something under my feet. Under my easy chair, actually, with just the littlest bit of wrapping paper showing deep underneath the seat. I grabbed it, then realized it was too big to lift from above, so I got on the floor and dragged the box forward. It was my piano keyboard! Mom had actually only wrapped the end that I might possibly have seen, so I could see the picture on the box… the KAWAII keyboard box. COW-aye. I did get my cow for Christmas! It moved to Toronto for school with me, but I’d inherited another keyboard at home by the time I moved home ten years later, so I gave it to a friend for her kids. But I still remember the 101 sound settings and all the bells and whistles that little COW had. Do I still suck at piano? Yes. The stubby fingers and preference for singing won out, but I know what I’m doing even if I’m clumsy. But I’ll never forget receiving my cow for Christmas and the fun my parents must have had tormenting me while also supporting my love for music and performing…one I still pursue to this day.

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