"There was a golden cord that bound the family together, heart to heart;
literally, a shining cord of golden light went from each to the other, and to all the rest, and back again,
so the whole family was bound together in a nest of shining gold.
And Marley saw what the cord was; and he saw that he himself was a part of it;
that the circle came from him, too, and returned, and that all were bound together."
~ from Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol by Tom Mula

Merry Christmas!  I hope this blessed day finds you all healthy, happy, and with those you love. 

Having only just finished "Chrysalis," a lengthy Christmas story was out of the question.  Instead, I found myself really drawn to the idea of Joshua, his family, and the Friends sitting around a warm fire, sipping cocoa and the like, and telling stories about cherished Christmas memories.  As I thought about that, my mind turned to the quote above.  I know I've used it before but it's one of my favorites and fit so perfectly with the rosy, golden image I had in my head of a circle of Friends at Christmas. 

And then, as I was making cookies, I got to thinking about how I've never really celebrated the 12 Days of Christmas.  I always wait until Jan. 7th to take down the decorations but between the 26th and the 6th, I don't really do much that's Christmas-y.  So I decided I'm celebrating this year: Dyeland-style.  Each day between now and the 6th of January, I'll add more to this story.  It might be another whole vignette or maybe just an interim scene.  Regardless, I hope you can sit back, sip your favorite beverage, and enjoy this series of stories as they come out.  May it inspire you to think back on the magic of your own Christmases.

God bless and love,

The Golden Cord

Christmas Day    Dec. 26th    Dec. 27th    Dec. 28th    Dec. 29th

Dec. 30th    Dec. 31st    Jan. 1st    Jan. 2nd

Jan. 3rd    Jan. 4th    Jan. 5th and 6th

irca 5 AD

Yosef frowned in his sleep.  He was having a nightmare about a boulder coming between him and Maryam, separating them.

And then the boulder began to speak...

"Story, Abi...  Story."

Yosef's eyes flashed open and he found himself staring into his wife's eyes.  However, it wasn't his wife he was gazing at but a small boy with a mess of curls and an eager grin.  So it was his son who had wedged himself between his parents...

"Yeshu... go back to sleep," the carpenter muttered, closing his eyes again.

"Story...  Please..."

Yosef's eyes opened again when the child giggled.  With a sigh, he rolled towards the sound and saw Maryam with Yeshu in her arms.  She was covering the boy's face with kisses.  In spite of his tiredness, Yosef smiled at the sweet scene.  Maryam caught his gaze and returned the smile.

"Story, please?" she requested.

Unable to resist his wife's lovely smile and glittering eyes, Yosef sat up.

"Yes, yes... the story," he agreed.

Yeshua beamed and once again wiggled between the couple.  Once they were all settled, Yosef began to tell the boy the story of his birth.  This would be the fourth time.  At one, Yeshua had smiled and cooed but hadn't seemed to take any of it in.  At two, he had seemed more interested, even babbling bits of the tale back.  At three, Yeshua had mostly fixated on the animals in the story and had not appeared to grasp much else.  But now, having just turned four as they slept, he had begun to understand just a little of what made him and the day of his birth so special.

"Shortly before you were born, Yeshu, I had gone off in search of work so I could build a home for my Maryam."  Yosef squeezed his wife's hand.  "Ama remained here, helping your Saba and Savta."

"One day, an angel appeared to me," Maryam continued.  "And he said..."

"'Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you,'" Yosef quoted.

"And I was very afraid because I had never seen an angel before.  So then he... Gabriel... said..."

"'I am Gabriel, an angel of the Lord.  Do not be afraid, Maryam; you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Yeshua.'"  Yosef cuffed the boy's chin, causing him to giggle.  "'He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Yaqob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.'"

"Yay!" the child cheered.

"And then the spirit of the Lord God settled upon me and my belly began to grow... and grow..."

"And she was still the most beautiful woman in the world," Yosef whispered to Yeshua.

"Yosef..." Maryam gently chastised.

Yeshua patted his mother's cheeks.

"Beautiful," he declared.

Maryam kissed both of her boys before resuming the story.

"I went to visit cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant with Yohannan."

"Yohannan!" Yeshua shouted.  "I love Yohannan.  Can I see him?"

"We will visit soon," Yosef promised.


"Elizabeth offered me much counsel and, before I left them, little Yohannan was born.  He was very sweet and I loved cuddling him... but he made me long to hold my own precious little boy."

"Me!" Yeshua interjected.

Maryam again snuggled her son.

"Yes, my own.  I returned home to Nazareth and reunited with your Abi."

"I was very... confused... when I saw your Ama," Yosef carefully related.  They would save the emotional details until a later year.  "But then, in a dream, the angel told me much the same as what he had told your Ama.  And I believed with all my heart that you were the son of our Lord."


"Yes, Abba.  Good boy."  Yosef ruffled Yeshua's curls.  "Ama and I got married and, not very long after that, we had to go to Bethlehem for a census."


"That is when the government counts how many people are living here," Maryam answered simply.

"Three," Yeshua replied, confused about why such a calculation would require a trip.

Yosef laughed.

"They mean a count of all of Judea, Yeshu."


"So we traveled to Bethlehem and your Ama was so very patient and strong."

"And Yoktan, too?"

"Yes, Yoktan was with us," Maryam affirmed.  "And he was very patient and strong, too."

"Very," Yosef agreed.  "Unfortunately, when we arrived in Bethlehem, there was no room in any of the inns so..."

"Stable!  I was born in a stable!  With sheep.  And goats.  And a rooster.  And Yoktan.  I love Yoktan," Yeshu cooed, looking in the direction of their own small stable.

Maryam squeezed his little hand.

"Me too.  But not as much as I loved you.  Your little hands.  Your little nose.  Your little cheeks.  Your little birthmark."

Yeshua beamed as his mother kissed his hands, nose, cheeks, and birthmark.

After yet another snuggle, Maryam lifted her son up and settled him into Yosef's waiting arms.

Yeshua nestled against his father, resting his cheek against his chest and listening to the thump-thump, thump-thump.

Yosef's eyes misted as he held his son... this son who he would have lost out on had he abandoned Maryam. 

"And... and a bright star... the brightest ever... shone in the sky.  It led shepherds to us... sent by angels who told them..."  Yosef, overcome, looked to his wife.

"'Do not be afraid, for behold, I proclaim to you great joy which will be to the entire universe. For today, the Savior has been born to you, who is the Lord Jehovah, The Messiah, in the city of David.  And this is a sign for you: You will find the Baby wrapped in swaddling bands and lying in a manger.'  And they bowed down and worshiped you... our Messiah."

A blurry-eyed Yosef lifted an arm and, with tears in her own eyes, Maryam moved into his and Yeshua's embrace.

"Messiah..." the little boy repeated.  "Savior.  I get to save everyone."  He beamed.

His innocence and joy touched his parents deeply but they fought back further tears.  Now was not the time to speak of Isaiah or Shimeon.

Yeshua flung his arms around his parents' necks and buried his face in his Ama's hair.

"I get to save you, Ama and Abi!"  He grinned at them.  "I am glad because I love you."

Yosef and Maryam remained as still and calm as possible as their beaming boy kissed them.  Then, when he decided he needed to hug and kiss Yoktan and ran outside, the couple stole a moment alone.  They gazed at each other, silently offering comfort.  Yes, Yeshua was the Messiah but, for now, he was just their little boy to love, cherish, teach, and guide. 

Moving to peek out at Yeshua and the donkey, Maryam noticed the first rays of sunlight in the sky.

"It is nearly dawn," she reported.  "I will start the bread."

"I will watch the boy," Yosef volunteered. 

Before parting, the two kissed and embraced once more, grateful for the opportunity to celebrate Yeshua's birth together.  They smiled when they heard his high-pitched voice relating his story to Yoktan.

"And then you went to Bethlehem and I was born in a stable!  And..."


Saturday, December 24th, 2016

Several of the Friends wiped away tears as Yosef and Maryam finished their story.

"I think that was one of my favorites because it was the first time Yeshua understood something of why he was born," Maryam explained as she stroked her son's hair. 

Joshua sat on the floor beside his mother's chair, little Ian asleep in his arms.  His own eyes had misted as his parents told their tale.

"I always remembered that birthday so well...  I also keenly remembered Abi's grouchy face when I woke him up."

Yosef bestowed a mock scowl on his son and the others laughed, welcoming the moment of levity. 

The Friends were at the tail-end of a joyful but jam-packed week of festivities.  They'd performed in another Christmas revue.  Santa Adam, Mrs. Claus, and Buddy the Elf had paid visits to the Chrysalis, the Phoenix, and True Light.  There'd been a Christmas cookies and cocoa reception at the veterans' hospital.  An entire day had been devoted to making care packages with the Chrysalis' clients.  And, of course, they'd attended Christmas Eve services along with a Hanukkah celebration at Beth-El.  Shopping, baking, caroling, wrapping...  It was little wonder that the adult Friends were looking forward to a couple of quiet, restful hours in which to sip tea, cocoa, and coffee in Willowveil's ballroom while swapping stories of Christmases past as their little ones slept, dreaming of Christmas morning.

"Children can be... trying... at times," Vincent agreed.  He gazed down at his newest grandbaby, Behnam's and Isra's Aurora, asleep in his arms.  "But I cannot imagine Christmas without children." 

"Not at all," Andrew agreed, thinking of his own kids.  Then a mischievous grin flashed on his face.  "Perhaps you could tell us a Christmas story about when Laja was little, Vincent.  The more embarrassing the better."

JenniAnn playfully elbowed him then looked over to Joshua.

"Joshua, has anyone called dibs on the couch in your room?  *Someone* might be needing it tonight."

Joshua chuckled.

"No, no one has."

"Okay, okay," Andrew relented.  "But I do like hearing stories about when you were little."

"Me too!  Mini-Maja stories are the best," Max agreed.

"I always love hearing about when everyone was little," Emma added.  "It's so much fun to imagine tiny versions of you all!"

"Psyche?" Vincent checked.

JenniAnn laughed.

"Oh, all right."

"Well, then, I do have a story.  It's not embarrassing.  Rather, it's quite sweet," Vincent introduced.

"Aww!" Violeta hugged JenniAnn.  "Now I really wanna hear."

"Very well..."

With his eyes on his goddaughter, Vincent began his tale.


December 30th, 1988

Vincent looked on with amusement as Psyche carefully decorated the little tree he'd brought into her chamber.  The six year old was far more precise than most children her age.  Two ornaments of the same color couldn't be next to each other.  Apparently there was also a vast difference between five strands of tinsel on a bough (perfect) and six (unbearable).  The fussiness may have exasperated other adults but, to Vincent, it was charming.  Of course, everything about having the girl near was a joy to the man.

When Psyche was returned to her parents, Vincent had given up all hope of celebrating Christmas with her.  But then, the previous year, Catherine had introduced him to Robert and Allison Chandler, her cousins, and he'd been reunited with Psyche.  The two families had celebrated Christmas together in New York.  Vincent had known, however, that it couldn't last.  The Chandlers had other relations in Nebraska that they'd long spent Christmas with and, naturally, they would want their only child with them for the holidays.  Psyche also dearly loved her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and little cousins.  Vincent couldn't imagine interfering.

But then, shortly after Thanksgiving, Psyche had a supreme meltdown when she'd asked when they'd be seeing Vincent.  She was inconsolable when her parents told her that she wouldn't be going back to the Tunnels until the summer.  After days of sulking, Allison had called Catherine who spoke to Vincent and it was decided that, for the foreseeable future, Psyche would spent Christmas in Nebraska and then travel to New York to celebrate Christmas with her godfather over the New Year holiday.  And that was how Vincent had found himself patiently handing out ornament hooks to his Psyche.

"One more for the star!" Psyche chirped.

"The tree looks beautiful, Psyche," Vincent replied as he handed her a final hook.

"Thanks!  Can you lift me up?"

"Of course."

Vincent raised the girl so she could reach the uppermost branch.  Once the star was placed, Psyche swiveled around and hugged her godfather's neck.

"So pretty!  Thank you for getting me a tree even though it's not really Christmas any more."

Vincent grinned and lightly ruffled her hair.

"Oh but that's where you're wrong, sweet Psyche.  Christmas lasts through January 6th."


"Yes, really.  That's when the Magi came to see the baby Jesus... twelve days after he was born."

The child gawked.

"He was in the manger for twelve days!"

Vincent chuckled.

"Probably not.  I think they would have found some place else for him before then."

"Oh.  Okay."

Vincent could tell that Psyche was mulling this over.  He just knew that she was going to be smart and studious and, one day, they would have long, leisurely discussions about the fine novels he would introduce her to and...



Psyche cocked her head, peering intently at Vincent, and then squished her nose against his and rubbed.

"I like your nose.  Fuzzy."

She proceeded to steal another nose kiss.

When she was finished, Vincent lightly tapped her nose.

"I like your nose, too."

Psyche smiled, yawned, and then rested her head on her grandfather's shoulder.

"When is Catherine coming?"

"She'll be at work for another two hours, then she'll come.  Would you like to take a nap first?"

Psyche mutely nodded and allowed Vincent to tuck her in.

"Vincent?" she called as he smoothed the quilts.


"Stay and read to me?"

"Of course."

Vincent picked up a colorfully illustrated copy of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and began to read.

"During the long, long day of the twenty-fourth of December, the children of Doctor Stahlbaum were not permitted to enter the parlor, much less the adjoining drawing-room..."

After Psyche had drifted to sleep, Vincent remained for a few moments.  He gazed tenderly at the girl, thanking whatever God may be for her.  Then he reached up and touched the nose he'd long been self-conscious of.  It was fuzzy and felt rather nice.

Smiling, Vincent left a kiss on the girl's cheek and, as he left to check in with Father, pondered anew how much better he liked himself when he looked through her child's eyes.


December 24th, 2016

Catherine, misty-eyed, smiled at JenniAnn.

"And that's why I'll forever be indebted to you, Psyche.  You helped Vincent to see himself as I did, too."

With wet cheeks, JenniAnn left Andrew's side and went to her cousins, embracing Catherine first.

"Any debt you imagine to be there was wiped out long ago. You helped bring me back to Vincent... and him to me." 

JenniAnn turned her attention to her godfather, hugged him, and then rubbed her nose against his.

Vincent laughed through his own tears, his heart melting even more when his Psyche looped her fingers around one of his and held fast.

The others looked on with fondness until Edward spoke.

"I'm glad you got to spend Christmas with Vincent, JenniAnn.  It reminds me of one of my favorite Christmases."

"At the farm?" Caleb checked.

His twin nodded.

"We usually celebrated in the city with our parents, naturally.  But when we were eight, Dad got a free Christmas cruise as a bonus for work.  So they shipped us off to Aunt Dot's and Uncle Randall's.

Dot laughed and shook her head.

"It wasn't as simple as that, Eddy.  They were really torn about leaving you for Christmas."

"Oh, I know.  And I'm glad they did go."

Caleb nodded.

"We had a blast!  Lots of cooking with you, Aunt Dot.  And, Uncle Randall, I can remember you taking us to another farm to see real, live reindeer."

"And at sunset on Christmas Eve, we went out into the fields, lit a bonfire, and you read us the Christmas story," Edward recalled, gazing at Joshua who smiled at the memory.

"I think that was the most spiritual I ever felt... until Edward and I showed up at St. G's," Caleb decided.

Randall swiped at a stubborn tear.

"I had no idea that Christmas meant so much to you, too.  Dot and I loved it.  We'd never got to do the Santa Claus thing... stockings, cookies and milk.  I think it was as much fun for us as it was for you boys.  If not more."

The Romanos moved into a group hug.

Upon pulling away, Dot caught Sean's glance and smiled at him and Kemara.

"You'll just be starting all of that soon.  By next year, your twins will probably be old enough to start understanding Santa and stockings."

Kemara chuckled.

"I can just imagine them tearing into their stocking stuffers."

"If they're anything like me, they'll go straight for the candy," Sean joked before elbowing his wife.  "Hopefully you'll be better rested next year than you were last year."

Kemara rolled her eyes.

"It would be difficult not to be... but it was pretty special."

"It was," Sean agreed as he let his mind drift back to the previous Christmas morning.


Friday, December 25th, 2015

Sean McCallum rolls over in bed and reaches for his wife. His flailing hand encounters only cool sheets. His eyes open, but he’s not surprised. Over the past month her absence from their bed has become so routine, he’s used to it.

He knows exactly where she is. 

Groaning a little – what time is it anyway? – he pulls on a T-shirt over his flannel pajama pants. A few minutes rooting under the bed uncovers the slippers his in-laws gave him. He felt like a fool the first time he wore them, but they really do keep his feet warm. And, more to the point, protect his toes from objects left strewn across the floor. 

He stumbles down the little hallway to the living room. As he knew she would be, Kemara is lying in the recliner, wrapped in a blanket. He waits in the doorway until she notices him. They both startle easily these days from lack of sleep.

“Hi.” He whispers.

She smiles above the fleece landscape of cavorting reindeer... another gift, this time from JenniAnn. Who else? “Hi. It’s okay. They’re asleep.” 

He tiptoes over, the slippers coming in handy as he navigates the cluttered living room. Triumphant, he reaches her side and turns back the blanket to see the two small (not tiny anymore but still so small…how are they even real?) bundles nestled one on either side of her. 

“If they’re asleep, why didn’t you come back to bed?” he asks, sitting on the couch and leaning back with a grateful sigh. 

She shrugs. “Too warm and comfy. And I was reading.” She raises her right hand to show a small paperback. “And talking.” A rosary is threaded through the fingers of her left hand.

He takes it, running the warm sapphire-colored glass beads through his own fingers. “Does she reply? Do you two have actual conversations?” 

“Not really.” She tugs it back from him, her expression a little sad. “I miss her. All of them, of course, but it was so nice having her here.”

“For nearly a month,” he agrees, remembering the scary days after Thanksgiving when they had returned to Childrens’ Hospital with two sick preemies. Only a cold, Portia had said, but it needed watching, just in case. So for three days they endured the hours of waiting, hospital food (he found himself missing the cappuccino sometimes) and boredom. On the third day – Sean chuckles at his mind’s wording and Kemara doesn’t even glance at him. In the middle of the night everything is funny – Maryam had turned up in the twins’ room. 

She stayed so long they half hoped she would never leave. She walked over from Willowveil every morning, and even though their own families and the Friends were eager to help, she was different. A kind of second mom – first mom? – to them all.

“I miss her, too. So, what are you reading?” 

She hands over the book a little more hesitantly, as if unsure how he’ll react. 

Angel Unaware: A Touching Story of Love and Loss,” he reads. The cover shows a blond child with almond-shaped eyes, their daughter’s eyes. Frowning slightly, he turns the book over. “Roy Rodgers? Is that…?”

“Yeah. I didn’t know. I mean, I vaguely remember hearing something about it years ago, but…” Kemara trails off, watching as he keeps reading. 

“The baby died?” 

Instinctively, Kemara clutches the smaller of her babies closer. “Yeah, when she was two, I think. I’ve only read the first few pages, but it’s very sweet. Azalea gave it to me the other day.” 

Looking doubtful, Sean offers the book back. “Are you sure you want to be reading something like this?”

The little spurt of anger wakes her up for a minute. “Why not? They’re both fine now!” 

He winces, but he knows it’s not Kemara’s fault. Her hormones are going crazy Portia says, and she can’t take her anti-anxiety meds while she’s nursing. “Sorry, I didn’t mean….”

“No, I’m sorry. You know how I get.” She pours the rosary into the small wooden bowl (the one Joshua carved to hold their wedding rings) on the side table and reaches out to him.  

“Your hands are freezing!” He clasps her small one in both of his. “I’ll get a fire going. It’s chilly in here.” 

She tugs when he stands up, pulling him down for a kiss. “Thanks. I love you.” 

“Love you, too.” He lifts the blanket again and gives more kisses to each rosy face. 

He bustles about for little while, lighting the fire and starting a pot of coffee. When he peeks into the living room, Kemara is fast asleep, her mouth slightly open.

Glancing at the clock, he smiles to himself and returns to the kitchen. He finds what he needs in the fridge, and pre-heating the oven, takes out a pan as quietly as possible. 

He sets the heavy tray down on the table and turns on the tree. The bright lights and the smell of coffee bring Kemara around. 

She blinks at the spread before them, two cups, the pot and a plate of orange rolls spread with cream cheese icing. 

“Merry Christmas.”

Startled, she looks out the window where the sun is just peeking above the waves. When she turns back to him, her smile is blinding. 

“Merry Christmas.”


December 24th, 2016

Neela smiled at the McCallums after Sean had finished his recollection.

"Aww, I'm glad you still got to enjoy your orange rolls.  I feel like I hardly ate for the whole of Zany's first year."

"You ate," Joshua recalled.  "But not nearly enough.  I'm very glad that you realized that Zany needed his Mommy strong and sane."

"Me too. I envy all of you, though.  I wish I'd had such a huge support system after Zany was born.  But, who knows, maybe Eric and I will get to experience that yet."

Eric glanced at Joshua who only responded with a sly grin.

Neela giggled.

"I have a good feeling about that," Kemara offered.  "You might want to start checking your nest on Andrew's tree periodically.  Isn't that right, Joshua?"

Joshua mimed zipping his lips but the sparkle in his eyes was all the answer anyone needed.

"Yay!"  Kylie gently stroked her belly and smiled at the others.  "It really has been so wonderful having you all around throughout my pregnancy.  I definitely think this is my favorite Christmas.  I mean I loved our first married Christmas."  She squeezed Clay's hand.  "But this one has been so amazing.  I've thought of you so often, Maryam.  It's so special to be pregnant now... especially so pregnant.  It's been an easy pregnancy, all things considered, but whenever I felt at all unwell or fatigued, I'd remind myself that you had to travel.  And then give birth in a strange place!"

"I was a trouble-maker from the start," Joshua kidded.

Maryam laughed and patted his hair before taking one of Yosef's hands in both of hers.

"It was trying but far less so with Yosef at my side.  And the Lord."

"Aww, yeah.  One good thing is I don't feel at all bad indulging in an extra cookie... or two.  All for baby!"

"The problem is that then I feel like I should join you.  And I don't have a baby in here.  Just fat."

Clay poked at his stomach.

"Same!" Adam interjected.

"Oh, nonsense!" Diana replied.  "You look as fit as ever, Clay.  So do you, Adam."

"Well, thank you.  If I do, it's likely only because of the work I do.  So..."  The man raised his glass to Dot and Randall.  "Thanks to you for that.  And to you, Joshua.  Everything we did at the Chrysalis put me in better shape to begin with."

"Good point," Adam agreed.  "And whatever pounds we don't shed, we'll likely lose chasing that little one around."  He waved to Kylie's midriff.

"Oh, I can't wait for that," Kylie cooed.  "But I'm even more anxious for cuddle time."

"Cuddle time is the best," Andrew averred.  "I hope your boy or girl is like Belle... no sign of growing out of it."

"And that makes me so happy!" Raquel chortled.  "And she looked so sweet in her dress."

Andrew chuckled.

"About that dress..."


Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

Andrew sat in the library of Willowveil Castle, whittling in his favorite chair before the fireplace.  Nearby, Lulu snoozed.  Elsewhere, Belle was taking a nap and JenniAnn was styling Violeta's hair for a Christmas party at Fordham's.  A light snow fell outside, making for an idyllic winter afternoon.

The angel studied the half-formed figure in his hands.  Once Thanksgiving had ended, he'd known he would need to start on the latest figure for the Friends' nativities.  Since he'd given JenniAnn a quartet of goats for their anniversary, his choice had been obvious.  Andrew smiled at the goat pair, took a sip of butterbeer, and resumed his carving.

He wasn't at his work for long before he heard quiet giggling coming from the hallway.  Smiling to himself, he spoke to his dog.

"I think I hear something, Lulu.  A mouse maybe?"

"No!" a voice chirped.

"Hmm... maybe it's Fawn."

"Nuh uh!"

"I know!  It's got to be St. Nick... a little early but..."


"Oh!  I got it.  I think it's my little Christmas elf that I hear!"

Belle giggled more loudly then came running in.

Unable to resist a chuckle, Andrew shook his head as he saw his daughter.  She was wearing a red and green velvet Christmas dress that Raquel had sent earlier in the week.  JenniAnn had seen to it that Belle tried it on to ensure it fit.  She'd then put it away for Christmas.  Belle, however, was immediately smitten and took every opportunity to sneak back into the dress.  This time she had paired it with assorted necklaces and bracelets that Andrew recognized as JenniAnn's.

"Hmm...  Does Mama know you're wearing that?"

Belle pretended not to hear the question and hugged her father's leg.

Andrew lifted her up.

"So I'll take that as a no..."

"My dress!"

"I know but Mama just wants to make sure it stays nice for Christmas so Grandma Raquel can see you in it."

"I be careful."

"Well, let's just make sure of that.  Go pick a book and I'll read to you."

"Yay!"  Belle scurried over to one of the low shelves where they kept old favorites from JenniAnn's childhood.  After selecting a worn copy of Little Golden Book's Frosty the Snow Man, Belle returned to Andrew and settled onto his lap.

Andrew was only halfway through the book when, tired from cutting short her nap, Belle drifted to sleep.  The angel set down the book and peered at his little one.  A part of him missed the tiny baby who he and JenniAnn had cuddled through Belle's first winter.  However, he also adored the little girl who loudly sang carols and reverently checked on her Nativity's baby Jesus every night before bed.

Andrew was roused from his contemplation and prayerful, silent words of thanksgiving when JenniAnn entered the library.

She opened her mouth to speak but stopped herself when she saw that Belle was sleeping.

"She does love that dress..." she murmured once she'd reached the two.

Andrew kissed Belle's curls.

"She does... and your jewelry."

JenniAnn laughed.

"It's my own fault for letting her play with it so I could get laundry folded.  Besides, one day a lot of it will be hers."

The angel brought JenniAnn's hand to his lips.

"Not for a long time."

JenniAnn settled onto the arm of the chair and hugged Andrew's neck.

"No, not for a long time.  I have to stick around to keep collecting my Nativity figurines, after all."  She picked up the goats.  "I love these!  I want to see how many years it takes before you end up resorting to penguins or buffaloes."

Andrew began to chuckle then quieted himself when Belle stirred.

"I think I'll start making more shepherds and sheep before I go that route."

"Good idea.  You can never have too many sheep.  Just ask Violeta."

"Is she good to go?"

"Yep.  Hair and makeup are perfect.  She's so cute about this party."

JenniAnn noticed that Andrew's hold on Belle tightened slightly.  Smiling, she kissed his hair.

"Don't worry, Daddy.  It's several years before your little elf will be heading out to parties."

"Thank God," Andrew whispered.


December 24th, 2016

"She's so sweet.  They're all so sweet.  I'm just so grateful for all our kids," a clearly emotional Andrew choked out as JenniAnn stroked his back.

"Aww, Dad..."

Max approached and hugged Andrew tightly while Violeta scooted behind his chair and rested her chin on his head with her arms about his neck.

Andrew squeezed Max's hand.

"I'm so glad that you and Rose are back from Germany."  He gave a tearful smile to his daughter-in-law.  "And I'm glad our little Duckling hasn't gone far... just next door."

"And Shelby's been staying here more often than ever before," JenniAnn reminded.

Andrew nodded as he thought of the girl, currently snuggled next to Belle as they slept in the children's room.

"It is really great to be back," Max affirmed.

Rose gave a ready nod.

"Definitely.  I could never have done something like that alone.  It was bad enough being separated from you all but I still had Max to reminisce with."

Max returned to his wife's side and clasped her right hand in both of his.

"Rose kept me sane.  And helped me get into the Christmas spirit.  We even had our own little tree."

The woman laughed as she recalled it.

"Stress on little.  A street vendor was trying to unload the stragglier ones and I'm a sucker.  But it didn't look so bad with a little garland and some very lightweight ornaments and Andrew's Nativity underneath.  We had it on the kitchen table of our dorm.  Our first Christmas tree..."

"That it was."  Max beamed at his wife.

"What happened to it?" Ivy asked.  "When you left, I mean."

"Max gave it to one of the soldiers who was really bad off.  After ensuring he was a Christian, we got him a Nativity set to put underneath it, too."

Joshua's eyes misted.

"Roger...  That meant a lot to him, you know.  More than he could say."

Max looked to Joshua, surprised that it hadn't occurred to him to ask for an update.  Of course Joshua would know!

"How... is he?" he asked with hesitation.

"He's still got a long road ahead of him but you two gave him hope.  And hope can go a long, long way.  A little bird told me he left his room to have Christmas dinner with others."

"That's wonderful!  And I know that's a big first step," Clay recalled.

Rose gave Joshua an appreciative smile, knowing how much the news would mean to Max.  Then her smile flickered into a grin.

"Would this bird happen to be a white dove?  And maybe even a member of the Trinity?"

Joshua chuckled.


Isolde clapped her hands and then smiled self-consciously when she realized she'd done so.

"Sorry.  Sometimes I still get so excited about, well, about..."  The woman turned to Joshua.  "About ye being God and all."

Marco hugged his wife's shoulders.

"You have nothing to apologize for," Joshua assured.

"Not at all," Zeke seconded.  "Heck, we all still have those outbursts sometimes."

"Maybe especially around Christmas and Eastertime," Shane added.

"Knowing about you, Joshua... really knowing... certainly has made this Christmas one of our bests," Marco praised.

"Oh, yes.  So much so.  And, on top of that, being with you all... in our own wonderful home..."  Isolde's eyes glistened as she thought about making preparations for Christmas in the cabin that the Dyelanders had gifted she and Marco with.


Friday, November 25th, 2016

Marco smiled as he entered the cabin he shared with Isolde. He'd been at the restaurant he ran in conjunction with the Chrysalis since 6:00 in the morning.  All day he'd been surrounded by enticing scents and hadn't expected to find them at home, too.

The vampire's amusement increased when he entered the kitchen and found his wife removing cookies from a pan.  She was dusted with flour and powdered sugar.

"Someone's been busy!"

Isolde looked up from her work and grinned.

"Josef asked me if I could babysit Daisy tomorrow.  He and Amber-Marie have a meeting with their lawyer.  So I thought we'd decorate cookies.  And I like the smell."

Marco kissed her temple.

"They smell delicious."

"Thank you.  How was work?"

"Fantastic... by which I mean very, very busy.  Luis almost ran out of black beans and Lizaveta did run out of Turkish Delight.  Speaking of, I find it ironic that Joshua's a fan."

Isolde giggled.

"Well, Lizaveta is far from bein' the White Witch.  So her Turkish Delight is completely innocent."

"True," Marco agreed.

Isolde finished with her cookies then squeezed her husband's hand.

"There's someting else."

"Ooh..." Marco batted his eye lashes as Isolde led him to their bedroom.

Isolde playfully shoved him.

"Naughty boy!" she scolded.  "It's nothin' to do with that.  Here."

Marco's grin faltered as he entered the room.

"Oh, Isolde..."

The woman's eyes filled as she picked up a piece, the empty manger, from the Nativity set up in front of their window.

"Andrew brought it over this morning.  I thought of waitin' for you but I was just so anxious.  Isn't it lovely?"

"Very.  I'd heard he made them for all the Friends but..."

Isolde hugged Marco's waist.

"That means us now."

"Yes...  It does."

"I left the most important piece for you.  It's up to you whether to place 'im now or wait til Christmas Day." 

Marco reverently accepted the little baby that Isolde removed from a box she'd stashed in one of her drawers.

"I think I'd like to see him every day," Marco decided.  "I feel so... peaceful looking at him."

Isolde reached up to kiss his cheek.

"Me too."

Marco gently placed the figure of baby Yeshua in the manger which Isolde had replaced.

"So perfect..." Isolde murmured as they stood before the Nativity, arms about each other's waists.

"Yes."  Marco kissed the top of her head.

"I love that it's wooden instead of porcelain or the like.  Less breakable for when..."

"For when..."

The couple smiled at each other as they imagined chubby, little hands "helping" them set up the Nativity in future years.

Isolde sighed.

"I love having a home... a real home... for Christmas." 

"A home to fill with memories and hopes and dreams."

"Yes..."  Isolde stepped away to brush her fingers over a framed photograph of Joshua that she'd taken at their housewarming. 

Marco brought her other hand to his lips.

"It's already gotten some pretty wonderful memories, huh?"

"Oh, yes."

"Well, let's make another one now.  What say you to putting up our tree?"

Isolde's face, which had clouded a bit from longing, brightened.

"Yes, let's!"

For the next two hours, the couple merrily decorated... hoping and dreaming as they did.


December 24th, 2016

Andrew smiled at the Crocettis.

"I'm so glad that you liked the Nativity."

"We love it," Isolde corrected.  "You really are too modest sometimes, ya know that?"

Andrew squeezed JenniAnn's hand and chuckled.

"So I'm told."

"So are you, Isolde.  When Daisy and I devoured some of those cookies, all you said was 'It was nothing.'"  Amber-Marie shook her head.  "Baking dozens of cookies is never 'nothing' and especially not cookies that taste and look like they come from a too-expensive bakery."

"Well, it does help when one's got hundreds of years to practice," Isolde pointed out.  "But thank you."

"We really appreciated that you brought some today that Zany could eat," Neela offered.

"Ah, it was..."

"Nothing," the others finished in unison before laughing.

"That it most definitely wasn't," Eric stressed.  "Everyone here is always so good about taking his dietary needs into consideration."

"Same with Kendra needing gluten-free stuff," Zeke chimed in.

"Everyone deserves to have treats at Christmas," Monica said as she dunked a cranberry biscotti into her latte.

Neela sighed and rested her head on Eric's shoulder.

"That they do but I think I had too many.  I feel a bit sluggish."

"Would you like to head to bed?" Eric offered.

"Oh no.  I'm fine.  I don't want this night to end just yet."  Neela smiled at Eric and then at Joshua.  "I was thinking earlier about how much has changed for me and Zany in just two years."

"A little over two years ago, I was invited over to the apartment of a virtual stranger for pizza..."  Eric winked at Joshua.  "And everything started to change for me, too... for the better."

"And only a few weeks later, you were a married man."  Neela beamed at him.

"And only a few weeks after that, you gave Emma and me the shock of our lives," Peter recalled, grinning.

"Good ol' Martin."  Eric chuckled.  "I'm so glad I fell back in with you all.  And learned the truth about you, Josh.  I'm sure we'd have enjoyed celebrating Christmas Eve in our apartment, just the three of us, but this... this is..."

"A blessing," Neela finished. 

"Hear, hear!" Emma cried, raising her glass of cider.

"To all the many, many blessings in our lives... and to the One who gives them to us," Peter toasted.

"To Joshua," the others added as glasses and mugs clinked.

"Thank you."  Joshua's smiling gaze traveled around the room.  "It's a blessing to me to be here.  Now... who's next for a story?"

Salma, who had been quietly and happily observing in silence until that moment, looked to Emma.  The two had become good friends in the past months, bonded by their histories of abuse and journeys to healing.

"Emma... if you would... I would enjoy hearing a highlight from your first Christmas as Mrs. Garcia-Campbell."

Emma blushed but smiled beatifically as she hugged her husband's arm.

"Hmm... there have been so many wonderful moments.  Let's see...  Ah, I know!"

Emma gazed adoringly at Peter as she began her story.

"It was the weekend after Thanksgiving and I'd caught the plaque... aka a common cold... and felt miserable.  But, thankfully, I had a wonderful nurse..."


Saturday, November 26th, 2016

Peter halted his cooking when he heard weeping coming from behind his closed bedroom door.  Worried, he turned off the stove and went to check in on Emma who had come down with a bad cold the day before.  He found her balled up on their bed, crying into her pillow.

"Emma!  Sweetheart, what's..."

"It's our first married Christmas and I'm a... a... snotty mess..."

Peter stifled a laugh as he approached the bed and sat down beside his wife.

"Well, first of all, it's only November.  I doubt this cold will hang on clear til Christmas."  He rested a hand on her forehead.  "But you definitely have a fever which is no doubt affecting your, umm, mood."

"But... but we were going to go shopping for your family and..."

"We can go shopping next weekend.  We have plenty of time."

Emma struggled to get up.

"Maybe if I just drink some orange juice then..."

"Nope!"  Peter eased her back down to her pillow.  "You definitely need to rest.  I'll get you some orange juice and finish making us oatmeal.  But then we're staying here.  We can do a Christmas movie marathon.  It'll be fun."

"But I don't want you to get sick..."

"I have a good immune system from being around my siblings and all my cousins when I was younger.  Besides, I've already been exposed.  No use staying away now."  Peter kissed Emma's forehead.  "I'll be right back with breakfast and movies."


Peter finally allowed himself to laugh when he returned to their kitchen.  With both Emma's parents out of the picture, Joshua had taken it upon himself to give Peter a parental rundown about Emma before their wedding.  The carpenter had reported that Emma tended to get loopy and weepy when sick.  He clearly wasn't kidding!

After finishing the oatmeal and mixing in several tasty and healthy ingredients, Peter loaded the bowls, spoons, and two glasses of orange juice onto a tray.  When he re-entered the bedroom, he found Emma with her face pressed against the window.

"This feels nice...  Is my face puffy?"

Peter knew better than to answer his wife's question honestly.

"You look lovely, Emma.  Now... let's get you back to bed."

Emma clung to Peter as he navigated her back to their bed.  When he had her settled, she grinned up at him.

"You're the good kind of hot."

Blushing, Peter handed a glass of orange juice to her.

"Thank you."

Emma took a few sips and then snuggled against her husband once he was seated.

"Handsome, handsome husband...  So pretty."

"Uh, thanks.  You know, maybe we should take your temperature again."


Peter handed Emma a thermometer which she obediently put in her mouth.  After a brief wait and a beep, Peter checked the readout.

"Only 100.2.  It hasn't gone up since last night.  Good."



"I love you...  You're the bees' knees."

That time, Peter couldn't help himself.  He burst out laughing and was relieved when Emma responded with a bleary-eyed smile.

"I love you, too.  And I think you're the cat's pajamas."

"We should get a cat...  Ooh...  It's a Wonderful Life!"

"Why don't I start that and then we'll get some food into you."


A few moments later, the familiar opening sequence began.  Emma was engrossed and Peter had to remind her a few times to eat and drink.

George Bailey hadn't yet come to his crisis on the bridge before the woman had drifted off to sleep.  It was only a few minutes later when Peter followed suit.

After some time, Emma awoke.  She sighed and stretched, feeling better than she had during the past two days.  She glanced at the TV which was stuck on the DVD menu.  Noticing the clock below it, Emma was surprised to find that she'd been asleep for six hours.  Her gaze then turned to Peter who had so selflessly and attentively nursed her.  Her mind was still a bit fuzzy but she seemed to remember being quite childish.  But Peter had remained a cheerful, good sport through it all.

Enamored, Emma snuggled up against her husband.

"Mmm..."  Peter's eyes fluttered open and he smiled.  "You look better."

"I think my fever broke while we slept."

Peter again placed his hand against her forehead.

"Feels like it.  Good.  I don't like you being in pain."

"I don't like being a pain."

"You weren't.  Just a little..."


"Exactly.  You told me I was pretty and the bees' knees."

Emma giggled.

"Well, they're both true but I used those words?"


"Ooh boy...  Well, thank you for taking care of me."

"I promised... for better or worse... for loopy and weepy."

Laughing, Emma hugged Peter.

"Best nurse ever... best husband ever."

"I don't know about that.  I think Florence Nightingale and Yosef would best me."

"Well, the best for me then."

"That I certainly hope is true."

"I know it is.  Now... you up for Love Actually?"


Springing from the bed, Emma soon had the new movie started.  She and Peter watched, snuggled together, as assorted love stories unfolded.  None, however, seemed as wonderful to them as their own.


December 24th, 2016

"Aww!" Violeta cooed.  "That's so sweet!"

"I thought so."  Emma hugged Peter and kissed his cheek.

"It is wonderful to know you have a spouse who always has your best interests at heart.  I especially appreciated it when I was pregnant," Isra shared as she bestowed a proud smile on Behnam.  Then she reached over towards Vincent and gently stroked Aurora's curls.  "Daddy took very, very good care of us, didn't he?"

Aurora gurgled in her sleep.

Vincent chuckled.

"I think your daughter is agreeing, Behnam."

"It was my pleasure.  I certainly had it easier than Isra... or Aurora, for that matter.  Growing... and having someone grow inside you... must be utterly exhausting," the man demurred.

"Your care for my sister has been wonderful to see... life-affirming," Salma offered, her voice soft and husky with emotion.  "It was little things... things you probably didn't even know I noticed.  You pulling out chairs for Isra, carrying her purse for her when her shoulders ached.  And I feel the same watching the two of you..."  The young woman smiled at Zelda and Logan who were snuggled together on a settee.  "All of you, of course, but..."  She shrugged.

"You relate most closely with your sister and your longtime friend," Amber-Marie reasoned.  "That makes complete sense, Salma."

"Yes, I suppose it does."  Salma giggled and returned her attention to Behnam.  "I also very much enjoyed going with you when you shopped for Isra's Christmas present.  To think you get so anxious even after years of marriage."

Isra gave Behnam a squeeze.

"And he doesn't need to be," she insisted.  "Simply having you with me at Christmas is present enough, my love... although I am excited to see what is in that beautiful box beneath our tree."

Behnam chuckled.

"Yes, I know.  I've caught you shaking it."

"Only to make sure none of the lovely ribbons would fall off and pose a choking hazard to the little ones or pets," Isra lied, grinning the whole time.

"Likely story," Behnam teased.

Joshua laughed.  He knew what was in the box and he also knew it was exactly what Isra hoped it would be: a mother's cross.  She'd long admired JenniAnn's and Behnam had chosen one that perfectly suited his wife.

"Only a few more hours' wait, Isra," the carpenter reminded.  "Then you'll be able to open that beautiful box."

"I can't wait!"  Salma sighed happily as she imagined Christmas morning with her sister, brother-in-law, nieces, and nephew gathered together in a warm home provided by Vincent who had become a second father to them all.  And later they would return to Dyeland to spend more time with her beloved Joshua... her Zmaray.

Peering into Joshua's eyes, Salma thought of one of her most treasured memories of the season.


Monday, December 19th, 2016

Salma sang as she walked around the Fields of Gold, plucking boughs of holly.  The Sisters of Divine Patience had a tradition of making wreaths which they presented to the sick and elderly of El-Chanan.  The red of the holly added some much appreciated color.  When JenniAnn had informed Salma of the abundance of holly in the Fields, the young woman had wasted no time in going in pursuit of it. 

Surrounded by majestic hills and massive, gorgeous trees and wearing her favorite blue dress and a matching cloak from Vincent and his people, Salma felt like a princess.  In that shining moment, as her lilting voice echoed around her, what she had suffered seemed very, very far away.

"'Tomorrow shall be my dancing day: I would my true love did so chance to see the legend of my play, to call my true love to my dance: Sing O my love, O my love, my love, my love; this have I done for my true love.'"

Salma sang the verse through again and was just about to move onto the second when another voice beat her to it.

"Then was I born of a virgin pure, of her I took fleshly substance; thus was I knit to man’s nature, to call my true love to my dance: Sing O my love, O my love, my love, my love; this have I done for my true love.'"

Salma sat down her basket of holly and rushed towards the voice coming from the woods.  She was so eager to reach him that she missed an exposed root and began to fall.  Thankfully, Joshua's strong arms caught her and steadied her.

"Zmaray...  Joshua..."  Breathless, Salma rested her cheek on his shoulder and embraced him.  "You're here!"

"Always, my Salma, my child... but I am glad I can be here with you in this way now."  Joshua kissed her veiled hair.  "Now how about that dance before we head to Willowveil?"

Too giddy to speak, Salma replied with a rigorous nod.

In his beautiful tenor, Joshua restarted the old carol as they waltzed around a clearing.

"'Tomorrow shall be my dancing day: I would my true love did so chance to see the legend of my play, to call my true love to my dance: Sing O my love, O my love, my love, my love; this have I done for my true love.'"

Each time he sang "true love," Salma felt as if Joshua was speaking directly and especially to her.  And she supposed he was.  Fr. Mike often reminded her that Joshua would have made the same choices, the same sacrifices even if only one person stood to be saved.  Even if only for her...

When their song and dance ended, Joshua clasped Salma's hands in his and smiled brightly.

"Let's head back now.  We'll pick some more holly on the way.  And you can tell me about everything that's been going on, everything you've been doing with the Sisters."

"But... you know."

"Yes but I adore hearing about your days from you."

And so, brimming with joy, Salma told Joshua of her new life: of babysitting her nieces and nephews, of deciding to take vows, of making so many new friends that sometimes she could hardly name them all.  As she spoke, her hand in the Prince's, Salma felt even more like a princess than before. 


Sunday, December 25th, 2016

When Salma came out of her reverie, she realized that Joshua was staring at her.  The pride and pleasure in his gaze made her want to dance and sing again! 

Before she could say or do anything to act on this impulse, a grandfather clock chimed twelve times. 

"Happy birthday, Joshua!"

"Merry Christmas!"

"Happy two thousandth something, Josh!"

"Happy birthday, my own."

The Birthday Boy smiled at all those surrounding him.  The same utter joy and delight in his children that Salma had noticed was also evident to each of the Friends.

"Thank you, beloved ones.  And thank You to Dad for letting me be here."  Joshua raised his eyes to the ceiling and rested a hand over his heart.  He turned to his Ama and Abi.  "Thank you... for all you've done, for all you still do."

Maryam and Yosef took turns hugging and kissing their boy.

"We have told your story early, Yeshu.  Now what shall we do?" Maryam asked.

Joshua considered for a moment then, again catching Salma's gaze, smiled.

"I'd like to dance.  Nothing too wild.  Everyone should head to bed soon, after all.  How about... a quiet sort of Hora?"

Joshua linked his arms around his parents and began to softly sway.  Soon the others joined in, forming a circle nearly as large as the ballroom.

"Now for the song my Ama sang to me all those many starry nights ago...  'My soul and my spirit rejoice for now, my own, you are here.'"

Many with tears in their eyes but all smiling, the Friends joined in after a nod from Joshua.

"'The Mighty One has done great things, best of all brought you near.  My little one, my precious one, to you these promises I make: I will love you in the daytime, in the nighttime, in the morn as you wake.'"

As they danced, Maryam and Yosef thought back on that sublime, miraculous night when their little Yeshu had been born.  Their hearts had felt so full when their family had shifted from two members to three.  But now, seeing the immense love on their son's face and the love from so many reflected back upon him,
they meditated on how immense their family had become.  Their awe was increased by the knowledge that, in other worlds and other countries, there was yet more love for Yeshua and from him...

"'When the way is hard, when you feel alone and do weep, remember this, oh my child, my love is always yours to keep,'" the chorus of Friends continued.

And so they and so many others knew Joshua's and the Father's love to be: everlasting, ever-giving, ever-present. 

"'Savior.  I get to save everyone!  I am glad because I love you!" a child's voice cried out deep in the soul of the man he'd become.

"Yes.  You did.  And we love you so," a chorus of souls replied as they celebrated His birth.

The End

Thanks to Kim for supplying Sean's tale!

Note for January 1st:  Happy New Year!  Tomorrow's update will be lengthier.  I'll have time for writing then with the New Year's festivities over.

Note for January 6th: Apologies for the delay on the Jan. 5th installment.  Stomach flu is no fun.  I wrote this last portion from my bed using my old laptop with a nearly dead battery.  Therefore, I couldn't proof it before posting.  If you're reading this on the 6th or 7th... I'll clean it up soon!

Works Cited:
Luke 1 & 2- Most of what Maryam and Yosef quote is taken from Luke.
Isaiah 53:5- alluded to as one of the troubling prophecies
Luke 2-34-35: Simeon's prophecy
Matthew 2- the visit of the Magi
The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E. T. A. Hoffmann
Angel Unaware: A Touching Story of Love and Loss by Dale Evans
Little Golden Book's Frosty the Snow Man
The Chronicles of Narnia
by C.S. Lewis
It's a Wonderful Life
Love Actually
"Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day" - Traditional

This newsletter is dedicated to John Dye for being a part of so many of our Christmas memories via the Christmas episodes of TBAA and Tour of Duty and the Once Upon movies.
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(Photo Credits: The photograph used on this page is from Touched by an Angel and owned by CBS Productions, Caroline Productions, and Moon Water Productions.  It is not being used to seek profit.)