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Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Swiss Christmas by GAP Author Nancy Stewart



It was Christmas week, and we were in Switzerland. My family and I, along with good friends and a frozen turkey, traveled there for the holidays. We were living in London at the time, so we crossed the English Channel on a car ferry and were on our way to the Swiss countryside.

Our three sons were not so sure about the plan. “Were they getting as many gifts? What kind of Christmas dinner would we have? What about a tree?” I was having many of the same thoughts but kept them to myself.

As we drove higher into the mountains to reach the chalet lent by a friend, small delicate snowflakes danced around our two cars. Shadows deepened, and lights began to glow in houses nestled here and there in the valleys below us. Magical. A very good sign.

With darkness settling around the mountains, we arrived at our chalet. Maybe this adventure would be fine. These words became my mantra.

The next morning, we four parents and five sons explored the tiny village. And there, propped in front of a tiny store, was our Christmas tree! It was short, a little crooked, a bit spare of needles and one of the last ones left. It was beautiful to us.

The nine of us trudged along with our treasured tree and promptly set about decorating it. We popped popcorn and made white garlands with the help of needle and thread. We did the same with cranberries and wound scarlet sashes round the boughs. The boys found pine cones of different sizes and shapes in a sheltered stand of pines near our chalet. These they tucked between branches of our now festive offering to Christmas, and an aroma of pine drifted through the room. James, the youngest boy, fashioned a star out of paper and placed it on top of the tree.

That evening, Christmas Eve, the nine of us again walked to the village. Our feet made satisfying crunching sounds through the crusty snow. The village church was our destination. Candles shone in all the windows, casting shimmering shadows on the icy whiteness. It seemed the whole town had turned out for the midnight service. We were greeted with smiles and greetings of “Willkommen.” We were welcomed by everyone.

Christmas carols, all in German, but so familiar to us in every other way, filled the small church with happiness and joy. The pastor’s message, all in German, made us feel the meaning of Christmas, as if we understood every word.


Next morning, as the boys opened their allotted two gifts apiece, no one complained. Michele and I baked our now thawed turkey and completed all the usual trimmings, minus a pumpkin pie. No one complained. When it was time for all to help clean up from our meal, no one complained. Again, magical.

As I reflect on that Swiss Christmas of more than a decade ago, what made it so extraordinary? Was it Switzerland itself? Was it being with family and wonderful friends? Was it fulfilled expectations?

Yes, of course, it was all of that. And, yet, it was more. It was that intangible thing called hope. It was recognition that we are more than ourselves alone. It was the knowledge that we need one another and are here to help each other and to be selfless when called upon to be so. It was the magic of Christmas that just happened to be in a country called Switzerland.

After having been an elementary school teacher, a management consultant with New Options, Inc. in New York City and a university professor of education, Nancy Stewart now writes children’s books full time. She, her husband and three sons, lived in London for eight years, where she was a consultant to several universities, including Cambridge.

Nancy travels extensively throughout the world, most particularly Africa. She is the US chair of a charity in Lamu, Kenya, that places girls in intermediate schools to allow them to further their education.

Nancy is the author of One Pelican at a Time and two other Bella books: Bella Saves the Beach and Sea Turtle Summer, soon to be published by Guardian Angel Publishers. Nancy will be a presenter at the Illinois Reading Council Conference on March 17, 2011.

She and her family live in St. Louis and Clearwater Beach, Florida.

You can visit Nancy online at http://www.nancystewartbooks.com/.

4 comments:

Margot Finke said...

Wonderful memories of Christmas Nancy. I can just see the houses nestled in the valleys and smell the turkey cooking. A lovely read!!

Books for Kids - Manuscript Critiques
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Susanne Drazic said...

Thank you for sharing such a beautiful Christmas memory.

Susan J. Berger said...

Wow that was a wonderful well written memory. Thank you so much!

Susan Hornbach said...

I so enjoyed your Christmas story of family and sharing Nancy. My son also is very interested in doing work in Africa when he is finished school. Thank you for sharing your story and your work. You are certainly an insperation to all of us.

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A BLESSED BETHLEHEM BIRTH: as told by Abraham and Anna Mousenstern
A BRAINY REFRAIN : THE SUM OF OUR PARTS SERIES
A DUCK AT THE DOG POUND
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A NECKLACE FOR JIGGSY
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CINDERFELLA & THE FURRY GODMOTHER
CIRCULATION CELEBRATION : THE SUM OF OUR PARTS SERIES
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DIENTECITO Y EL ATAQUE DE LA PLACA Spanish Edition
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HOPE, THE ANGELFISH
HORATIO HUMBLE BEATS THE BIG D
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JOURNEYS OF HOPE "A STAR SHALL LEAD THEM"
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JUST THE THING TO BE
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LADY GEHR
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LEARNING YOUR ANIMAL ABCs WITH PROFESSOR HOOT
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MAMA GRIZZLY BEAR
MARTA'S GARGANTUAN WINGS
MAGICAL MATTHEW
MAYBE WE ARE FLAMINGOS
MEET ME AT THE PARK
MICE IN MY TUMMY
MICHAEL'S NEW NEIGHBOR
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MOONLIGHT MEDALLION
MONSTER MADDIE
MUSCLES MAKE US MOVE: : THE SUM OF OUR PARTS SERIES
MY COPAN ADVENTURE
MY GRANDMA'S KITCHEN RULES!
MY BROTHER THE FROG
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NO BONES ABOUT IT! : THE SUM OF OUR PARTS SERIES
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NOTHING STOPS NOAH
O CHRISTMAS TREE
OLLIE OAK SAVES THE DAY
ON THE GO WITH ROOTER & SNUFFLE
ONE IN A BUZZILLION
ONE LARGE PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICH TO GO
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ONE FAMILY'S CHRISTMAS
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OUCH! SUNBURN
POODLE & DOODLE
PRESTON, THE NOT-SO-PERFECT PIG
PROFESSSOR HORACE, CRYPTOZOOLOGIST
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RACHEL SERVES A STEW
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RAINBOW SHEEP
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RILEY'S HEART MACHINE
ROMEO'S RESCUE
RUTHIE AND THE HIPPO'S FAT BEHIND
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SHAPING UP THE YEAR
SIGNS OF TROUBLE
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