Holiday Prompts and Gift Ideas for the Snowed In

It’s that time of year again: the WD office is gradually falling silent, and any repairmen or squirrels mulling about the roof of F+W Media are commonly mistaken for rabbit fur–wearing holiday heroes.

Due to an insufficient present stockpile and a few remaining vacation days, I’ll be out for the rest of the week. If you missed it last week, check out my holiday gift roundup for writers—and a few other writers’ lists and sites below, featuring many items that can be purchased from the confines of your home. (Although, as there is only so much lit swag to go around, there always tends to be a little overlap.)

Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Christina Katz

Shakespeare’s Den

Have an excellent week—here’s to hoping it goes well. Enjoy a smattering of  (seasonal and claymation-infused) prompts for the snowed in/holidayed in!

WRITING PROMPTS
Feel free to take the following prompts home or post your responses (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below. By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional around-the-office swag drawings.

“This was a holiday tradition.”
He glances around, wipes his boot on a rug. “After what happened this year, it’s not any more.”



Something comes down your chimney, but it’s not exactly Santa. In your bed, you stir as you hear footsteps.

Write an unexpected literary fiction vignette about a character from a “classic” holiday film—say, perhaps, a lost moment in the life of Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation? The trials and tribulations of one Yukon Cornelius (as featured in the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer claymation special)? A story titled “Ralphie’s Revenge”?

Nonfiction: Recall the first time you saw a familiar holiday figure (Santa, et. al). Knowing nothing about this character, and seeing it objectively as a first-timer, what was your reaction? How have your early impressions changed?

King. Kerouac. Vonnegut. Hemingway. How to write a novel in 2010. An interview with Lawrence Ferlinghetti. A celebration of 90 years. Shiny silver ink. Best issue of Writer’s Digest ever?

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  2. Mark James

    Nonfiction: Recall the first time you saw a familiar holiday figure (Santa, et. al). Knowing nothing about this character, and seeing it objectively as a first-timer, what was your reaction? How have your early impressions changed?

    For a long time, I thought elves had pointy toes and that, on their breaks from making toys, they smoked cigarettes behind Macy’s on Fifth Avenue in New York.

    When I was a kid, we went to Macy’s around Christmas. My mom wasn’t the Santa type, so I didn’t go sit on his lap or anything. But while my mom was shopping, I needed to go to the little boy’s room, and I wandered out a fire door that had been propped open.

    I went outside, there were about five or six grown men dressed up in tights, pointy shoes, and green elf tunics. I watched, fascinated. They said words that I KNEW grown ups weren’t supposed to say, and they were all smoking.

    Up till then, I was pretty sure Santa and the whole thing was mostly just a nice story, but it was pretty sad to see those elves leaning on the wall in a line like that, smoking.

    After that, every time I saw a little kid sitting on Santa’s lap, I kind of wondered what Santa did when he pulled his beard down out in back of whatever store he was in.

    Years later, I was near Broadway, walking around. Back then, you could still see inside bars. I was walking by a bar, and I saw a nun with her feet up, her habit pulled to one side, sipping a cold one.

    By then, I knew she was an actress on her lunch hour . . . but still.

    New York is supposed to be the city of lights, but when you grow up as close I did to a fantasy making machine, you learn at a very early age that behind the fantasy and illusion, there’s just reality.

    I guess that’s why I started making my own worlds.

  3. Mimi R.

    “This was a holiday tradition.”
    He glances around, wipes his boot on a rug. “After what happened this year, it’s not any more.”

    “What? What happened!?” cried Ellie leaping off the couch. “Did you get it?”

    “Oh we got it all right,” Ned said. “Quick, turn off all the lights!” He was breathing as though he had been running.

    “What?? Why – what’s going on??” Ellie’s eyes were saucers as she fumbled for the lamp and turned off the T.V. “Ned Ryerson, it had better not be the cops again!”

    “Shh, hush woman!” Ned, pulled a flask out of his flannel jacket and took a swig. He swallowed hard and returned it to his pocket. He wore camouflage coveralls, a hunter’s hat with ear flaps hanging loose and workboots that had seen better days. He crouched behind the curtain of the picture window in their front room and peeked through the opening on the side.

    Ellie in jeans and a sweatshirt and her hair in a ponytail, crept up behind him and tried to peer over his shoulder. “What is it?” she whispered. “Who’s after ya?”

    “Old farmer Metzger,” he said. “He brought a gun this year. Usually he just chases us off his property, but he’s pissed this year. I don’t get it. Where’s his holiday spirit? We’re just havin fun like we always do.”

    “Where’s Zeke?” Ellie asked.

    “In back with the truck,” Ned replied. “The tree is covered up in the bed, but… well, we had some trouble this year.”

    “What do you mean, “trouble’?” Ellie said quickly.

    Ned hesitated. Ellie nudged him impatiently. “Well, Zeke was… well, you know Zeke, always trying to make things just a little more outrageous. It ain’t that cold out and Farmer Metzger had cows out in the pasture, so uh…”

    “He didn’t!” Ellie interrupted.

    “Yeah, he saw one of ‘em standin there sleepin’ and he just couldn’t help it. Got down in the three-point stance just like high school football and charged right at her. Well, sure as hell, she tipped right over and Zeke fell flat on his ass.”

    They both tried to contain their laughter, while Ned kept one eye on the street out front. From the kitchen, they heard the back door open.

    “Ned? Ellie?” came Zeke’s voice from the kitchen.

    “Shhh, we’re in here.” Ned whispered. Zeke cautiously walked into the front room where Ellie and Ned were crouching by the window.

    He tiptoed in, crouched over as though he were walking on ice. His jeans were covered in mud, as were his boots, black coat and hat. And sticking out from various angles from his head to his feet were bunches of hay that had obviously stuck to the mud after he fell, making his silhouette look like an abominable scarecrow.

    There was no controlling the laughter. Ellie sputtered and couldn’t contain herself any longer. “Ha ha ha, oh my gosh – Zeke you look like you’ve been wrestlin’ scarecrows!” she guffawed. Ned joined Ellie’s laughter and fell back against the wall.

    “Aww, you guys!” said Zeke in a hurt tone. “You can get your dang tree yourselves next year.”

  4. Martha W

    Write an unexpected literary fiction vignette about a character from a “classic” holiday film-say, perhaps, a lost moment in the life of Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation? The trials and tribulations of one Yukon Cornelius (as featured in the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer claymation special)? A story titled “Ralphie’s Revenge”?

    ********************

    Surely you know the story? The one about a silk hat and a dancing snowman? Well, let me tell you- that was harder work than you could imagine. I’ve been up in that closet for five years since then, neglected by adults who no longer remember.

    Then one day Karen opened the door, talking about needing a hat for the kids to play with. It took a great deal of my magic to get her attention.

    "Sam? Where’s the ball cap you got for your birthday?" she said.
    "The one your dad gave me?"

    "Yeah. I’m going to give it to the kids."

    "It’s still in the box on the shelf."

    I concentrated on her, sending all of my goodwill her way. She reached for the box but as her fingertips touched the cold cardboard, she hesitated. I doubled my efforts. This was important.

    Almost reverently she slid her hand over to stroke my brim. She gave a little private smile just for me. I knew the memory of which she thought. The one where her own snowman had sprung to life.

    That day had drained me for years. This one would too.
    Karen pulled me down, tears gathering at the thought of her friend’s departure. But I knew, she was better for it. Because of her own Frosty, she would allow the kids theirs.

    Quickly she snatched the scarf from the hanger and rummaged through her sewing kit to find eyes and buttons. She was a health nut now so the carrot was a given. Piling her treasures in a box but careful to have me on top, she carried them to the door and called for Jimmy.

    He came as fast as his six-year-old legs would bring him. "Yeah, mom?"

    She knelt down in the snow on the porch, shuffling the toy school bus off to the side, mindless to the wet and cold. "See this hat? It’s a special hat."

    "Why?"

    "It’s a magic hat. If you believe, it’ll bring good things."

    I could hear the waiver in her voice and knew that despite the weariness it would cause me, I would give her son the Frosty he deserved. I would give her another memory to cherish.

    Jimmy snatched the box from her hands and raced toward the others. "Hey, look what Mom found!"

    Another little girl peered down at me and tilted her head. "Looks like magic to me." She picked me up from where I lay and plopped me onto the head of their snowman.

    I felt the old familiar sparkle as it shimmered through each fiber, seeping into the precious first snow of Christmas Eve… and the rest, as they say, is history.

  5. Martha W

    Mark,

    I jumped right in. No school bus here either, so let’s not count this one, shall we? lol!

    Loved Marley, btw. I want to perch up there on the grave rock with him and bop her over the head next year… *grin*

    =)M

  6. Martha W

    Nonfiction: Recall the first time you saw a familiar holiday figure (Santa, et. al). Knowing nothing about this character, and seeing it objectively as a first-timer, what was your reaction? How have your early impressions changed?

    ******************

    When someone asks about Christmas most people immediately jump to talk of Santa. Not me. I am a Frosty kind of girl. I love snowmen. From the moment I first saw Frosty the Snowman on TV, I’ve been infatuated. They are simplistic, fun, and cheerful.

    They also have more significance than just one night.

    Now, I’m not really knocking Santa but he is the bane of my holiday existence. He costs me a lot of money, folks. So, when I feel overwhelmed by what is now perceived as the correct amount of money to spend to prove I love someone, I turn to the one timeless treasure – snowmen.

    The first snowman I can remember is the one from the holiday special. As I type, the thumpity-thump-thump theme song is running through my head. He makes me smile, even now at the age of… well, my age. I still cry when he melts.

    Through the years and disillusionment of Santa, I have clung to the one true symbol of winter and goodwill. When I see a snowman in someone else’s yard, I smile. I bet you do too when you think of the little ones who probably put it together. The snowball fights after the last button goes on, the hot chocolate to warm up fingers and noses. It warms my heart.

    My kids are big enough this year that we’ll make one or two over the winter season. I’ll take pictures and in a few years when they’ve gone on to other things, I’ll be able to appreciate my snowmen for a whole new reason – memories.

    How did I perceive him the first time I saw him? Has that changed, you ask?

    When I was a little girl, I dreamt of my own snowman come to life. Now that I’m an adult, I make my snowmen dance. It’s all in the attitude and imagination. When it comes down to it – that’s the real gift. No matter what happens, I look at Frosty and still see hope. I still see a great future.

  7. Mark James

    Write an unexpected literary fiction vignette about a character from a “classic” holiday film—say, perhaps, a lost moment in the life of Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation? The trials and tribulations of one Yukon Cornelius (as featured in the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer claymation special)? A story titled “Ralphie’s Revenge”?

    Jacob Marley’s Ghost from “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens

    I had to go back and do it, or they said I’d never leave my grave, have to sit here on my tombstone, watch unattended brats throw rocks at it.

    I journeyed back, spoke with Scrooge, played my part to perfection, if you ask me. It’s been many, many decades. It appears my efforts were for naught. People still see him as the villain. After all, no one expects Scrooge to leave presents under their tree.

    And don’t believe everything angels tell you. They said I could leave if I warned Scrooge. I’ve done it. Yet here I am. I’ve inquired about that. The angel had the unearthly gall to tell me he said I could leave, but not when.

    So here I sit, watching the living come and go. The quiet is unnerving at Christmas.

    Except for one small child who has been the bane of my non-existence. She has the gift of Sight. I once thought she was precious as a pearl button. Then she spoke.

    “How come you’re up on that grave rock like that?”

    “Tombstone,” I said.

    “It’s a rock in a graveyard and you’re sitting on it. How come?”

    Wouldn’t prove easy to divert this one. “An angel lied to me.”

    She kicked the dirt over my grave. “Angels don’t lie.”

    “No? And how might you know that?”

    “Cause Mommy says I’m an angel. And I don’t lie.”

    “Your mother is apparently quite misguided.”

    What’s that? You say I don’t sound like the Marley from the story? When you’ve tried living without a body for a century or so, then I’ll be happy to discuss the finer points of character development, over the long view.

    “The man from the tour said you lived a long time ago,” the little imp said.

    “Yes. A very long time.”

    “And you didn’t get nice in all that time?”

    I raised my eyes to the towering stone angel that stood guard over the grave next to mine. His wings reached up so high, they were lost in the fog on cloudy days. Despite his stony silence, he is a constant companion. Really, I appealed to him, isn’t it enough that they kick the dirt covering my mortal remains? Must I be subjected to this as well? I looked down at her. “Judging by your manners, I’d say that time is of little consequence in forming a pleasant disposition.”

    She came closer. “What does that mean?”

    “Where do you come from?”

    “America. You’ve heard of that, right?”

    “Vaguely,” I said. “From what I see of the people who come here, it’s become quite the cesspool.”

    “What kind of pool?”

    “Where are your parents?”

    She shrugged. “Looking at some boring rocks like the one you’re sitting on.”

    “I’m sure I understand why they’re not looking for you.”

    Her little face turned satisfyingly red. “I’m leaving.”

    “Forever?”

    “Never coming back.”

    I smiled. “It’s unkind to make promises to the dead unless you intend to keep them.”

    “I know what that means.”

    “You can’t imagine my surprise.”

    “Mommy and Daddy, they do these stupid bone yards every time we come here.”

    “Do they?”

    “Yeah.” She giggled. How could one so small sound so demonic? “I’ll be back next Christmas.”

    I would have rattled my chains, but it would have been to no purpose, I’m sure.

  8. Mark James

    Something comes down your chimney, but it’s not exactly Santa. In your bed, you stir as you hear footsteps.

    I ain’t been a good boy this year, so when I heard that racket in my chimney, I knew it wasn’t Santa Clause. Didn’t matter if it was midnight, December 24th.

    Everyone has their own way of sounding. Only one person I knew made jerky moves like the ones I was hearing.

    I went down the hall to the spare bedroom. “Ellie, if you don’t – – ”

    “My foot’s stuck. Get it out.”

    She’d come a long way to see me, and I shouldn’t have laughed, but she looked pretty funny with one little leg knee deep in ashes.

    I pulled her foot out of the grate, with her wriggling and grabbing at me every inch of the way.
    “How’d you get here?”

    “Fly. How else?” She looked around, sniffed once. “Where’s your new wife?”

    “You’re two wives behind. She’s gone. Over the summer.”

    “Good. She didn’t like me.”

    I smoothed ashes off her cheek. “You don’t think any of them like you.”

    “They don’t.” Ellie was too quiet for too long before she said, “Can we take a walk?”

    “It’s ten degrees outside.”

    She looked up at my ceiling. “I brought you presents, but I couldn’t get them down with me.”

    I loved my little sister to death. I knew better, but it was Christmas Eve. “Why do I think you’re gonna be in some heavy duty detention when you get back?”

    She bit her lip, shrugged.

    “What did you do?”

    “Can we get your presents? I don’t want anything to happen to them.” She stared at the window across the room. It opened. “Please?”

    I was a stronger flier than my sister. I took her hand and floated us out the window and up. Packages in soggy wrapping paper stuck out of the snow on my roof like sprinkles in ice cream. “Did you knock over a mall or what?”

    “Not exactly.” Ellie held out both arms. The boxes twitched, floated toward us.

    I caught most of them, let her get the rest. “Go on down. I’m right behind you.”

    #

    “Start a fire,” I said. “I’ll make some hot chocolate.”

    Before I’d walked halfway down the hall, I heard the fireplace roar into life. Another one of my sister’s Special Talents.

    We were both flu babies. I was second generation, she was third. Ellie wasn’t really my sister. I was more like her mentor, and I was supposed to be guiding her in using her Specials. Look, this job wasn’t my idea. The way things are now, after the pandemic, we do what we’re told. Except Ellie. She’s got so many Specials, they cut her a lot of slack.

    I came back with two cups of hot chocolate, whipped cream on hers.

    She floated the cups to the low table by the fireplace. I sat on the floor next to her. “Gonna tell me how come you’re here and not at school?”

    “I wanted to come home for Christmas.” She sipped some chocolate. “They said no.”

    “And you hitched a ride with Santa Clause?”

    Ellie shot me an anxious look. “Don’t make me go back.”

    I wouldn’t have to. They’d be there to get her in a couple days. Till then, she could just be a kid. “Do I get to open my presents now?”

    Boxes floated over to the table. The fire was low and warm, but not as warm as the sound of Ellie laughing.

  9. Martha W

    I swore something was coming down my chimney, but it couldn’t be Santa. In my bed, I stirred as I heard soft, carefully placed footsteps. The fine hairs on the back of my neck crept up as the creaking of the floor neared my room.

    My breath held, I reached for the miniature Braves baseball bat under my pillow. A girl couldn’t be too careful these days. The soft slide of the wood against the cotton sheets was the only noise I made.

    I rolled my head, stretching tense neck muscles. I had a feeling I knew what was lurking outside my door. The question was why. My eyes narrowed, he better not-

    A crash echoed from the living room.

    -break anything. Crap. That had to be the stupid school bus pencil holder my mom made for me once I became a driver for the local school district. Maybe she’d just let it go.

    With a sigh I crawled out of bed as quietly as possible, pulling on socks to silence my footsteps. Just as I had thought, the trinket was in a million pieces but what caught my attention was the hunk of male- brown hair, green eyes, and nothing but skin- bent over cleaning up the mess.

    As if sensing my gaze, the man in question turned rounded eyes in my direction. At my roommate’s deer-in-headlight look, I knew I had interrupted something. As the dread slid over my heart, I pasted a smile on my lips. "Chad. Doing some late night remodeling?"

    "I’m sorry," he whispered. "I didn’t mean to break your… thing."

    I felt my face heat as his eyes traveled down my tee shirt and underwear combo that I chose to sleep in. He tilted his head a little, like he was trying to see the rest.

    "You’ve walked by that thing a million times. How did you hit it this time?"

    "I was distracted."

    At the reminder he might not be alone, I pulled back. "You’re busy. I’ll see you later."

    "Shelly."

    I stopped with the door only open an inch. My hands were shaking and not trusting my voice, I just waited.

    "Don’t you want to see what I got you for Christmas?"

    What? He was naked, with someone waiting for him, and he wanted to exchange gifts? "You’re busy."

    "Please." The pleading in his tone broke my resolve.

    "O-okay. What is it?" I intentionally left the door like it was. I only had so much will power.

    "You have to open the door, Shel."

    Oh no.

    Before I could stop him, he pushed the door open and leaned against the molding. I tried to keep my eyes on his, but the slight quirk of his lips said he knew I was struggling. I flicked a glance down his body and my eyebrows shot up at the obvious interest displayed there.

    His hand snaked out to snag mine. Pulling me toward him, he whispered against my lips, "Merry Christmas, baby."

  10. Martha W

    Oh, I’m running waaay behind…

    Have a great Christmas, guys!!

    ****

    “This is a holiday tradition.”

    He glanced around, wiped his boot on the rug. “After what happened this year, it’s not any more.”

    Susie rolled her eyes at his short-sightedness. Really, could he be more pathetic? "Why?"

    Joe stared at her, one eyebrow creeping for his hairline as the disbelief registered on his face. "Why? Are you really asking me why I’m not going to play Santa ever again?"

    "It wasn’t so bad."

    "Suz. A whole school bus of second-graders mobbed me tonight."

    The giggle worked its way past her clamped lips and once the sound was free on the air she couldn’t contain the rest. She tried but just ended up snorting, which made her laugh harder. He glared at her, which only made it worse.

    Susie eased up behind him, stifling her laughter, and wrapped her arms around his waist, spreading her hands across his stomach. "Baby, you know I love you. But you’ve got to move on." She couldn’t tell him their news until he did.

    He ground his teeth together. "I love you too. But how do I do that? When every year I’m haunted by the same promise?"

    "Maybe it won’t haunt you if you come to grips with why he made you promise."

    "What?"

    "Joe, your brother was a smart man. Why would he make his dying wish be that you have to play Santa at the orphanage every year?"

    He snorted but walked to the window. She watched him for a few minutes then turned to head upstairs. "I’m taking a shower and turning in. Let me know if you need me."

    "I’ll always need you."

    She smiled, a mixture of sadness and love, before climbing the stairs. The heartache filled the room like another living soul.

    ***

    Joe stared out at the darkness with one question on his mind. Why?

    "Because, brother, if I left you to your own devices you’d wallow in grief every Christmas."

    The familiar voice had Joe spinning from the window. "Who-"

    "Really. Joe, c’mon."

    "Phil?"

    "And he gets the big prize."

    Joe’s eyes narrowed. Even death hadn’t improved his brother’s mouth, apparently. "Why did you do this? You know I’m miserable. Why?"

    "You’re miserable because you choose to be. I just forced you into living, being cheerful, even if only for the sake of the kids." His brother moved to stand in front of Joe. Sadness etched lines on Phil’s ethereal face. "You need to move on."

    Tears welled in Joe’s eyes, ruthlessly wiped away before they could fall. "I shouldn’t mourn the loss of my brother, my best friend?"

    "You’ve done that. Now it’s time to be happy."

    "Why?"

    "Because you are going to receive the most precious of gifts this year." Phil smiled as he started to fade away. "Name him after me."

    Joe stared, open-mouthed, as Phil’s words sank in. Then he whirled toward the stairs, the smile overtaking his face as fast as the joy consuming his heart. "Susie!"

  11. Mark James

    Zac: Have a good vacation. Did you really wait till the last minute to hit the stores?

    “This was a holiday tradition.” He glanced around, wiped his boot on a rug. “After what happened this year, it’s not anymore.”

    “One chimney.” Raphael brushed his robe clean. “And we hardly have ashes on us.”

    Michael turned on his brother. “The reindeer practically missed the roof. Next year, I’m flying.”

    “They’re short staffed. Come, we’re running late.”

    “I’m not going.”

    “You know better, He’ll find you.” Raphael reached out to take his brother’s arm.

    Michael jumped back. “Don’t. I hate it when you touch me. I go around trying to make peace on Earth.”

    Raphael smiled. “You’ve got a smear on your armor. Shall I help?”

    With small steps and quiet threats, Raphael backed his brother up to Heaven’s door, and both angels passed through the solid gold.

    #

    The Kingdom’s CEO sat back in his chair, looked around the small conference table at Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Azrael. “Thank you all for coming on such short notice. As you know, we’ve been asked a special favor.”

    Michael stroked his sword of fire on the table before him. He’d dimmed it in deference to the others. “Ain’t nothing right about this. We don’t have time to be making toys.”

    “We’ll heal many with the gifts we make,” Raphael said.

    “You wanna heal them? Go blow on them, or kiss them, or whatever you do.”

    “I bring peace that heals.” Raphael touched his brother’s sword. If metal could look happy, it looked ecstatic.

    Michael drew his sword back. “Quit it. You’re making it dull.”

    Their CEO waited. An eternity of bickering had made him patient with his creations.

    Gabriel looked down the table, past his brothers. “What else can we do to help, sir?”

    “There’ve been requests for carols,” Heaven’s CEO said.

    Michael’s wings sprang out, he pushed himself to his feet so hard and fast, he floated a couple of inches off the floor. “Singing too? And the Herald Angels are doing what?”

    “They’ll be helping to make toys,” the Chief Executive said. “The flu hit the North Pole hard.”

    “And whose fault is that?” Michael folded his wings close to his massive shoulders. “If you’d given me the angels I asked for when he went up against you, Hell wouldn’t even be a dark smudge on the universe now.”

    “Thanatos will be here shortly,” Heaven’s leader went on, “he’ll coordinate with you.”

    All eyes turned to the empty chair beside Michael.

    Azreael said, “He’s here.”

    “The flu is giving my staff a difficult time,” Death said from the golden doors. He pulled back his hood, rested his scythe on the wall, and glided to his chair.

    “Great,” Michael said. “What’s he gonna do? Ride the sleigh?”

    “Make toys and assist with delivery. After all, he knows where to find everyone on Earth.”

    “I’ll save the toy soldiers and plastic swords for you, brother,” Raphael said.

    The CEO’s dark eyes took in all of them. “This flu is the spark of the final plague. If we pull together,” he said, “we can make this Christmas less of a disaster. I owe them that much at least.”

    His words brought a silence that only immortals could achieve. Nothing moved. Nothing breathed.

    “I heard they got swords that glow now,” Michael said. “I’ll give them all the light I can.”

    “They’ll need much more than light,” Death said.

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