22nd Annual Stories of the Season


The almost 300 entries submitted for Southwest Orlando Bulletin’s 22nd annual Stories of the Season contest told tales of special visits from Santa, mystical holiday creatures and the joy of spending time with family and friends. Whether they recreate holiday memories or take readers to imaginary places filled with elves, reindeer and their ilk, they are sure to add holiday spirit to all this year.
Congratulations to first-place winner Kathy Smith-Schwartz of Bay Lakes, runner-up Haresh Maharaj of Southwest Orlando, and child winner Maya Krajicek of Winter Garden, all of whom received cash prizes. Also included are submissions selected as honorable mentions.
The staff of the Southwest Orlando Bulletin extends thank-yous to everyone who entered the contest and wishes a happy holiday season to all.

Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht
by Kathy Smith-Schwartz, adult
Bay Lakes

Dec. 24, 1944, World War II, European theater

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht
(Silent Night, Holy Night)
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

I can’t feel my legs and feet anymore. I look around at my men, huddled, frozen, more stumbling than marching through the swallowing snow. Patton ordered our division, the 87th Acorn, to march to the south of Bastogne. We knew we had to move in to relieve the 4th Cloverleaf Division. We march past frozen men — our men — lying like snow angels, felled by bullets on Christmas Eve. Puffs of smoke blowing from our mouths, frozen breaths, crunch ice and snow … through it all, the prisoners of war we captured that day are singing Silent Night, Holy Night in German. We forget sometimes that the enemy is human beings. They are in worse shape than we are, rags tied around their boots, so young, boys really. Guess Hitler ran out of soldiers and is sending in kids.
I’m scared, fearful of every sound, every sideways movement. But I’m an officer, supposed to show courage. Cloverleaf took heavy losses, few survivors, and we’re their replacements. I look around at our green troops, new to combat and walking into a firestorm.
“Major?” says Pvt. Thompson. “It’s almost Christmas.”
Even though we’re both in our early 20s, he’s slight in build and seems much younger.
“Yeah, we’d be at church back home, and the house would smell like my mother’s freshly baked apple pie,” I say. “So Thompson, what’s your Christmas Eve tradition?”
“My folks don’t go to church, but they put up a fresh-cut tree,” he says. “Never knew I’d miss the smell of fresh pine so much.”
I look at his hollowed out eyes, barely focused, the fear so deeply rooted.
“I don’t know God, never read the Bible, never went to church,” Thompson whispers in a barely audible voice. “I’m … I’m afraid to die.”
I look forward, avoiding his eyes, but I can feel him looking to me for answers — answers that I don’t have. Why are we here in this God-forsaken war, so far from our loved ones who are as afraid as we are that we won’t be back home again?
Our orders are to attack on Christmas Day! I finally speak, not words of encouragement, but the truth.
“I’m afraid to die, too. But I know that we have a purpose here. We are protecting our loved ones. We are stopping the insanity that Hitler started. We are standing up for human decency in this ravaged, war-torn world.”
I pause and look Thompson straight in the eyes.
“And I love my country and can’t think of anywhere in the world I’d rather be than the United States, especially on Christmas,” I say.
After a moment, Pvt. Thompson says, “I never prayed before, but I’m going to start now, on Christmas Eve. ‘God, if you can hear me, I’m Pvt. James Thompson from Dallas, Texas, USA. I love my family and my country, and I’m willing to fight for them. Watch over all of us in the 87th tonight. Amen.’”
“Thanks, Thompson,” I say. “The 87th needs that prayer. Amen.”
The ground is too frozen to dig our foxholes, so we use the ones left by the guys before us. The POWs have stopped singing; guess they know it’s not going to be a silent or holy night. I lean back in my foxhole, staring up at the stars. It’s a clear night. Funny, I would have thought about the star of Bethlehem on Christmas Eves past. But tonight, I think the C-47s and Thunderbolts will be able to fly since it’s clear. We’ll get much-need supplies and air power to cover us. In a few hours, it will be Christmas.
But the Nazis have other plans. The Luftwaffe bombers hit Bastogne hard on Christmas Day. Our bazookas and artillery take out 18 of their tanks. We hold Bastogne, but at a very high price. We lose more than 3,000 men — Pvt. Thompson is one of them. The Battle of the Bulge marks the end of that terrible war. But maybe, just maybe, we’ve kept Christmas and our loved ones safe to celebrate for many generations both here and around the world.
Dedicated to Maj. Donald L. Smith, 87th Acorn Infantry Division — his first cousin, Georg Willemann (German Army), died on the Russian front at age 23 — and to all those soldiers who risk their lives to keep us safe so that we may enjoy our many freedoms, especially during the holiday season.

by Haresh Maharaj, 17
Southwest Orlando

I have always been far from my fellow students, always an observer, never a member of the group. My separation is not a case of segregation. It is, in fact, a willful separation for I am different.
While all my peers believed in a higher power, I had the audacity to question. Because of my incessant questioning, I was terrorized and ostracized by my fellow students, especially at that time of year, when bolts of color hung from the skies and trees sprung up within houses. I used to dread that time, until that fateful encounter.
One snowy Dec. 30, while I moped at my desk, a hand was extended to me. A young lady who I was entirely oblivious to asserted her way into my domain.
“Not all of us are filled with hate,” she said. “Come with me after school and allow me to show you the joy that comes during this time of year.”
“What joy?” I asked. “The world turns cold and inhospitable; the people are overcome with greed.”
“Just meet me after class,” she urged.
I met her after class, and we traversed the frozen wasteland that was our town.
“The earth becomes so inhospitable that even animals seek refuge, the beauty nature had is engulfed by the all-devouring white expanse,” I said.
“But the greenery of old is replaced with a pure white that has its own beauty,” she said.
As I was about to respond, we reached her home. A twinkle of colors lit her roof, starkly contrasting the white of snow. Even a heart as cold as mine was warmed by such a work of art.
We entered her house, shedding our wintry layers. Then we took our place beside the fireplace, almost as if we were meant to.
“My parents leave every Christmas,” she said. “They have to work.”
“So you are all alone every year?” I asked, shocked.
“Why should I burden their lives with mine? Besides, this time of year is about love and understanding,” she said in a philosophical manner.
“Love and understanding?” I inquired. “This is the time of the year when our classmates torment me even greater.”
“Don’t let them ruin this time for you,” she said. “Let me show you.”
She retrieved a book from under her seat and opened it.
”This is my journal and diary,” she said. “You should read some of it.”
I absorbed the text. It felt as if a flame inside me was being fed, but not an inferno, this was a gentle flame, like a candle. Her name was Mary, and she spent many a night alone. She sat behind me the majority of my educational career. Mary observed me, never speaking, only watching. She detested the hazing of myself and scolded the other students many times. She did not see me as a questioner of faith, just a curious soul.
“This is a time for love and acceptance,” she said.
Mary spent every Christmas alone and still mustered the strength to reach out to me.
With tears in my eyes, I embraced her. All the pain I held in over the years finally came out. She continued to hold me; her kindness washed over me like a warm light. It melted my heart of ice. This was a time of love and acceptance, and Mary was the personification of this. Even though she fought many trials, Mary bore my load and supported me. I never thought I would meet a person who had such mental fortitude and kindness.
I gathered myself and stood up. I realized that Christmas, while celebrating Christ, was a time for us to have compassion for our fellow man and spread joy. The snow was not there to destroy the beauty of spring. The snow was just another picture for us to admire. On this day, we do not discriminate. We accept our fellow man and show him love no matter what his ideals or race.
Ten years later, Mary and I married on Christmas Day. We found each other, thanks to that wonderful holiday. In a den of despair, the spirit of Christmas brought us together and healed us of our pain. Now it joined us together in the bond of matrimony. As I look back, I remember I never celebrated Christmas until I met her.
I cannot think of a greater gift that the universe could have given me than Mary.

Child Winner
The “Marsvelous” Christmas
by Maya Krajicek, 8
Winter Garden

“Falalalalalalala,” my friend Liana and I sang as we floated around the space shuttle.
Last year, on Dec. 20, 2012, Liana and I went to Mars to celebrate Christmas. After 24 hours, the space shuttle finally landed with a big boom. Liana and I put on our space helmets, floated out of the shuttle, and landed on the big, orange planet.
“Ugh!” Liana shrieked.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“This planet is so blah and bare,” she complained.
“You’re right,” I said. “Let’s make the planet look more like it’s Christmastime!”
We left the shuttle and went to our “martel” to get settled. We unpacked and ate dinner at McMarshan’s. After we got settled, we decided to go shopping at Walmars for decorations. We bought a star-shaped wreath, an orange Christmas tree, lights shaped like raindrops, and alien-shaped ornaments. We immediately returned to our martel, took the tree off our car, and brought it into our room. We weaved our pink, blue and yellow flashing lights around the orange tree. The yellow lights flickered on and off like the shooting stars around us. Then we carefully hung the alien ornaments on the tree.
“Perfect!” I said, when we were finished.
“I love it!” Liana said excitedly.
After we decorated the tree, we decided to decorate the entire city of Mars. We decorated all the trees, houses, fences, bushes and poles with alien ornaments, and pink, blue and yellow raindrop lights. The aliens loved how we decorated their town. In fact, people on earth could see the lights flashing and flickering when they look up into space.
Liana and I were worn out, so we went to bed.
The next day was Christmas Eve, and Liana and I woke up feeling like we were missing something.
“Cookies!” we screamed. “We forgot to make cookies!”
Liana and I floated back to Walmars to get some cookie mix. We bought chocolate-chip and sugar cookies. When we got back to our martel, we made lots of cookies shaped like aliens, Martians and elves.
Little green aliens came knocking on our door, wondering where the delicious smell was coming from. Liana and I explained to them what cookies were. Then we gave all our cookies to the aliens. They loved it! In return, they sang their favorite Christmas carols for us. They sounded like little tweeting birds.
We put the rest of the leftover cookies by the fireplace for Santa Mars and went to bed, thrilled that Santa was coming.
Finally, it was Christmas Day. Liana and I woke up at 8:32 a.m.
“Santa Mars came, Santa Mars came!” I screamed excitedly as I entered the living room.
Liana and I really wanted to open presents first thing in the morning, but we decided to eat breakfast first. We ate moon toast shaped like Christmas trees and mars berries shaped like Santa.
When we were done eating, we ran to open the presents that were under the tree. I got a pair of roller skates, a sweater and an American Girl doll. Liana got a pillow pet, some shoes and roller skates, too.
“I have an idea,” I said eagerly. “Let’s go roller-skating above the Mars Dunes.”
Liana and I put on our new skates and helmets and went roller-floating in Mars for the rest of the day.
The next morning, Liana and I woke up early to get ready to go back home. We said goodbye to our alien friends and took our Christmas rocket ship back to Florida.
It was the best holiday season ever!

Honorable Mention
All I Want for Christmas Is …
by Colleen Spotts, adult

Throughout the past 10 years, the Christmas season has caused me great introspection as a mother. My children have never seemed to follow along conventional paths. While I listen to what other mothers say their kids want for Christmas, mine challenge me with another way of thinking. While the more “normal” requests might be expected and easier to fulfill, sometimes I’ve found that my kids have, at this time of year, been the “voice of the Divine” for me, and I have welcomed it.
When the children were very little, I always heard that “Christmas is for kids.” Even though we’re not a family that necessarily embraces typical clichés and mind-sets, this one, though not deliberately, we had. For a few years, we emphasized the spiritual along with the special gifts given to the kids from Santa, and they were certainly on his nice list! We weren’t thinking about gifts for ourselves. The children would make things for us that we thoroughly delighted in, but we didn’t exchange a lot at all among the adults. Until my daughter, who is now 16, was 8, and we visited Santa at Bass Pro Shop.
After our children were finished, Santa got out of his seat and called me aside with tears running down his face. He confided that my daughter just told him that the only thing she wanted for Christmas was to see him bring her mom, dad and granny very nice, big gifts this year. After that experience, I realized that, while we think Christmas is for kids, sometimes the thinking of ourselves is and should be for them as well. Children still delight in seeing others surprised and excited. That year, we changed the way we did things.
This year, a new challenge from on high has come through the sweet, small voice of my 10-year-old. Three weeks ago, she quietly shared with me that the only thing she wants from Santa is “for her whole family to go off Facebook and texting.” Since a year ago, though limited by Mom being the only one with pass codes, the two older children have had Facebook pages with all the social networking that comes with it. I have had one for several years and delight in the connection with long lost friends and find it a wonder-full invention.
I’ve always known that my youngest is not, and she may never be, the Facebook kind of kid. However, I had not known how deeply affected she was by our involvement on Facebook. Since I often hear God speaking through my kids, I believed immediately that He was speaking to me again. I pondered, and yes, I could see how our lives as a family had changed, and how she could be feeling the way she does. We don’t play as many family games. When we’re talking to each other, we sometimes don’t focus on what the other is saying, but are distracted by what we were just reading or messaging on FB. When we get together with friends who also use FB, we no longer run to build a campfire or play old-fashioned games; instead the older kids sit around and feverishly talk about their newest posts. Lastly, and most sadly for my youngest, is that when we are together as a family, we oftentimes focus on what photo to take or what post to make about what fun we’re having instead of just being in the moment and having fun!
I’ve decided that all my kids are wise beyond their years. As for this year, my youngest is getting her wish from “Santa.”
Her family is and will be off Facebook from now until the Christmas season ends on Epiphany, Jan. 6, and … after that, we’ll re-assess all this.
I have a hunch that we’ll agree that we “like” the family closeness better when not liking so many posts on FB.
So another year — and another lesson learned — thanks to this child’s uncommon request.

Honorable Mention
Christmas Miracle
by Jasmine Johnson, 11
Cypress Point

I traced the swirl on my locket as it glowed, giving out its own light. I’d had it since I was a baby, and inside was a small picture of my father before he was shipped across the sea to the war. I looked at the photo, and my blue eyes in the scene were big and hopeful. All I had now to support me was this locket and photo. Mother died of cancer while Father was away, and now the letters he sent in his strong handwritten text and the red-stamped letter had all but ceased.
My eyes glowed with the light that the thin but steady snake of flame gave. I stopped and swung back into the window from climbing out, and my long, blond ponytail fell in my face, slapping my cheek with a wet-tipped end. The purple streak in my hair got into my eyes, covering my view of the world in a violet storm of hair.
“April!” Ms. B’s voice cut through my thoughts like a steak knife cutting through lacy sponge cake, and I slapped my hand to my face in irritation.
I got down from the window sill, and my worn Converses make a small twap on the carpeted floor. I took long strides to the doorway then turned left. I ran my fingers on the wall and stared up at all the pictures of Ms. B, when she was actually skinny instead of the hippo of a woman she had become. I turned right into the dining room and found Ms. B holding out the phone with a disinterested look on her makeup-plastered, hideous face.
“It’s for you, maggot,” she spit out, her words dripping with stern attitude.
She plopped the old phone into my hand as if it were covered in slime from the muddy streets of New York that were just outside the orphanage. I raised the phone to my ear hesitantly, all the while watching from the corner of my eye as Ms. B filed her nails.
“Hello?” I asked quietly.
“April?” a voice responded.
I froze, finally hearing a familiar voice, one that I had not heard in about six months.
“Father!” I exclaimed, joy bubbling up into my face like a springtime rose waking up from a frosty, winter slumber.
“Hey, darling,” he said with a chuckle, the deep rumble of his throat coming in a vibration through the phone.
But I knew something was wrong, even though I could tell he was giving an effort to cover it up. The strain in his voice worried me, so I said, “Father, what’s wrong?”
“April, honey, I’m in the hospital,” he said.
The words were backed up with static, and I could hear a siren in the background, along with a frantic, faint voice of someone else. But above all the other noise, the color that had once rushed up to my face had fallen back down in fear. I heard him groan, and then he continued, but with a strained, tight tone.
“Darling, there was a land mine, and we were in the truck. Thomas lost his hand, but I wasn’t so lucky.”
I remembered Thomas, a friend of my father’s from high school, but hearing my father’s last few words, the world spun, and I felt dizzy and nearly dropped the phone. Ms. B barely glanced at me, and I tightly pressed the phone to my ear, as if doing so would magically tell me what had happened.
“April, my leg and arm — they’ll have to amputate,” he said.
The words made me gasp as Father continued.
“I’m in the infirmary on the way back to the hospital bunk down the street from the orphanage. We’ll be there in three hours.”
Tears rolled down my cheeks, and they rushed onto my shirt collar.
“I’ll be there waiting for you,” I replied, the words nearly choking me.
Then my father yelled in pain, and the dial tone of the phone abruptly cut off my words. I dropped the phone, rushed to the orphanage door (despite Ms. B’s yell), and swung it open, not bothering to grab my helmet as I jumped on my skateboard.
Next thing I knew, I was at the hospital, waiting and praying for good fortune to come upon my father. A camouflaged jeep rolled into the driveway, and I saw my father on a stretcher as they quickly wheeled him out, his face as pale as death. In place of his arm and leg were empty spaces. The scene flashed in quick segments, and my heart pounded, nearly bursting out of my chest. My white knuckles clung to my locket as I rocked in my chair, praying. The door swung open, and a surgeon in a white coat came out looking for me, followed by the nurse.
“Sweetie, I need you to go on home; your father is preparing for surgery,” the nurse said.
But her expression told me that my father was dying. The surgeon ushered me out the hospital door, and once again, the world spun.
Epilogue: Almost a week later, the door to my room swung open, and someone rolled in holding a red box with a sparkly gold bow.
“Hey, darling,” Father said, and I grinned. “Merry Christmas.”
He smiled warmly. I ran and hugged him, and he gathered me into his arms as if I were 6 years old instead of 14. He handed me the gift box, and I realized that his arm and leg were metal. I opened the box. Inside was a golden bracelet with three charms. I smiled.
“I’m home, April,” he said.
And I realized that the two most important things to have are love and hope — they’re what brought him home.

Honorable Mention
Bare Decembers, Burning Embers
by Lana Marie Henrich, 13

It was a bare December evening. The fire was crackling, and tiny glowing embers were floating around the room, bringing some light into the inky darkness. It reeked of soggy snow and muddy rubber boots.
Jocelyn was curled up in her neoclassic bench swing, which rested, frozen into the ground, on her front porch. It was a snowy, bleak night, but Jocelyn liked the smell of pine cones and the icicles swinging around in the wind. She also enjoyed hearing the singing, black-caped chickadees that lived by the stream in the forest. Sometimes she would whistle along to their tune, creating almost seemingly perfect harmony. It was the night before Christmas Eve, but Jocelyn was not zealous about the latter day. Ever since she was widowed, she celebrated Christmas by herself, with nothing but hot chocolate and homemade, crusty yeast bread. However, the next day held something she could not have expected.
Jocelyn roused the next morning to the sun beaming on her face through the window on the side of her bedroom wall. She got dressed and went downstairs to make breakfast. When early evening came, the sound of knocking on her front door startled her.
There’s a knock on my door? she thought. It must be a branch blown against it by the wind.
Then she heard the knock again, and again.
She peeked through the crack of the door to see what was causing the noises, but the snow had frozen even the tiniest of peepholes that she had left to inspect the strange visitor. Jocelyn’s stomach curled up and her heart beat fast as she gently slid the lock from the metal ring and opened the door.
Frosty breaths sounded muffled. Snow pressed down a little girl’s short curly hair, and her jacket was soggy with melted ice. The icy shivers that escaped her mouth were inaudible, and Jocelyn quickly realized the girl needed help, so she escorted her inside. The little girl’s boots squished as she waddled in, unable to function her arms because of the heavy icicles that had formed on her sleeves. Jocelyn quickly threw wood into the fireplace and showed the stranger a chair to sit in. After they both got warmed up and comfortable, Jocelyn began her questions. But it was futile, because the girl apparently had a bad case of amnesia. The last thing she remembered was making a craft as a Christmas present.
They talked for a little while, and then the stranger, whose name was still unknown, brought up a subject most twitchy for Jocelyn. She asked her about Christmas. Jocelyn sighed because she was very uncomfortable talking about her apathy. But Jocelyn didn’t want to ruin the poor girl’s spirit. After all, she was lost and confused. She realized that maybe, just this once, she could celebrate Christmas again. She could celebrate it like never before. She could celebrate it out of the kindness and urging of her heart. But not much time was left — only a few hours until Christmas Eve. But Jocelyn was determined to give this girl a Christmas to remember. She told the girl to rest and used the time to begin carrying out the plan she had made in her head.
When everything was ready, Jocelyn woke up the girl by lightly ringing some Christmas bells. With a shriek of excitement, the girl jumped up and examined the festively decorated cabin. Pine was crested around vases and pots, small bells were hanging from string around the window, and the smell of fresh cookies was in the air. Jocelyn had used the woods as a resource for her decorations and made the cookies from stream water and flour grain, which she then baked over the fireplace. They sat in front of the fire and didn’t feel like strangers at all. As they munched on the crisp cookies, the girl began singing. After a few verses, Jocelyn joined in, and both of them started prancing around the house singing the sweet melody of a song that the stranger distinctly remembered.
“Sing sweetly in the snow. Let heaven guide you in. Let everybody know where you have been …”
The tunes filled the house, and the girl swung open the door and danced around in the snow. Jocelyn joined her, and soon they were spinning and twirling and falling. Their singing got louder and sweeter with every verse. After a while, a new voice joined in. It was a chickadee, which sat perched on a low branch of a pine tree. Joyous smiles were brought as the trio continued singing and humming. After many more hours of bliss, Jocelyn and the girl lay on a blanket in the snow and watched the stars. They looked at each other and simultaneously whispered, “Thank you,” before they both fell asleep outside.
The crackling of fire slowly woke Jocelyn. She was still tired and stayed cuddled up against the pillow that her head rested on. It was so warm and cozy, she never wanted to leave. That’s when Jocelyn realized something.
The wood had run out last night when she used it for the cookies. In fact, she didn’t even remember going inside last night. Startled and confused, she sat up and looked around. She was alone in her cabin, and sure enough, the glowing embers were jumping out of the fireplace and warming up the room. She looked over her shoulder where something was poking her arm. An enormous pine tree towered over a pile of nicely wrapped boxes with bows. She climbed over the edge of the couch and peeked at a tag that was sticking out of one of the boxes.
It read: Sing sweetly in the snow. Let heaven guide you in. Let everybody know where you have been …

Honorable Mention
A Time to Love, Share & Give
by Kendall DeFranco, 13

When someone talks about the winter holiday, thousands of words come to my mind. But the one that sticks out the most is Christmas. Not only do you spend time with family, but you also rejoice the day of Jesus’ birthday. That’s why Dec. 25th is a brilliant day in my heart.
To begin with, you get to spend the day with your family. It means a tremendous amount to me to be able to do that, because my family’s tight schedules are hectic! In addition to hanging out with family, you also see the joy that gifts bring to them and the huge smiles that fill their faces.
Christmas is the day of Jesus’ birth. A day that is extremely special to Catholic people like me. During Christmastime, my family and I donate gifts to the less fortunate to remind ourselves it is a time of giving, not wanting. It melts my heart when I witness children holding presents in their hands when usually they could go hours upon days without enough to eat.
This winter holiday makes everyone merrier. Trees go up, Christmas lights turn on, and families build an even larger bond. When the aroma of cinnamon fills my house, it reminds me how wonderful this time of year is — not to mention the delicious cookies and gingerbread that people share with each other.
Christmas is a time to love, share and give, and that’s why this winter holiday is one of my personal favorites.

Honorable Mention
Home This Christmas
by Alyeah Gonzales, 13

Chasity looked out the window while waiting for her boyfriend’s headlights to pull into the driveway. The only thing that came to her mind was that he might not make it through the winter storm. She kept looking at the clock, thinking that he should be here by now, safe and warm.
Chasity was waiting for Justin to come home from his tour so they could celebrate Christmas together. She looked at the clock again, and it was 10 minutes past 11 p.m. She sighed, worrying that he might not make it for Christmas. She started pacing the hallway, trying to fight the urge to call him. She could almost hear a pin drop, except for the clock on the wall. She prayed he would make it home tonight so they could settle down by the fire.
She looked for her phone, knowing she couldn’t be patient any longer. She unlocked the phone, clicked on her contacts, then clicked on Justin’s name. His phone rang a few times before he picked up.
“Hello?” Joceyln asked.
He chuckled lightly.
“Hey, princess,” he said.
She could tell he was smiling.
“Are you coming home?” she asked.
He hesitated, causing her to worry.
“Justin?” she asked, to see if he was still there.
“Yeah, princess,” he said.
“You’re coming home, right?” she asked again, nervously.
“Yeah, we just got out of traffic, sort of,” he said.
Chasity looked at the clock once again, and it was 11:58 p.m. She bit her lip.
“How far are you away from home?” she asked.
“Not far,” Justin said.
She was confused.
“W-what do you mean?” she asked, looking out the window to see if any headlights were in the driveway.
“Open the door,” he said and hung up.
She put her phone down, walked over to the door, and opened it, causing the cold breeze to hit her body. She saw Justin standing there and jumped on top of him, hugging him really tightly.
“I missed you,” she said, on the verge of crying.
“I missed you, too, princess,” he said, giving her a peck on the lips and closing the front door with his foot, not wanting to let go of the hug.
They both looked at the clock, still hugging each other, and it was midnight.
“Merry Christmas,” they both said, smiling.

Honorable Mention
An Angel Comes to the City
by Tabitha A. Eastham, adult
Forest Ridge

The snow fell to the ground. The bitter air pierced her lungs like a dagger. It was winter in the North, and as anyone living in these parts could attest, it was miserable. She had lived here for six months, so she hadn’t quite become accustomed to the regular hustle and bustle of the city during the Christmas season. People with packages nestled under their arms and anger written all over their faces were scurrying to and fro. Even though she hadn’t lived here long, she had lived here long enough to know that the inhabitants of this place seemed rude and unfeeling. Why had she left the countryside with all its warmth and friendliness? The answer to this question she would never understand. What she did know was that she had accepted a position here working with the local newspaper, and she was trying to make it work.
Days passed, and Christmas was quickly approaching. The city was set to have a local tree-lighting festival in the park. Based on the horrid display of behaviors she had seen leading up to the peak of the Christmas season, she could only imagine how anticlimactic this particular festival would be. It seemed as if the city’s adults were too busy to celebrate Christmas, and the children were not the least bit excited about the impending arrival of Santa Claus.
This way of life was unfamiliar to her, as she grew up in the countryside, where Christmas meant the world to its residents. She was accustomed to Christmas caroling, parties, gift exchanges, pageants, community dinners, etc. The people of this big city seemed to act as if Christmas wasn’t coming. She was bewildered at their conduct. How could anyone not love Christmas? How could anyone not appreciate all its beauty, wonder and majesty?
Finally, the night before the annual tree-lighting contest arrived. She had not, however, seen any evidence of the city’s preparation for this big event. No Christmas lights were strung throughout the city, no holly leaves were placed anywhere, and absolutely no Christmas trees were in position, except for the huge, bare evergreen tree that sat in the middle of the city park. What were these people thinking? Had they no idea what it was like to truly celebrate Christmas? How were they possibly going to have a tree-lighting festival under these circumstances? She decided that desperate times called for desperate measures.
That evening, while all of the city was sleeping, she set out for the city park. In her arms she carried bags upon bags of old homemade holiday decorations, strings of old Christmas lights, and other festive items. When she reached the park, she stood before the giant, unadorned tree. Well, unadorned in the sense that it only had one unlit strand of Christmas lights hanging from its limbs. She marveled at its unmistakable need for an intervention.
Opening her bags, she began to work quickly. There happened to be an industrial ladder already propped up against the tree, which made her work much easier. For hours, she hung decoration after decoration and strung light after light. The last decoration, an heirloom raggedy angel her mother gave her, was placed on the tree as the city clock was ready to strike 3 a.m. She knew that she must make haste, for the city would soon begin to awaken. Before she left the park, she stood back and admired her work. Even though the tree wasn’t yet lit, she could see its beauty radiating from its crown all the way down to its base. She had done well!
As people awakened from their nightly slumber and prepared for the day’s work, they couldn’t help but notice the well-decorated Christmas tree in the park. The gossip around town was that someone had decorated the tree in the middle of the night, but no one knew who did it. There was speculation. There were rumors. When it came down to it, however, no one really knew the truth. After hearing all the clamor about the city, she couldn’t tell whether the people were happy that the tree was decorated or angry that it was done without their permission.
As 6:30 p.m. rolled around and the annual tree-lighting festival was set to begin at 7 p.m., residents began to file into the park, waiting for the moment when the tree would be lit. As the mayor approached the tree with the intention of plugging it in, he stopped and addressed the audience.
“Before I light this tree, I think that we have all learned something from the events of today,” he said. “I have never heard more talk about Christmas and more excitement about tonight’s festivities than I have today. Whoever the individual was who decorated our tree has shown us something great. Christmas is special. It is something that should be relished and celebrated.
“For as long as I can remember, this town has ignored the holiday’s existence. For us, it was just another day to muddle through. What we hadn’t realized was what we’ve been missing. The joy and intrigue I’ve seen in each of your eyes today has made me realize that things must change!”
With that, the plug was inserted, and the tree lit up in a flash. The residents gasped and stood in amazement of the glorious spectacle.
She couldn’t help but smile as she saw her mother’s angel smiling down from atop the tree.

Honorable Mention
Give to the World
by Nicholas Gore, 13
Winter Garden

“Ho, ho, ho — merry Christmas” is a phrase every child loves to hear, but 42 percent of the world’s kids don’t have the pleasure of hearing it.
I believe we, the people, should go out into the world and help these children in need. There are many things we can do to help. Just one person doing this would start a chain reaction, where more people would join in. So come on; you can be the one to step up.
Because there are so many things to do, you can’t say you can’t help. One thing you can do is buy toys, put them in a box, and ship them to kids in Third World countries. You can buy canned and dry food and give them to a family in need. You also can donate money to help with everyday things. Just help — it’s as easy as that.
There are other easier things you can do to help.
There is a charity called Operation Christmas Child, which sent out 1 million boxes to children last year. You can send money to the charity to help pay to mail out these boxes. You can go to one of their donation centers and donate toys. You can even volunteer with this organization to help those in need. It doesn’t cost anything but a little time, so what are you waiting for?
To finalize, there is one big thing you can do. Pray for the ones who are in need of help. Pray for everyone in the world to have a good Christmas. Don’t believe there is a limit to what you can pray about, because there is not. This also doesn’t cost you a penny. God says prayers are always answered. The world needs your help.
While you help, think about those 42 percent of children who don’t get the pleasure of hearing Santa’s voice or opening presents. Show the world that you care about other people, not just yourself.
Love the world like you love yourself. Don’t think that there is no one deeply suffering. Christmas is a time for giving, not receiving. This is also the time of year to spend with your family and friends.

Honorable Mention
The Big Red Box
by A.J. Ortiz, 12
Carriage Pointe

In the little town of Tupeloville lived Amy Bened, a curious 7-year-old who loved Christmas. Around Christmastime, Amy woke early every morning to count how many presents were under the Christmas tree. She loved to compare how many gifts she and her brother and sisters got, and how big they were.
Her siblings, Veronica, Brittany and Donnie, at ages 13, 14 and 8, loved to prank their little sister. They’d scare her, trick her, and even do that to their parents.
One day, Amy woke up early as usual to do her daily present count, and she saw a big red box under the tree. She quickly ran to the humongous gift to see who it was for. When Amy saw that it was for her, she couldn’t believe her eyes! She was so excited she screamed, and the whole family woke up. Her siblings asked where the big red box came from, but nobody knew. Amy was too thrilled about it to care where it came from. Every day, she invited the children in their neighborhood to her house just to brag about her big red present.
Finally, it was Christmas Eve, and Amy couldn’t wait to see what was in the big red box. She had been dying to know ever since she saw the present. She was so excited, she even didn’t notice if her siblings were jealous of the box that had randomly appeared under their Christmas tree.
But before anyone could open any presents, the Beneds had a tradition of waiting for Grandma. The only problem was that she lived in the big city of Sobranie, which was nearly an hour-and-a-half away. Amy thought about taking her big red present to her bedroom while her parents and siblings were distracted, opening it, playing with it, putting it back into the box, and taping it back together again. Then she thought it over and decided not to, because she wasn’t good at doing anything with tape except making a huge mess.
When Grandma finally arrived, she was hungry and wanted to eat some of Mom’s special smoked, maple-syrup-covered Christmas ham before playing Santa and opening presents.
Poor little Amy had all her excitement flushed down the drain when Grandma said, “I’m starved. Can we have some of your mother’s ham before opening the gifts?”
Amy, being desperate to open the presents, swallowed all of her food in about three minutes, while Grandma took about an hour to finish.
When everyone, including Grandma, was stuffed, Grandma felt tired and decided that it would be best to open presents the next morning on Christmas Day. Amy was very angry but content with Grandma’s decision. She was angry at her for delaying the opening of the presents but happy because it was 11 p.m., and she was tired and ready to go to bed.
The next morning, she woke at 6:41 a.m., and the last person to wake up, Veronica, woke up at 8:52 a.m. One of the family rules was that they could not open gifts until everyone was awake and ready to participate.
After Veronica woke, Amy ran as fast as she could to the tree and asked, “Can I be the first one to open a present? I’ll open this one!”
She was about to open the big red box that she had been dreaming about opening for the past two weeks when Dad said, “Not yet, honey. We need to have breakfast first.”
Amy immediately became depressed and ate her breakfast. Amazingly, this time Grandma was the first one to finish eating, while Brittany was the last.
When Grandma sat in the Santa chair, everyone knew it was time to open gifts. Grandma chose Donnie to be her little elf. He gave Grandma every present that was under the Christmas tree before giving her the big red box.
When Grandma handed Amy her big red box, Amy was too excited to notice that Veronica, Brittany and Donnie were snickering behind her back. Amy ripped open her box greedily, as if she was a robber stealing a priceless vase from its case.
She opened the box and was surprised and dumbfounded to find out that her big red box only contained tons of newspaper, an old battery, a couple of rocks, and a shattered doll.
Suddenly, Veronica, Brittany and Donnie burst out laughing, making fun of Amy as she cried her eyes out. After a few moments, the trio confessed that they were behind it all.
Amy cried throughout the rest of Christmas Day. The next day, all the neighborhood kids came over to the Beneds’ house and asked Amy what had been in the big red box.
When she showed them, the neighborhood children couldn’t stop laughing hysterically. But all the embarrassment taught Amy a valuable lesson: Christmas is not about gifts but about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Even though getting presents is cool, that’s not why we celebrate Christmas. Even if you only receive one present, appreciate it and be thankful for what you have gotten.

Honorable Mention
My “Thanksgivukkah”
by Sydney Kaufman, 11
Cypress Creek

Usually the smell of pine needles wafts through our home when we go about the ritual of lighting the Hanukkah menorah. But Hanukkah began on Thanksgiving this year. So that meant crusty leaves instead of snow, and Tom Turkey instead of Jack Frost.
It’s mighty unusual for the first night of the festive Hanukkah to fall on the most American of holidays. A so-called “Thanksgivukkah” hasn’t happened since the Civil War in 1863. It won’t occur again until long after we are all dead! There have been many news stories written about this strange and exciting combination of holidays, but this is mine.
This Thanksgivukkah was my first Turkey Day with my Jewish grandmother, Grammy Sue. My dad always said she was an amazing cook! Lucky us! We broke in a brand-new kitchen, too.
Grammy Sue helped to infuse our Thanksgiving Day menu with Jewish fare. We had sweet potato latke instead of mashed potatoes, green bean kugel, stuffing made with challah, doughnut holes filled with cranberry sauce, chocolate gelt and pumpkin kugel for dessert. Jews can never have too much Hanukkah kugel!
We didn’t wear Thanksgivukkah T-shirts, light a turkey-shaped menorah (menurky), or watch the giant dreidel make its way down 34th Street in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Instead we made unique memories, including a fun time in the kitchen, and showed off our Scrabble skills by the fire … once my dad figured out how to actually light the new fireplace. (I didn’t think it was going to happen.)
It might not have been the fanciest celebration, but it was one I am thankful for. Because we were all together — honoring the Hanukkah commandment and knowing what we are most grateful for is each other.

Honorable Mention
A Christmas I’ll Never Forget
by Story Phillips, 13
Winter Garden

I hadn’t planned on spending my Christmas break in the hospital, but that’s just how it worked out. Christmas is on Friday this year, and I have been here since Tuesday night. My plans had been ruined at my friend’s Christmas party when an unexpected visitor made an appearance.
My friend Katie and I rode our bikes to Jane’s house for her Christmas party. We had been waiting for this night for more than a week. There were balloons on her mailbox, and we heard Christmas music because of the open door. Katie told me how excited she was as we dropped our bikes outside the garage door.
We had been gone for about an hour when I heard my phone ring. I answered it, but it was loud inside, so I stepped out the back door for some privacy. It was my mom, just checking on me as moms do. I started to ask her what time she wanted me home and went to sit down on a little bench outside, but I stopped when I felt something underneath me. It felt like a really thick rope, so I just scooted it out of the way. That was the worst mistake I could have made!
The rope was actually a snake, but once it hit me, it was too late. The snake bit my hand, and I screamed. I fell off the bench and felt helpless because I couldn’t reach my phone. I could hear my mom trying to talk to me, but I was too worried about where the snake went. My energy left me, and I was too weak to try to call for Jane or Katie. As I began to feel the pain in my hand, I was overcome with so much of it that I blacked out.
When I woke up, I was surrounded by white — white walls, white blankets, white flooring. Tubes came in and out of me, monitors beeped and there was a great pain in my hand. It was overwhelming as I tried to take it all in. A woman, I’m guessing a nurse, walked in and seemed startled to find me awake.
“Story,” she said, smiling, “How are you feeling?”
“Where am I?” I asked, ignoring her question.
“You’re in the hospital. Don’t you remember?”
“No,” I said. “What day is it?”
“The 23rd of December, why?” she asked.
“So I missed Jane’s party?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “The party stopped when the paramedics came, dear.”
All I could do was feel sorry for Jane. She had been planning that party for weeks, and I had ruined it.
The nurse left me alone for a bit, and then she came back with a doctor.
“Hi, I’m Dr. Jones,” he said. “I heard you were bit by a snake last night.”
“I guess so,” I replied.
“There are some people outside who want to see you,” he said.
“Me?” I asked. “I wasn’t expecting visitors.”
“Well, they’ve been here since last night, so they must be really close to you,” the doctor said matter-of-factly.
“Surprise!” said Katie, Jane and my other friends as they all crowded into my room.
“What is this?” I asked, a smile growing across my face.
“We wanted to make sure you remembered this Christmas,” Jane said, grinning.
“Trust me,” I said, “I will!”

Honorable Mention
A Lesson Learned
by Monica Decker, 9
Orange Tree

I woke up one morning and looked outside. White crystal flakes were falling, and snow was already up to my window. I had a feeling my mom was going to say, “No school for two days.”
Guess what? That’s exactly what she told me!
“Mia, your pancakes are ready,” Mom said.
I ran downstairs to eat. I gobbled them up as fast as I could so I could play in the snow. I put on my brown boots, yellow-and-white polka-dot scarf, toasty-warm pink jacket, blue hat and yellow gloves. I was ready to go!
I went outside where my brother and sisters were already playing. My older sister, Chloe, thought we should have a sled race. We all thought it was a good idea, except my 5-year-old brother, Jake, so he cheered us on.
“One, two, three, go!” he said.
We went as fast as we could.
“Go, Annie! Go, Chloe! Go, Mia!” Jake said.
Then I heard crying. It was Annie. She had twisted her ankle. No one knew she was hurt except me. Should I keep trying to win the race or help her? I wanted to win so badly, I pretended not to know that she was hurt. I went faster than ever, hoping to pass Chloe. I beat her by an inch.
“I won!” I hollered.
Then I ran to Annie. She was still crying and wondered why I hadn’t come sooner. Jake went to get my parents. Mom and Dad were worried. They carried Annie back to the house and took care of her.
No one was allowed to go outside anymore. I was so mad that Annie got hurt. For the next two days, Annie got all the attention. I was beginning to think that being at school would be better than being at home.
Finally, my mom said we could do something fun to cheer up Annie, so I was fine with that. We went to the mall to see Santa.
Annie sat down with him first, of course. She took a long time. At last, it was my turn.
What? Santa knew all about what had happened! He even knew how I pretended not to know that Annie hurt herself. I thought it would be fun to sit on Santa’s lap. Now I found out that I was going to only get coal for Christmas if I didn’t stop thinking about just myself. I only asked for one thing because Santa talked to me for so long. I was dreaming about getting a Ballet Barbie, but I really wanted more presents, so I made hot cocoa for Annie.
On Christmas Eve, we got to decorate the tree with the whole family. My dad got the dusty brown boxes of ornaments out of the attic. I dug out the snowman I made in art class last year.
When we came to the last box, there was only one thing inside. It was the carefully wrapped bright, yellow, shiny star.
This year, my little sister was supposed to put it up. Since Annie was hurt, she chose me to do it for her. She also told me she wanted me to, because I had won the race.
I felt awkward and ashamed. When I started to climb the ladder to place the star up high, I began to cry. I told everyone the truth about the race. I said I was sorry and ran to my room.
A few minutes later, Annie came into my room and forgave me. She asked if I wanted to put the star on the tree with her, and I said, “That would be great.”
My dad lifted her up, and I went up the ladder. I got one end of the star, and she got the other, and we hooked it on the tree. The star lit up and made me feel like a better person. I was so glad I had apologized.
Before I went to bed, I decided to make Annie a quick gift. I made her a get-well card and snow globe. I couldn’t wait to see her expression.
I knew the next day would be the best Christmas ever. I was beginning to learn what the season was all about.

Honorable Mention
Ho, Ho, Hope!
by Larry Davis, 11
Sanctuary at Bay Hill

Hello! My name is Hope. My mother gave me this name because I was born on Christmas Eve. Ever since I could walk and talk, I’ve had a lot of unusual presents, like a grappling gun, a set of walkie-talkies, and infrared goggles. My little sister always mopes around when I receive more presents than her. However, my older sister doesn’t care.
You see, my older sister doesn’t believe in Christmas. And thanks to her, I got into a colossal mess covered in red and white. One Christmas Eve, I was about to hop into my bed when I saw a red, white and green manila envelope resting under my comforter. I picked it up and ripped it open.
It read: Congratulations! You have been selected to go on a luxurious vacation to the North Pole! Please press button for immediate transport.
The letter had a bright-green button that pulsed softly and slowly. I lightly tapped my finger against the button.
I was sucked into a red, white and green portal that had Jingle Bells playing in the background. I went into an intricate routine of back flips, corkscrews and pirouettes, all the while feeling two cups of eggnog rising in my stomach. I was about to toss my cookies, when — whump — I landed on something furry and warm.
A reindeer, I thought. What’s a reindeer doing in Colorado?
All of a sudden, the cold washed over me. I would’ve frozen to death if it weren’t for a fluffy-suited guy sitting in a sleigh.
A chorus of “Ho, ho, ho,” greeted me as I was pulled onto the red-and-white contraption.
“Santa Claus!” I cried with joy.
It was him, belly like a bowl full o’jelly and all!
Although he probably wanted to get to know me, he had to maintain complete control of his sleigh. He was cruising along when he swerved toward an iceberg.
This is the end, I thought.
I assumed the crash position — head between legs. Just as we were about to hit the iceberg, the surface opened a crack in the ice.
“You like my security system?” Santa asked.
I was too stunned to reply. Stretching out in front of me was a utopia of ice, snow and candy canes. The sleigh landed, and Santa and I were sent to the briefing room.
The briefing room was filled with Apple computers and people working. Taking a look at their ears, I saw they were elves!
An elf name Wicket scurried up and started the briefing.
“Hope Adams, you have been chosen to participate in IBINB, aka Instilling Belief in Non-Believers,” he said. “Do you, Hope Adams, swear to promote belief in Christmas and keep it our secret?”
“I do,” I said.
“Then welcome to IBINB,” Wicket said.
Then I received my first mission.
“Your sister is a non-believer,” Santa began. (That wasn’t a surprise — she had openly despised Christmas since she turned 13.) “Your mission is to convince her to believe in the Christmas spirit. We wish you luck.”
I headed to the changing room to get dressed for the part. After I put on Santa-style clothing, I headed to the SledJet hangar. Hundreds of elves milled about, monitoring various parts of the SledJets. I hopped into the passenger seat of the one that had an elf pilot in the cockpit. We took off and rocketed to my house. In exactly 2.145263 minutes, we were there. I took the specially designed mind present and descended through the chimney. I placed the package on my sister’s head and let the elf magic do its work. I quietly tiptoed out of the room, watched out for the creaky floorboard, and went to sleep. Those spy gadgets had helped me train for this moment!
The next day, the Christmas tree had an abundance of presents underneath its pine needles. We rushed to the tree. My sister seemed different. She tore off the wrapping paper from her presents with profound glee and gasped when she saw her gifts.
She had been changed forever by the magic of Christmas.
Honorable Mention
My Christmas Traditions
by Yvonne Le, 9
My family is one of the many that celebrate the wonderful holiday of Christmas. Every year I participate in many activities with my grandparents, parents, uncles and aunt. During the Christmas holidays, it is a time to show each other we care. We also have important traditions.
One tradition we have is to purchase our Christmas tree on the first day of December. I love, love, love to shop for a tree! The spicy pine scent dances up my nose once I set foot in the spectacular garden of Walmart. When we finally get the tree in our living room, we hang ornaments as glass as diamonds on the branches of the green pine statue. My dad places me on his shoulders, and I hold a luminous star in my ice-cold hands. I settle the star on a straight, clingy branch at the top. Then we wrap a fake white blanket around the trunk like a scarf. We place nine reindeer plush toys surrounding the bottom of the tree like they’re marching around it. Finally, the masterpiece is finished.
Another tradition I take part in is making Santa Claus a snack. We never, never, never buy pre-made ingredients. Instead, we usually buy milk, truffles and chocolate-chip cookie dough. First, we mix the chocolate brownie truffles and creamy milk with a spoon until they are as smooth as whipped cream. Next, Dad heats it up on the stove. When it’s done, we sprinkle a dash of sugar in it and pour it into a mug. Then we make cookies. Dad slices the tube of dough into flat, circular pieces. After that, I flatten them with my hands. Next, we plop the pan into the oven to bake. During that time, I take out nine baby carrots for Santa’s reindeer. We gather everything together and put the carrots and cookies on a single plate with the mug of hot chocolate by its side.
Finally, it’s present time! Beautifully wrapped gifts call, “open me, open me.” Somehow my relatives know what I yearn for without me saying it aloud. For example, one year my aunt and uncles bought me a toy hair-salon set. I spend hours brushing and curling my doll’s hair.
Christmas Day makes me jump for joy! I remember one Christmas I received my chihuahua, Max, from Santa Claus. He is golden brown like toast and has black eyes as big as yoga balls.
I hope all these wonderful traditions go on for years. I feel safe and warm when my family is gathered together showing their love and support. Christmas is my favorite holiday.

Honorable Mention
Journey to Christmas
by Jordan Kocarek, 11
Emerald Forest

What does it mean when someone says the “true meaning of Christmas?” Do they mean the definition? Do they mean the presents or decorations? I decided that I wanted to know, and if no one would tell me, then fine; I’d find out myself.
I started off deciding where to go. As I looked through maps and on the Internet, I found a place called Christmas, Fla. Well, where else would I look? So my journey to Christmas began that day.
As I walked down the familiar streets of my community, I realized that I didn’t exactly know where to go. So I took out my phone and checked my GPS. I guess I was supposed to go north. I turned around and continued my mission. I walked block after block until it was too dark to see. I laid down on a bench, relaxed and went to sleep.
I woke up the next day, forgetting where I was and what I was doing there until I remembered my quest. It was Christmas Eve, and it was a quandary deciding if I should go back with my family or really find the answer to this mystery. After some pondering, I decided I needed to figure this out, so I followed my directions and kept going. After a few blocks, I started shivering and looked up. It was gray and gloomy and about to rain.
“Awesome,” I mumbled to myself as I felt the first drop fall on my face.
A lady walked by and saw me soaked from the tip of my head to my old shoes. A look of pity fell on her face, and she gave me her coat.
As she walked away, she said, “Merry Christmas!”
Before I had a chance to thank her, she disappeared into the rain.
I put on the coat and threw the hood over my head. It was really nice of her to do that, but why?
After it started to rain harder, I decided to go into a cafe for cover. The lady at the counter came up to me and asked how many people were in my party. I explained that I was searching for the true meaning of Christmas. She gave me a crooked smile, seated me at a little table, handed me a menu, and walked away. As hungry as I was, I didn’t have any money. I couldn’t eat there! The waitress wouldn’t let me leave and made me eat what I ordered. It’s not that I didn’t want to. I just didn’t want to have a bill sent to my house.
After I finished my food, the lady came to me and said, “Thanks for coming. Come again. Oh, and merry Christmas.”
Then she left.
But I didn’t pay for my food. I went to the hostess and asked her about this. She said the restaurant paid for it. I was so confused. That was the second nice thing someone did for me that day.
I started to walk again, and as I neared the town of Christmas, I saw a little park where they were holding a winter event. It looked like a lot of fun, but I decided to watch from afar. I noticed there was a Help the Homeless drive going on. There was a box filled with toys, canned food and clothing. A man came up to me with a box of things. He looked at the homeless drive box and then at me. He looked down at my shoes and pulled out a brand-new pair of sneakers. He tossed them to me, and I stared in awe at the perfect shoes. He nodded, smiled and walked away like nothing had happened.
“Thank you!” I shouted to him as I slipped the shoes on and ran around the grass.
They were amazing! I started walking again, and as my list of directions shortened, I got more and more excited about finding the true meaning of Christmas.
I walked another block or two, and I finally found a beautiful sign that read Merry Christmas — From the Citizens of Christmas.
I couldn’t have been more relieved. I fell back onto a park bench and stared up at the big Christmas tree. It was lit up, and I’d never seen anything so ornate and beautiful before. People were running up and down the streets with bags and last-minute food items for tomorrow’s Christmas dinner. It was getting late, so I laid down on a new park bench and stared at the activity like it was a TV show. Everything seemed so perfect. Then I jerked back up. Is that the true meaning of Christmas? All the crazy activity? I went to sleep and decided I’d figure it out tomorrow.
I woke up Christmas morning with a blanket draped over me; no wonder I slept so well. I took a look around and saw all the happy families. I sat back and closed my eyes.
After only a few seconds, I didn’t have to think about the true meaning of Christmas anymore. I realized it’s not about the dictionary definition; it’s not about the decorations; it’s not about opening presents Christmas morning. It’s about giving the gift of happiness to someone else. Whether it’s food, a blanket, new shoes or a new coat, everyone helped me out as much as they could. Even if it’s just getting in the spirit, doing a random act of kindness, or getting your sister a present she’ll enjoy, it’s all about making someone else a little bit happier and enjoying that feeling.
Christmas isn’t about the winter season; it’s about love.

Honorable Mention
Lieutenant Brookline
by Jeanette Gu, 11
Bay Hill

When Lindsey woke up this morning, she felt fine, except she had not gotten most of her sleep hours. But she would have never been able to imagine the news that came for her family that bleak, wintry morning — inconveniently, one week before her favorite holiday, Christmas.
She yanked a comb through her tangled brown hair. Giving up this everyday
nuisance, Lindsey plopped down on her bed and glared up at the wooden bunk where her sister slept. Loud snores came from it all night, and she knew that she would be incredibly cranky today. Hopping off her bed, she passed the full-length mirror her vain sister kept. Lindsey turned at the sudden resemblance of her beloved father. She had the same small nose, same mouth, same ears, and those startlingly green eyes. The only thing different was their hair. Lindsey had the wavy brown hair of her mother, while he had short, curly black hair. Her father had left her family two years ago to join the army. Five months ago, he abruptly stopped the flow of letters and notes and was rumored to be lost on a mission. This made Lindsey incredibly sad, and she had long decided to try to be strong for her mother.
Suddenly, a banging erupted on their door. It was like someone trying to shoot firecrackers into their home. Her mother inched open the door as Lindsey bounded down the crude wooden staircase. A trio of men were standing on the step.
“Mrs. Brookline,” said one of the men.
Her mom drew in a deep breath. Lindsey took in the crisp official uniforms and the official-looking badges. She looked closer at the badges and read the words USA Military. This was no pleasant visit, she thought.
“There has been tragic news, Mrs. Brookline,” spoke the same man. “Your husband, Lt. Brookline, has gone missing in a raid. We have not found him yet, but somehow he has managed to send a telegram to us.”
With that being said, the official pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket. At this point, her mom had become so overwhelmed that she rushed away to a different part of the cabin while sobbing hysterically. Rather flustered, the man handed the slip of paper to Lindsey.
Taking the paper, Lindsey read it through carefully: Airplane crash. Stop. All right. Stop. Home for Christmas. Stop. Lt. Brookline. Stop.
“We must go now,” said the man apologetically. Tipping his hat, he and his comrades vanished through the snow. Lindsey finally felt something she hated the most. She felt nothing.
Lindsey’s next few days were spent in silence. She would do what others wanted her to do, but nothing more and nothing less. When Christmas finally came, she locked herself in her room and stared through the window at the bleak, dismal landscape. For the first time ever, Lindsey was not down at the fireplace hooking ornaments onto the Christmas tree with her brother and sisters. For the first time ever, Lindsey was not excited that it was Christmas Eve and that she would be receiving delightful presents tomorrow. As the day came to an end, Lindsey felt herself slipping more and more away from the conscious world.
Suddenly the lock to the door clicked, and the door burst open. Striding in, covered from head to toe in pine needles, was her older sister, Madeline.
“Lindsey!” Madeline burst out. “Where have you been hiding all day? Also, why are you moping around? It’s Christmas Eve!”
Lindsey could not bring herself to confide in her sister what had been bothering her all week. That night, Lindsey lay awake in her bed, struggling with her consciousness. She dreaded the next day. After all these months of dealing with her father’s absence, how could she believe that he would appear on their front doorstep and on her favorite holiday as well? It was too much to take in. She had settled into the belief that her father was gone forever, and that was that.
Lindsey fell into a fretful sleep that was loaded with thoughts. The next day, while her siblings flew downstairs to compare presents, Lindsey dressed slowly and deliberately. By the time everyone was gathered downstairs, she was still meandering down the hallway. Suddenly a knock sounded on the door. Lindsey could not really remember how she got down the stairs. Nor could she remember if she opened the door. But she did remember that her father held his arms out to her. She did remember the feeling of them wrapped around her. And Lindsey remembered one last thing: The sleigh bells were beginning to ring.
This time, when Lindsey met up with her father after a heart-wrenching separation, it was on her favorite holiday — Christmas. The happiness she felt was remarkable, and this time was special to her every year. Lt. Brookline was her favorite present on any Christmas she ever experienced.

Honorable Mention
The Full Christmas Morning
by Alyssa DeHart, 11
Westover Reserve

It’s early Christmas morning, and fresh, flakelike snow is falling. Christmas excitement is in the frosty air. The smell of a fresh pine Christmas tree floats up the wooden stairs and seeps through a small crack in my bedroom door. As I open my bright blue eyes, the aroma of tasty sprinkled Christmas cookies fills my nose.
“Christmas,” I said, a little louder than expected.
As I ran down to my brother’s bedroom in my long-sleeved penguin pajamas, the pitter-patter of my quick feet across the dark-brown wooden floors made little noise.
Suddenly I burst through the white doors and said in a booming voice, “It’s Christmas! Snow is falling! Christmas, excitement glowing.”
“All right, I’m up!” my brother said as he arose from a mound of blankets.
While he climbed out of bed with a grin on his face, I kept improving my Christmas carol.
“Let’s go and wake Mom and Dad,” I said as I dashed out of the room toward the stairs.
Suddenly my brother Paul and I were in a race to wake up my parents first.
As we ran through the doors, breath all gone, we said, shaking from excitement, “Merry Christmas!”
My brother and I launched our bodies over the bedspread and landed at the foot of the massive bed. My mom shot straight up in bed and, a little quieter, said, “Good morning!”
“Dad,” my brother and I said in unison.
He was ready for the morning.
“Baby’s first Christmas!” we all yelled.
Together we all climbed out of the beautiful bed covered in a mountain of bedsheets, covers, Christmas blankets and fuzzy blankets. It was a very cozy blanket ball.
Paying no attention to the messy bed, we strolled over to the baby nursery covered in pink and green birds. Suddenly we were all looking over the wonderful white arched crib. Riley, my baby sister, was looking adorable in her Christmas pajamas. She looked very warm and ready to snuggle. My mom scooped her up and walked to the kitchen for breakfast as we all followed her.
As quickly as a running bull, my family had a feast of breakfast ingredients all over the counter. Like usual, my family was making cinnamon rolls, since it was a family tradition. Within minutes, we were pulling the perfectly soft dough out of the container. Being careful, we put the tray in the oven. During the 15 minutes it was cooking, we poured four glasses of orange juice and cut up bananas. Finally, the timer dinged, and we sat down to eat.
This is my family Christmas morning, and the way I love it. Every year we share our traditions as a family.

Honorable Mention
My Favorite Present
by Jayson Pietz, 12
Southwest Orlando

It was 2010. My family loved pets. Over the years we have had cats, dogs, crabs, birds, lots of animals. But we thought it was time to get a new pet.
December was surprisingly cold for Florida’s standards that year, and that might have been part of the reason why we got this pet: it loved the cold. My mom took us to the pet store next to where we got our haircuts and let us look at dogs for fun. We didn’t really think we would get one.
The workers let us in the playpens with the dogs, and we got to interact with each one to see if we liked it. One stood out more than the others, though — a Siberian husky. Her eyes were as blue as the sky, and her fur was as soft as a blanket. She was beautiful. After a while with her, we went home. We didn’t think we would see that husky ever again.
Christmas was right around the corner, and we had our lists ready. We all had our share of unique stuff, but somehow, on each and every one of our lists, we put “dog.” After being with the husky that day, we were envious of whomever purchased her.
When Christmas came along, all was good. We opened our presents and got mainly what we wanted. Then our mom said she was going to the grocery store and told us to play with our new gifts until she got back. We waited and played.
Suddenly we heard a scratching on the door. My brother, sister and I all exchanged a curious look, and we ran to the door simultaneously. We slowly inched the door open, and then wham! A big, fluffy ball of energy tackled me to the ground and started licking my face, then went and showed some love to my brother and sister. Earlier we all thought we would get everything on our lists except for this one, but my mom always pulled through. We took the energetic puppy to the backyard and played with her for the next few hours.
Somehow my mom always managed to do whatever she could to make me and my siblings happy. This dog was one of the last presents my mom ever gave us before she passed away. Sometimes I feel like that husky might miss my mother just as much as I do. Even to this day, Willow’s eyes are as blue as the sky, and her fur is as soft as a blanket.

Honorable Mention
Santa & Me
by Anna Mason, 11
Windermere Downs

On Dec. 23 at 4:32 p.m., snow was falling down like a white hail storm. I looked outside the window and wished it would snow like this on Christmas day.
“Honey! Can you help set up the tree?” my mom said with an annoyed look.
I rushed down the stairs to help. My dad was already climbing up the attic ladder to get the Christmas lights. After he came down, we all pulled out some lights and wrapped them around the tree. It took one hour, but it turned out spectacularly. They were so pretty, it looked like there were one thousand Rudolph noses in our living room!
“Yes, it’s Christmas already!” I said while leaping in the air.
“OK! Let’s get to bed. We can wake up, and it will be Christmas Eve!” my dad exclaimed to me and my sisters.
“OK, Dad, we’ll be right there!” I said with joy.
My sisters and I hopped right into bed and fell right to sleep. I woke up to a nice-smelling room that smelled of gingerbread cookies.
“Yes, my favorite!” I jumped right out of my bed and bolted down the stairs. When I got downstairs, everybody was already eating breakfast without me.
“Really? I wait for you guys all the time!” I exclaimed, tearing up.
“Well, too bad!” they all said in unison.
I gobbled up seven gingerbread cookies. I ran upstairs and looked at the time.
“Only seven more hours till Christmas!”
While we waited, we read The Night Before Christmas about 20 times. When we finished our 20th time reading it, it was our bedtime.
“I can’t go to bed!” I exclaimed. “Anna, it is only 2 o’clock.”
Thump! Something was definitely there. I got out of bed, crept into the living room, and peeked out to see what it was. I looked around, and then I saw it. It was … Santa Claus!
I walked over to him and … creak! … the flooring! He saw me!
Uh oh, I thought.
“Come here, Anna,” Santa said.
I walked slowly over to him.
“What did you want for Christmas?” he asked.
I thought for a while. Oh my gosh! Santa was actually talking to me!
“Um … I guess … an … art set?!”
“Good! I got you that,” Santa said while grabbing a cookie.
I looked at all the presents. There it was, marked Anna Mason. When I looked back, he was gone in a flash.
“Where did he go?”
I went back to bed. When I woke up, I just smiled the whole day. Nobody understood!

Honorable Mention
The True Meaning of Christmas
by Ruth Pierre, 10
Oak Forest

Once upon a time, there was a teenage girl named Rosette Anne Golden. When she was a little girl, she loved Christmas because of its true meaning: to be able to spend time with family and friends, and to celebrate the birth of Christ.
Her family did not own much, just a small house with two bedrooms. She had two younger brothers, one older sister and a baby on the way. At the time, Rosette was 14.
On Christmas Eve, Rosette was thinking about how throughout the years she heard that Christmas was all about toys, gifts and money. She’d heard so much that she thought it was true. So true that, during dinner, she blurted out, “All Christmas is about is toys, gifts and money.”
Her sister Alex looked up and said hurtfully, “You will regret saying that.”
And then she stormed off to her room.
A few hours later, Rosette ran into the room where Alex was.
“I’m sorry,” Rosette confessed. “I’ve been thinking about it for years and years, and I just blurted it out last-minute.”
Alex turned toward Rosette and questioned, “Do you really believe that? The meaning of Christmas has been in our family for decades. But tell me the truth.”
Rosette looked down and said, “Alex, I will tell you the truth. My answer is …”
Then they heard their dad yell, “Your mom … she’s going into la …”
Rosette knew what time it was. It was 11:50 p.m. The hospital was three minutes away. She was trying to figure out if three minutes had passed, and she was at the hospital. But a few seconds later, she opened her eyes and was in a place full of snow, buildings and elves. She turned around slowly and saw a sign that read: Welcome to the North Pole! Santa’s workshop straight ahead.
After Rosette read the sign, she dashed in the direction of the workshop, hoping that Santa could fix what she had messed up.
“Hello, Rosette!” Santa said, cheerfully. “I know why you are here. I know exactly how to fix it.”
“I … knew … I could … come … to … you,” Rosette said, breathing heavily.
“Just say ‘I believe’ until you get home,” Santa said.
Rosette followed his directions and said, “I believe. I believe. I believe … It’s not working.”
“Remember the true meaning of Christmas,” Santa said. “Try again!”
Rosette did what he said, and she was back home to hear what her father had said.
“Your mom is going into labor!”
It was still 11:50 p.m. Rosette’s new sister was born at midnight.
“I don’t need a gift for Christmas,” Rosette said. “I already have one.”

Honorable Mention
Fireworks on the 31st
by Aarsh Chokshi, 11

One out of 365 — that’s how many kids have their birthday on Dec. 31. I was that lucky person. Most people come out to watch fireworks. But when I was 6 years old, I just didn’t watch them. I set them off. I can still remember the vibrant colors and flashing lights that stuck with me for the rest of my life. That was my sixth birthday, and this is my story about it.
I loved my birthday and how unique it was. Most kids might have been out at theme parks, movies, restaurants and other places for their big day. But not me. I didn’t care about that. Instead I was satisfied with the rocky pavement and grass field. Why? It might have been because I was born on the last day of the year.
Maybe I wasn’t like other kids. But to me it had always been the fact that I had the best birthday prize of all. It was so good, I didn’t need to go anywhere. I had the birthday gift of setting fireworks off by myself! I just couldn’t resist the smoky smell and the bright colors that reminded me of a light bulb in the dark, shining everything with light.
It was my sixth birthday. I woke up to a warm and cheery happy birthday song.
“Happy birthday, Son! Today’s a big day! You’re 6 now!” my dad exclaimed.
The day flew by in a blur like good days always do. Throughout the day, I received many phone calls and congratulations. I also ate the most delicious pastry of all: cake! I savored the delicious aroma and taste of the cake. I was about to burst with pride and joy when I blew out the candles on the cake and wished a wish. But the best was yet to come.
At 8 p.m., I ran outside. I was almost ready for my favorite part of the year! We waited a few minutes, and finally it started. The first fireworks! I savored every second of watching the colorful explosions of light illuminate everything. But now came the best part! It was time to do my fireworks.
I decided to start off simple. But soon I got tired of this and started the real deal. I set one off that read Bulldog. I decided it would add a nice bang. Crack! A big boom it caused.
Next I decided to set off bigger ones. There was a flash of white so searing and intense, I was actually blinded for a few seconds. I grinned with happiness.
I cherished my time watching the fireworks create brilliant shows of light for all to see. I heard a big boom, but it wasn’t from me. I turned and, in the distance, saw a giant blaring firework that blew up and read: Happy New Year!
I sighed. Was it really midnight? That meant a new year and that my birthday was over. But I didn’t care. As far as I was concerned, at the time it still was my birthday. I was determined to make my own spectacular show of lights. Then I realized to get the biggest boom, I would have to use all the fireworks I had.
And so I ran and collected all the fireworks and a sparkler. Next I placed them in the middle of an isolated field. My brain realized that this was risky, but I didn’t care about what my brain said. Right now my heart was the thinker.
It was time now. I grabbed the sparkler and lit one of the fireworks. It would do the rest for me. I turned and ran like the wind. I turned around just in time to see all the fireworks go up in flames and then rise up and up like a bird taking flight.
It seemed as if the pavement trembled. Light went out in all directions. All the colors were seen. Red, blue, green, yellow — you name it, and it was there. The light was blinding, like a beacon in a dark room illuminating everything in its path. I smelled smoke and ashes. Little ashes came down, floating like snowflakes. The scene was so beautiful and breathtaking, I couldn’t help but touch one of the ashes that was a little red, unlike the other ashes. A searing hot pain brought me to my senses, but I was still burnt. And I still have a small burn mark on my pinky to prove it. It hurt, but I didn’t care. All this great stuff was definitely worth it for just the price of a small burn.
That day I realized something. An important thing that would burn bright in my heart like that little ash that burnt my pinky. Something that would stay safe and special in my heart. Something that would shine brightly, like a beacon in the dark. That no matter what, look to the light. And if you do this, your life will burn bright, strong and true like the fireworks that lit the night on my sixth birthday.

Honorable Mention
A Dragon’s Tear
by Daphne Moon, 10
Falcon Pointe

“Mom!” I yelled. “It’s Christmas day. Open the present Chase and I got for you.”
I rushed down the stairs and smiled. I remembered how we got her present like it was just yesterday …
“Chase, come on, we have to get Mom the present!” I whispered.
Grabbing Chase by the arm, I trudged outside, sending snow flying behind me. Suddenly, Chase pulled me back. We were here already. We were at the Dragon’s Cave, domain of Dragons. What Chase and I were about to get was a dragon tear. A dragon tear hardens right after it falls on a surface, and when it does, it is beautiful. But it is hard and dangerous to get one. Let’s hope we have what it takes.
We looked at the entrance and stepped in. Slam! A slab of ice came down, locking us in. There was no turning back now. Chase trembled beside me.
“Sis, I am scared … scared, Sis!” he hissed in terror. “That is bad. You know I’m never scared.”
“Let’s just move on. I think it’s just Fear Dragon Mist,” I squeaked.
I took one step and then another.
“It’s safe,” I snapped. “Come on!”
Then … rumble, rumble, rumble! Terrified, I screamed and broke into a sudden run. Then I realized Chase wasn’t with me. I looked back to see nothing but a wall of glistening ice.
“Chase!” I screamed in horror.
I slammed into the wall of ice, but to no avail — the wall was as hard as titanium. I gave up, stood and raced forward, unwilling to think of what had happened to him. I began to cry. Then I saw a majestic dragon standing in front of a pure gold door.
“Meet Icedeath, if you dare!” he bellowed.
I stepped in. The room was still and frigid.
“Come, my dear,” a voice boomed. “You wish to have a dragon tear … am I wrong?”
“N-n-no, Master Icedeath,” I said, quivering with fright.
“Then come here, child!” Icedeath snorted.
I tiptoed to the light in the middle of the room. Icedeath stepped out, and then I saw how indescribably majestic and shiny he was. He started to cry. I realized what he wanted me to do, so I quickly cupped my hand under his tear and caught it. It immediately hardened. It was beautiful, just beautiful. It was a deep shade of red, and it flashed every time I moved it.
“Thank you so much!” I cried with joy.
He smiled.
“Get on my back now,” he commanded.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he said, with a smirk. “I simply am going to fly you home.”
“OK. But Chase …” I began.
“He’s already on my back,” Icedeath replied.
He shifted himself so I could get on, and yes, Chase was already on his back, grinning like crazy.
The flight was amazing but short. I hopped off Icedeath’s back, along with Chase.
“Goodbye and thank you,” I whispered, somewhat sad that the adventure was over.
“My pleasure, Nausicaä.”

Honorable Mention
The Story of Hanukkah
by Jenna Richman, 10
The Oaks of Windermere

“Dad, can you read the story of Hanukkah?” I asked.
“Sure! It all started long ago …”
Thousands of years ago, in fact. The Israelites were under the control of the Syrians. The Syrians wanted the Jews to be just like them. The Jewish people couldn’t study Torah or practice any part of their religion.
The Jewish people were furious. They fought against the Syrians for freedom. They studied their religion in secret.
After many hard, long years, the Jews finally won. They ran to their holy temple to celebrate. They were not happy. There was bacon (which is not kosher) all over the floor. The eternal lamp had a small flame left burning. All of the oil was smashed, and after searching, the Jews found only one jar of oil. They could just light the lamp for one day.
It took eight days to get oil and come back! The Jewish people left anyway.
When they came back, the lamp was still burning. It was truly a miracle!
“Wow, Dad!” I said. “That was a great story. Can you tell me another?”
“Tomorrow,” he replied.

Honorable Mention
A Christmas to Remember
by Hannah Medcalf, 9
Courtleigh Park

The sweet aroma of ginger wafts up my nose as my mom pulls a fresh tray of gingerbread cookies out of the oven. She sets the tray on the table and grabs a cherry-red bowl from the cupboard. She goes to the pantry and pulls out frosting mix, water and sugar. After she stirs the heavy mixture for several minutes, she shoves the creamy frosting into an icing bag. She squeezes the frosting delicately onto the gingerbread men, forming little eyes, noses and tiny feet.
After she finishes the little people, she wipes her hands, now slathered with icing, on her apron and stacks the tray on a cooling rack. Every year, we bake delicious gingerbread men for Santa, and the rest we share with everyone, even the neighbors.
Another tradition that happens in our house is making food for the reindeer to feast on when they stop by on Christmas night. We combine oatmeal, carrots and honey in a bowl and place it on our front porch. They always gobble up every last bite!
My favorite activity, though, is writing my Christmas wish list. Loads of presents appear on the paper. Longer, longer, longer it grows until it’s 1-foot long! Then I bedazzle it with gems, buttons and bows to make it extra-special. Last, I fold it up ever so carefully and put it in an envelope. Finally, off it goes to the magic world of Santa’s workshop. I hope it arrives in time for Christmas!
To pass the time, my family and I unload boxes from the garage that are filled to the brim with Christmas ornaments and the pieces of the Christmas tree we use every year. When we get all the boxes inside the house, we carefully unload the tree. We stack the pieces carefully on top of each other and hold them together while my dad screws them tightly together.
After that, we take the Christmas lights out of the boxes and twirl them around and around the tree until — click! We plug them in and turn them on. They look so beautiful against the tree’s green. Next we hang sparkling, shining ornaments on the tree. It could not look better! Lastly, I place the golden star on the top. I take a final glance at the tree. It is amazing!
By then, it is coming up on 5:30 p.m., so my mom starts making our Christmas dinner. The scent is invigorating! I cannot wait to eat! When dinner is ready, my mom places the turkey in the center of the table. I instantly pull the platter toward me. I cut a huge piece and devour the sweet sensation in seconds. After we finish, we go to Froyos frozen yogurt shop. On Christmas night every year, we go to Froyos. After getting our yogurt, we sit outside and enjoy the cool winter air and delightful yogurt.
At home, my sister Morgan and I get snuggled up in cozy pajamas and furry slippers, and brush our teeth. Then Mom tucks me in gently and gives me a hug so that I feel safe and sound until Christmas morning.
On Christmas morning, Morgan and I climb out of bed and race to the tree to see what Santa left us. Many presents are wrapped in silver, red and green, and our cat Holly is sleeping peacefully under the tree. My eyes open wide with excitement. I see a huge present in the corner. It looks so gorgeous with its gold wrapping paper and massive red bow. I absolutely cannot wait to open it!
I dash to my parents’ room but instead run into them coming down the hallway. They look tired and messy but glad to see my eager face.
“Can we open the presents?” I start to say, but Mom already knows what I am going to ask.
“Sure,” she whispers.
So I run back down the hallway and accidentally run into the tree.
“Oof!” I exclaim, as I spit out some leaves. But overall I am OK.
I pick up the first present.
To Hannah, it reads.
Eagerly, I open it. Inside is the most gorgeous doll I have ever seen.
“Thank you!” I exclaim.
Mom smiles her warm smile as if to say, “You’re welcome.”
As we keep opening presents one by one, it soon becomes time to open the huge mystery present. What can it be? I wonder. I enthusiastically open it.
“Oh!” I exclaim.
It is a telescope.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I scream. I am so pleased!
After we clean up all the wrapping paper, we walk around the neighborhood, taking in the beautiful scene of wreaths on every front door, and the strong scent of pine. This is a Christmas I will always remember.

Honorable Mention
Christmas Traditions
by Anija Perez, 10
Southwest Orlando

Do you have any Christmas traditions that you celebrate? I do! Christmas is my favorite holiday. These are my traditions I celebrate for Christmas.
Every year, my family and I go get a real tree for Christmas. We always go to Santa’s Christmas Tree Forest. We have to check the size of the tree first, because if it’s too large to fit our room, we will have a problem! After we get home, we decorate the tree. We first use multicolored Christmas lights. Next we put on the shimmering gold and garland; then the shiny, round, gold, silver, red and blue ornaments; and shiny, metallic strands of tinsel. Finally, if you’re the youngest child in the family, you get to put the star at the very top so that you can have that memory.
The second thing we do is on Christmas Eve, when we make homemade cookies and chocolate milk for Santa. We make yummy, gooey chocolate-chip cookies and use Hershey’s chocolate syrup for the sweet chocolate milk. We put about 2 teaspoons of chocolate syrup into the milk, then we stir it until the chocolate makes the milk turn brown. For the cookies, we buy Betty Crocker’s cookie-dough mix. We have to put in two eggs, butter and milk, then we stir it all up. We finally put the dough onto the cookie sheet, put it into the oven, and wait until the cookies are baked.
My final Christmas tradition is on Christmas Day when we open our presents. I don’t tear through the wrapping paper. I carefully rip off the paper, and when I get it all off on the white side, I write what I have gotten so I can remember what I got and why it was so special. After I do that, I put it into my special box with all my souvenirs and special items I like to keep. I cherish this very much so that, when I become an adult, I can look back on my Christmas memories with my wonderful family. I am the one who started this tradition a couple of years ago, and I hope this continues to be passed down.
These are the traditions my family and I do at Christmas. I am happy to share them with you.
I hope you have a merry Christmas!

Honorable Mention
The Night I Met Santa
by Khadijah Griffin, 8
Sienna Springs

One cold winter day, I woke up and excitedly jumped out of my bed. I tried to run downstairs, but I was so gleeful, I fell down. Don’t worry; I was OK! Do you know why I was so happy? Why I was filled with joy? Well, it’s because it was a day full of cheer — Christmas Eve!
Just then, my mom burst into the room.
“Sorry, I woke up late,” my mom said. “Oh, I see you made your own breakfast.”
“Yup,” I said. “So Mom, what did you get me for Christmas?”
“You’ll have to wait until tomorrow,” she said.
Then she walked out of the room, and from the front door yelled, “I’m going shopping for a Christmas tree and decorations. I’ll be back in half an hour!”
Next thing I knew, the door slammed. Boom! I knew what this meant. I called my dad. We would have to make Christmas dinner.
My dad turned the stove on. We made everything from turkey to mashed potatoes, from corn on the cob to fruitcake. I was the taste-tester. That was exciting!
Next, my mom came home. She lied about coming home in half an hour. It was actually nighttime now, so I had to get to bed. I couldn’t wait; tomorrow was Christmas. Then my mom barged into my room. I pretended to fall asleep after she kissed my head and turned off the lights.
I waited until I heard her bedroom door shut down the hallway. Then I quietly opened my bedroom door and silently tiptoed downstairs to the bright, colorful Christmas tree. I came down to see at least one of my gifts. When I bent down to unwrap the first present from my mom and dad, I heard a sudden rustle of leaves outside. Then my curtains started swaying side to side. I thought it was just wind, but I was still scared, so I opened the door to check for people outside. Quickly, a very dark, red, shadowy figure with a long, fluffy beard and glasses popped out of the bushes. He laughed a joyful laugh.
“Ho, ho, ho! Ha, ha, ha!”
“Oh my gosh!” I screamed.
It was Santa! He kept on staring. He didn’t know it was a child at the door.
Finally, he tried to hide. He quickly ran to the back of the house, where he must have tied his rope to the chimney. He climbed up on the roof and stuffed himself down the chimney. I ran into the house and helped him out the chimney.
“Why did you run away?” I asked.
“No one is supposed to see me,” Mr. Claus said. “You should be asleep anyway.”
Santa and I talked for a while about what I wanted for Christmas. We became good friends. Mr. Claus made a kind decision. He let me ride on his bright red sleigh and deliver presents around the town. I met all of the enchanting reindeer. At last, he took me home. I hugged Santa and told him I had a wonderful time.
The next morning, it was Christmas Day. My whole family was coming over for dinner tonight. I waited all day for them to arrive. The doorbell finally rang.
Ring, ring!
It was them. We went into the dining room. As we ate dinner, I told them about my experience with Santa.
“I don’t believe you,” my little cousin immediately hollered.
“Yeah, right!” my brother said.
At that moment, we heard jingle bells ringing from outside. Everybody rushed to the door. We saw Santa Claus fly across the sky. Everybody’s eyes widened.
My mom and dad said, “It’s a Christmas miracle!”

Honorable Mention
Could It Be a Christmas Miracle?
by William Ortiz, 12
The Orchards

A few years ago there was a family that wasn’t doing so well. They were bankrupt. They lived in a homeless shelter, and their daughter, Emily, had osteosarcoma, a less common cancer that creates a tumor in your bones.
The parents, David and Linda Schiemo, were in a quick search for jobs since they’d lost their apartment in Miami. Well, the Schiemos had been living in the shelter for three months.
On Oct. 8, a tall, bony fellow named Steven Wilks walked into the shelter to retrieve Emily. Mr. and Mrs. Schiemo didn’t put up a fight. They could no longer care for their sick little girl.
The tall man immediately took Emily to St. Jude Research Children’s Hospital to be put into care. As soon as they got to the hospital, the staff put Emily in a wheelchair and dashed her into a room. They put her on chemotherapy, and three days later she lost all her luscious, brown, wavy hair. The doctors could do no more for young Emily Schiemo, so she was sent back to the shelter to spend Christmas Day — her last day — with her parents.
When Emily got to the shelter, she mainly laid down the rest of the day, but when it was 11:23 p.m. and everyone was sleeping, she got up and walked to the window to look at the stars. While there, she saw a wondrous sight. It was a shooting star, so she made a wish and stood there for a few minutes before going back to bed. She was thinking about her wish, which was to have a happy family.
The next day was her last, and she laid down the entire day. She started turning gray, and soon after, she stopped breathing. Her parents were sitting next to her bed. They began crying and pulled a blanket over Emily’s frail, gray face. Mr. Schiemo call the paramedics, and when they arrived, they checked Emily’s pulse. She was alive!
Could it be a Christmas miracle?

Honorable Mention
When There
Nearly Wasn’t a Christmas
by Ashton Browne, 10
Windermere Downs

Once upon a time, Santa Claus was sleeping when one of his helper elves came running in and started to hyperventilate.
Then he spoke, “Thank goodness you’re awake. Every single one of our machines has not worked this entire week before Christmas!”
Curious, Santa left his room, wondering what had made the machines go down.
He went into the bathroom to brush his teeth and found out the faucet wouldn’t turn on. He tried it more than a million times, but it just wouldn’t work. He thought about the machines and now the faucet, then got the idea that the main power source must have gone down.
The power source was a very simple source. It was run by reindeer magic. From that thought, Santa sped out of the room, grabbed a couple of elves to come with him, and rushed to the reindeer stables. When they got there, all the reindeer were plopped down in the hay, and they had greenish faces that made them look like they were getting sick. Luckily, Santa spoke reindeer, so he could find out what was going on. The reindeer said they felt ill but didn’t know why.
The next day, Santa called a veterinarian to check out his reindeer.
After the doctor examined them, he said, “I’m really sorry, but I don’t know how to cure such a sickness in an animal.”
Afterward, Santa was really stumped about what he could do to help the reindeer get better. He went back to his workshop, sat down and thought for a second. He thought and thought and thought, but couldn’t think of anything to do. Then he thought maybe he could ask one of his elf nurses to help. Santa met the nurse, and they headed to the stables. On the way, Santa told the nurse about how the reindeer had looked and felt when he found them. When she finished examining the reindeer, she told Santa that she couldn’t cure them. Santa sadly left the stables and went back to his workshop.
Back in his office, Santa again thought about how he could help when all of a sudden the nurse elf came running in.
“Santa, follow me,” she said.
She took him into the kitchen and showed him reindeer prints and fruitcake crumbs left from the 50 fruit cakes that Mrs. Claus had made. Santa figured out that the reindeer had eaten the fruitcakes and made themselves sick.
“I never realized anyone really ate those cakes,” he said. “I thought they were just for decoration.”
The nurses suggested Super-Seltzer, the best remedy for reindeer stomachaches.
“When will they start to feel better?” Santa asked.
“In about seven to eight hours,” the nurse said.
“Good!” Santa exclaimed. “Christmas is in five days.”
It’s Christmas Eve. The sleigh is almost full, and the reindeer are feeling as good as new, getting in line with their red ribbons, and silver bells going jingle jangle in the wind. The elves are loading the last couple of presents, and it’s go time.
Santa gives a whistle, and says, “Here’s to another wonderful year. Merry Christmas, everyone!”

Honorable Mention
The Christmas Cat
by Madeline Bedford, 10
The Oaks of Windermere

“Hello. My name is Kringle, and this is how I save Christmas. The truth is, I’m a cat, but that doesn’t matter right now.”
“Bye, Kringle,” Molly, my caretaker, said, as she skipped along and planted a kiss on my nose.
“See ya, kitty-boy,” called Jason, Molly’s older brother, throwing a catnip-covered jingly mouse on the floor just as Mom, Dad and baby twins Katie and Julie stumbled out the door.
Yum, a catnip-covered mouse, I thought, prancing over to “heaven” only to find Bob, that prissy dog, trot over and sit down on my mouse.
“My mouse, Bob,” I hollered while trying to lug all his fur off my property. “Get off my mouse!”
“Intruder, intruder! Save yourself!”
Ugh, I knew that voice by heart. It was Polly, Jason’s parrot. Why was he making such a racket? Usually he’s so calm and quiet — not your average parrot.
“Howwwlllll!” Bob and Sue (the other dog) howled at the tops of their lungs.
The fur on my back stood straight up. Someone was on top of the roof. Click, clack, thud and thump … clickety clackety. The thumps sounded like hooves.
I went up the chimney to investigate.
“Hello, Kringle. We’re here to let you know that Santa is sick, and he needs someone to take over Christmas,” all eight reindeer, excluding Rudolph, were saying. “Can you help? Christmas depends on you.”
Rudolph begged, on the verge of tears. It made me feel bad watching him trying to prevent a tear from plopping on his giant, glowing red nose.
“All right,” I said without thinking. “I’ll do it.”
It was eight hours later that I realized that I may not have made the best choice. I gripped the bag with presents for a house tightly in my teeth, getting ready to scramble down the chimney and make dreams come true.
“What happened to Santa anyway?” I asked Vixen, grasping the reins.
“Well, you see, usually Santa would have more gifts to deliver but he was at 4823 Morgan St., because he ate too many cookies and drank too much eggnog.
“Hey,” I shouted. “That’s where I live!”
“Yep, and that’s why we picked you to help,” Dasher replied while bouncing from cloud to cloud.
A while later, I was nodding off to sleep myself. Cupid and Blitzen had to wake me up twice!
I decided to do what Santa had done and stocked up on sweets to use as energy later. It worked! I made it to the North Pole as the sun was rising, having delivered 160,800,625 gifts. As I plopped down on the ice and snow, I saw Santa, who had apparently just woken up.
“Ho, ho, ho,” he chuckled. “Thank you, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and Rudolph for picking this fine feline to save Christmas!”
Santa bent down and rubbed his big hand over my fur.
“What’s your name?” the big man asked under his breath.
“Just call me The Christmas Cat!” I exclaimed.

Honorable Mention
Finding Solace
by Abby Worsham, 13
Southwest Orlando

Tina walked slowly up to her bedroom. She felt as if her feet were cinder blocks. Her face was stained with tears.
It had been a week since her sister had died, but she still broke into tears when she had to walk home from school by herself.
She slowly opened the door, threw her backpack on the dresser, and fell onto her bed. She screamed into her pillow as painful memories flooded into her head.
It was 7 p.m. when she finally stopped crying. She wanted to eat something, but her emotional pain made her lose her appetite. She barely could sleep. Only by the mercy of her tiredness did she fall asleep.
The next morning, Tina got up for school. She dressed and brushed her teeth. She didn’t bother to wear any makeup, because it would just run off her face on the way home.
Tina went to school but did not say a word all day. On her way home, she passed houses, streetlights and even trees decorated for Christmas.
She came to where she normally turned to go into her neighborhood but saw construction workers were busy there. She turned around and slowly walked the other way.
As Tina was walking along, she came across an old white church. Its windows were dark with multicolored glass panes. Snow was all around the sills.
She normally would have walked right past it, but something inside her drew her in.
Tina walked up the steps and opened the old door. She walked down the aisle to a cross in the middle. She had always known about Jesus, but He never really crossed her mind — until now.
She was sitting in silence when she heard someone behind her.
“Hi there,” the voice said. “I’m the pastor here, and I couldn’t help but notice that you look depressed.”
They sat and talked for hours. Slowly but surely she felt better.
She left the church that night, feeling not sad, not depressed, but … loved.

Honorable Mention
My Favorite Christmas
by Kevin Caraballos, 11
Tuscany Ridge

My favorite Christmas was when I was 9 years old, and I got to go to Vail, Colo. I was so happy when I found out I could go that I started packing my bags immediately. I was, however, unhappy that it was a three-hour flight. When we got there, I went to sleep, because it was so late. When I woke up, we had breakfast at this waffle place. After that, we went straight to rent my skis. Then we rode a gondola up the mountain. I learned how to ski and got so good, I was able to go on a blue slope.
Blue slopes are rated medium difficulty, which was pretty good considering it was my first time skiing, not to mention my first time seeing snow, too. When I skied, I threw snowballs at the same time. My family and I sat by the fireplace at the end of the day and drank hot chocolate with marshmallows. Then we went to bed.
The next day, we went to a new restaurant, and I had a special kind of fancy French toast for breakfast. Then we hit the slopes again, and I met up with my instructor. He informed me that we were going to have another student with us. Her name was Elizabeth. The instructor took us to a new area called Rainbow Trail. We had fun throwing snowballs, and then we raced each other to the bottom. I won! We ate lunch at the lodge on top of the mountain. Then we skied for a while more before it was time to meet up with my parents. That night we went to a great restaurant, and I had mussels for the first time. They were delicious! After that, we went back to the hotel, and I ordered a fancy gelato from room service. Then we went to sleep.
The third day, my ski instructor told me that Elizabeth could only stay until 1 p.m. That made me sad, because we had fun playing together the day before. We skied some more, and at lunchtime, I met up with my parents. My mom was learning how to ski, but she was scared and not doing very well. I showed her how well I was doing, and she thought it was great. That night was Christmas Eve. I asked Santa to try to bring me all the presents I had asked for, and then we all went to sleep.
Our last day there was Christmas! In the morning, there was a bunch of presents. We decided to open them at the end of the day. I went to the slopes and met up with my instructor. We had a great day skiing, but I kept thinking about my presents. When we got back from skiing and eating dinner, we opened them. I got everything I wanted and was super-happy! Then we flew home to Orlando.
I hope we can do this again soon!

Honorable Mention
A New Year, a New Me
by Nathaniel Imler, 12
Winter Garden

That year had been the worst year of my life. Nothing as half as bad as what happened to me that year has happened since. I spent weeks recovering from the horrors inflicted upon me. After the accident, I no longer cared about others or their feelings. Life became dull and over-rated. No one understands how fragile life is.
Every time I looked into the mirror, I saw everything that had happened. My face had been turned into a battlefield of scars over discolored flesh. I could not bring myself to look in mirrors anymore, because it brought back awful memories. The terrible images that haunted me by day kept me up at night. All those things were bad, but the worst part was that I wasn’t the only victim of the accident.
My dog, Chuck, died right in front of me. When he died, a part of me did, too. It broke my heart not to be able to save him. That was the most painful thing I have ever experienced in my entire life. Nothing was the same after he died. Nothing could ever change what happened that day. Nothing will ever replace Chuck. He truly was a man’s best friend. There will always be room in my heart for him.
I believed that my heart would remain empty forever, until one wonderful New Year’s Eve. That’s when everything changed.
I heard a knock at the door. I went over and opened it. I saw a man standing there holding a box. He said he had a gift for me. He handed me the box, told me happy New Year, and left as quickly as he came. I opened the box, and what I saw inside almost made my heart stop. It was a little puppy!
That moment was the moment my eyes were opened. Before, I was thinking negatively. What I needed was to be thankful for what I had and move on from the tragedies of the past. I should be thankful I’m alive and thankful for the time I did have with Chuck. As a thought, I looked around and realized what a beautiful night it was, what a wonderful person that man was, and most importantly, I had a new dog. It was New Year’s Eve. I should celebrate, and that’s what I did.
Right then I knew the next year would not be like the previous year. It would be a great year. It might even be the best year of my life! It amazed me how much someone’s life could change just with one action. It really was a miracle. I knew it was a new year — it was a new me.
I now look back at that day and think I was very lucky. New Year’s Eve and the kindness of a stranger changed my life forever.

Honorable Mention
Traditions Make the Holiday
by Hannah Skandamis, 9
Southwest Orlando

Splat! There goes a ball of snow right onto the back of my neck and down my shirt. Yowl, that’s so cold!
My mischievous sister is up to no good with the freezing snow. Every time I turn my back on her, she aims directly for either my head or neck.
My story of the season is all about my traditions and how I celebrate them.
I’m so happy, happy, happy that I get to bundle up in my winter coat, hat, gloves and my scarf. Every year, my family and I visit either Montana, Colorado or Utah for Christmas. Last year, we traveled to Montana. We rented 10 bobsleds for my family. The first person to go down the steep mountain was me. Boy, was I nervous! It turned out that I loved every minute of it, even when I took a tumble down the snowy mountain. One memory I have was when I was speeding at 64 mph. I wanted to stop. The only thing was to go over the slope and fly through the air or leap off the sled. I decided to fly off the slope. I screeched like a falcon so loudly that I almost broke my dad’s eardrums.
Oh, don’t you just adore the season’s Christmas movies? I know I do! Some of my all-time favorites are Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer; Elf; How the Grinch Stole Christmas; The Search for Santa Paws; and Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown. It seems like every time I turn on the TV, the Grinch movie pops on. I just love the music and the way the movie inspires me. I also enjoy the Christmas specials on the Disney Channel. They seem to manage about 55 Christmas movies in a whole day! I could just sit, eat popcorn and watch Christmas specials for 24 hours!
One of the most important traditions to write about is opening gifts with my family. We begin opening gifts by passing a present to the oldest relative first. That would be my papa. Then the next person to unwrap a gift would be my mema. From there, it goes by age. My gifts are mostly sweaters and cozy hats, or stuffed animals I can snuggle with. One year my grandma surprised me with a musical keyboard. I played Silent Night for my entire family.
I will surely remember these holiday memories, because they fill a special place in my heart. I hope you and your family have the most exciting Christmas ever!

Honorable Mention
The Silver Sleigh Bell
by Raquel Mesquita, 12
Stoneybrook West

Not too far away, there is an underprivileged, irrelevant orphan boy. That boy is me, and this is my story.
My name is Matthew Klint, but the handful of friends I have call me Matt. I am 8 years old and live in the downtown orphanage. I have been in this orphanage since I was only 4. I still remember the inevitable day my parents left me forever.
Tomorrow will be Christmas Eve, and I cannot tolerate reliving former Christmases with my family. All I can possibly wish for this Christmas is to be adopted and cherished.
I gaze out the window of my bedroom and watch the first star blink into the sky.
“Hey, Matt,” said Curtis, my roommate. “You OK? You seem a little, I don’t know, lost today.”
Curtis is the only person I can consider family right now. He knows all my secrets and stories, and if I’m going to laugh or cry.
“I’m fine,” I said. “It’s just …”
“I know how difficult Christmas can be for you,” Curtis said, cutting me off. “But you have to put your memories aside and hope that someone will adopt you. Besides, you will always have me around, and don’t disregard J!”
Jean, or “J,” as everyone calls her, is probably the best friend I could ever have. She is the one person who makes Christmases fun.
As I was getting under the covers of my bed, I was beginning to sidetrack and ponder about all the entertainment the staff would be setting up. They would be putting up a Christmas tree to be ornamented by the children, and the donated presents would be placed underneath the tree for the following day. But there is something about this Christmas that is different. I can feel that something is going to change forever.
When I wake up, I find Curtis has already woken, made his bed and left for breakfast. After getting dressed and making my bed, I find out all the children are already in the dining hall. Once I find my seat next to Curtis and J, the volunteers begin passing out warm waffles.
“Why did everyone get up so early?” I asked.
“Well, you know what they say,” said J, enthusiastically. “The early bird catches the worm!”
After breakfast we played games inside and even got to play outside in the snow. Later we drank hot chocolate while decorating the tree. We sang Christmas carols the rest of the night until we had to go to bed.
Tonight, all children waited patiently in bed for the ring of Santa’s sleigh bells — all children except me. As soon as I was sure Curtis was sleeping, I looked out the window and gazed into the night. Out of nowhere, a shooting star blazed across the sky. I had never seen anything more resplendent in my entire life. I closed my eyes and whispered:
I wish, I wish, upon a star
That seems so close, but lives so far.
For a family this Christmas Day,
That will love me forever, I hope, I pray.
When I opened my eyes, I noticed something strange about the shooting star. It was getting closer, bigger. The star appeared to be moving faster, hurdling toward the orphanage building. Its incandescence dimmed down, and that is when I saw eight flying reindeer, and then …
“Santa!” I clapped my hand over my mouth to keep from waking Curtis.
I put on my frayed slippers, slid on my robe, and snuck outside. Once I was on the porch, I found the giant scarlet sleigh.
“Well, how do you do?” the man in crimson asked. “I’m Santa Claus!”
“I-I-I-I know,” I stammered, doubtful of what to say.
“What your name?” he asked.
“Umm, I’m Matthew Klint, but my friends call me Matt.”
“Come here,” Santa said.
He helped me into his sleigh, and I sat on his lap.
“Now, Matt, what would you like for Christmas?”
The question took me no time to answer.
“Well, Santa, the only thing I would like won’t fit underneath the tree.”
“Well, what is it?” he asked.
I hesitated to answer.
“A family,” I finally said.
“Oh,” Santa said, as a tear streamed down his face.
“Here,” he said and pulled out one of the sleigh bells. “This is for good luck.”
“Thank you,” I said.
I was about to jump off the sleigh, when I turned around and hugged Santa goodbye. I could feel a smile roll onto his face.
The next morning, the sound of laughter woke me up. I realized that I lost the sleigh bell. Could it all have just been a wild dream? I got up and didn’t bother changing or making my bed. I stormed off to the dining hall. When I arrived downstairs, everyone had already eaten, and they had started opening their presents. I sat on the couch in the corner.
“Wouldn’t you like to open your present?” asked little Marie Lou.
She is the youngest orphan but also the wisest.
I declined her suggestion.
“No, I’m just not in the Christmas spirit,” I said.
Marie Lou skipped back to the tree.
Then Mrs. Becker, the orphanage manager, came to talk to me.
“I have a surprise for you,” she said.
“What is it?” I managed to moan.
“There is a family here wanting to adopt two boys. I thought that there wouldn’t be anyone better for the job than you and Curtis.”
I jumped up to go meet them. I couldn’t have asked for a better family.
“I have another surprise,” she said. “There is a family here wanting to adopt Jean and are considering adopting Marie Lou, too. They live only a block away from your family.”
“Really?” I asked. “This Christmas couldn’t get any better!”
I decided to go and open my present. I had the smallest gift in the orphanage, but it didn’t matter because I had gotten so much more. I untied the ribbon and opened the little box. I found something I never thought I would see again — the silver sleigh bell.

Honorable Mention
The Season of Christmas
by Lucy Spotts, 10

There’s no other time of year like the season of Christmas. Two of my favorite parts of Christmas are buying or making presents for others and the feelings of Christmas Eve.
I love how it feels to secretly plan gifts for others that I know they’ll love. Sometimes I anticipate this for months beforehand. I love finding a funny hiding place to put them in so no one will see. Since I was really little, I’ve loved wrapping gifts, too. It’s fun to use the different colored papers and bows to make artistic masterpieces! It’s exciting to watch the faces of my family and friends as they open their gifts. I enjoy this as much as receiving gifts myself!
I also love the feelings on Christmas Eve. There are so many wonderful traditions in our family. For instance, we always make the best sugar cookies in all shapes with my granny that day. We then make hot chocolate with lots and lots of whipped cream and crushed-up candy canes on top. For everyone’s birthday throughout the year, but especially on Jesus’ birthday, my granny gets out her special “birthday box” with decorations in it, like balloons, and fixes up the house even more. I usually hang my drawings, too.
We always go to church the night before Christmas, because Mom usually leads the singing. We see some of the same people every year at Mass. Then we go for a drive to see the elaborate lights on two specific houses in Orlando. It’s so beautiful, especially when it’s cold outside! We also like to sing all our favorite carols around the Christmas tree. When we lie down to go to sleep, my parents and granny read a story called The Night Before Christmas. It’s very hard to get to sleep after that, because we cannot stop thinking about waking up and seeing all the presents.
In the spirit of The Night Before Christmas, I’d like to wish everyone reading this a “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Honorable Mention
An Adventure in the North Pole
by Isabella Hubbs, 10
Windsor Hill

Long ago … well, not that long ago … actually 10 years ago, there was a man and lady who lived at a beautiful snowy village in the North Pole.
The man had a fluffy white beard like no one had ever seen before and cheeks as red as freshly picked cherries. He also wore bright, eye-popping red-and-white pajamas, the pants and shirts trimmed in white fur. He wore a large black belt and stylish black boots. I guess some might call him Santa Claus or St. Nicholas; to others he may just be plain old Father Christmas.
As for the lady, she had a beautiful face and was the kindest person anyone had ever seen. She wore stylish clothing of red and white, similar to what Santa wore, but her shirts were trimmed in red fur. She was quite the cook and made the best-tasting cookies and eggnog in town. Her name was Mrs. Claus.
One night the couple was sitting in their bed made up with red-and-white silk sheets, both reading books by candlelight. A fireplace kept them warm and toasty. Mrs. Claus was pregnant and due to give birth to their first child at anytime.
Suddenly, Mrs. Claus yelled with excitement.
“Santa, it’s time. The baby is coming! We must get to the hospital.”
Santa, with the assistance of his elves, immediately rushed Mrs. Claus to the emergency room. The doctor asked Santa to sit in the waiting room as they prepared his wife for the delivery. Santa and the elves waited patiently but grew anxious as time progressed. Everyone was so excited to meet the newest addition to the North Pole! Finally, the doctor came to Santa and announced that he had a handsome baby boy. Santa smiled from ear to ear, and the elves jumped with joy. Santa and Mrs. Claus decided to name the baby Nicholas Jr., after his dad, of course, since he would someday follow in his father’s footsteps and take over his job.
The couple took Nicholas Jr. home and introduced him to all the elves and villages in the North Pole. Everyone celebrated with Mrs. Claus’ famous cookies and eggnog. While eating her delicious cookies, all the elves and even Santa were up on the dance floor, dancing the night away. Everyone eventually got tired and went to their rooms.
Later that evening, while everyone was sleeping, Jack Frost, who was Santa’s enemy, snuck into Nicholas Jr.’s room and took him from his crib. With the baby hidden underneath his coat, Jack Frost raced down the street to find his way into the Globe Room. This room had a huge globe that could transport anyone to another city or even another country with just the push of a button. Jack Frost tried to send Nicholas Jr. to New York, but it wouldn’t work. Then he tried to send him to Florida, but it still wouldn’t work.
Jack was getting frustrated and just could not figure out what was going wrong. Little did he know that baby Nicholas had special powers and couldn’t be hurt by those who were mean and evil. So that meant Nicholas Jr. had a protective shield around him. No matter what Jack Frost did, he could never hurt Nicholas.
Mrs. Claus woke up suddenly from a bad dream. She had been dreaming someone had stolen her baby. She got up and went to the nursery, only to find an empty crib.
“Santa, someone has taken Nicholas Jr.,” she yelled.
Santa jumped to his feet and sounded the elf alarm. Everyone in the village knew the drill for the elf alarm. They knew that Nicholas Jr. was missing. They were searching franticly for the baby when someone noticed Jack Frost trying to take off in Santa’s sleigh. Of course, only Santa could drive the sleigh.
The elves surrounded Jack Frost, and suddenly, they heard a cry from Nicholas.
“Give us back the baby,” the elves exclaimed, with angry faces.
Frustrated, Jack Frost handed over the baby and was immediately arrested for kidnapping. Being that Jack Frost was always a threat to people of the North Pole, they all took a vote and decided to use the Globe Room to send him to a faraway island where he could never hurt anyone again.
The village was never harmed again, and baby Nicholas grew into a
handsome young man who soon took over his father’s position as Santa Claus. He married a beautiful woman, and everyone loved him and his wife for the good deeds they did.

Honorable Mention
The Holidays at Our House
by Avery Feucht, 11
Emerald Forest

Christmas — it is the most phenomenal time of the year. Our family always looks forward to the holidays.
It begins with Thanksgiving — the day after to be exact. Setting up our decorations brings out memories. Setting up the tree with beautiful, admirable ornaments, and watching our lights sparkle around the house are always pleasures.
After that it’s on to the cookies! Red, green and white frosting cover our hands as we attempt to make the prettiest cookie of the bunch. Sprinkles descend onto the cookies like fresh fallen snow.
Our Christmas home is very comfy to live in, but we only get a couple of weeks to settle down in it. The day before Christmas break, we rush into our rooms to pack our suitcases. Hats, jackets, mittens, sweatshirts and pants are stuffed into them. It’s time to visit Ohio, the place we go every year. It’s a long drive, but we listen to music and play games to help pass the time. When we finally arrive at our destination, we quickly jump out of the car to greet our relatives.
Days of fast sledding, snowball fights, snowman building and skiing until frost covers our noses are to follow. As our cheeks turn as red as cherries, we eagerly head inside for the best cocoa in the world. I’m talking about cocoa warmed to the perfect temperature with a dollop of whipped cream and marshmallows sprinkled on top. As we warm up, we talk about our wish lists and the amazing time we’ll have on Christmas Day celebrating with our family.
But the fun we have all leads up to one joyous night, Christmas Eve. All our relatives come, and we have a great time talking, watching A Christmas Story, and just hanging out enjoying each other’s company. The next day is the real deal though — Christmas Day. As we rush out to rip open our presents, the adults head to the coffee maker, sweetening the liquid gold with their favorite holiday creamer. Many thank-yous are exchanged from the kids as they unwrap their presents.
By the afternoon, other guests arrive, and they greet each other with warm hugs. As more of them arrive, more presents are unwrapped, and more coffee is brewed. It’s a cheerful day.
As dinner rolls around, the guests get seated, and then the meal is served. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, duck, green-bean casserole and purple cabbage are quickly devoured. As everyone’s food is settling down, the dessert comes — pumpkin pie! That, too, is gone in a matter of minutes. As the last few moments of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation finish up, we sit by a toasty fire, and our family Christmas comes to an end.
Christmas is a wonderful time of the year, and I always look forward to it year after year. If there is one thing I can be sure of, it’s that each and every Christmas will be merry. There is more to Christmas than just the actual day. It’s also all the days leading up to it and spending time with the people who matter to you the most.

The staff of the Southwest Orlando Bulletin extends special thanks to everyone who participated in the 22nd annual holiday short-story contest

Editor’s note: Entries may have been edited for grammar, punctuation, length and content. To honor as many holiday short stories as possible, Community Bulletin Board, School News, and Southwest Sports do not appear in this issue.

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