Here’s an example:
Star of the Nativity
By Joseph Brodsky (December 1987)
In the cold season, in a locality
accustomed to heat more than
to cold, to horizontality more than
to a mountain,
a child was born in a cave in order
to save the world;
it blew as only in deserts in
winter it blows, athwart.
To Him, all things seemed enormous:
His mother’s breast, the steam
out of the ox’s nostrils, Caspar,
Balthazar, Melchior—the team
of Magi, their presents heaped by
the door, ajar.
He was but a dot, and a dot was the
Keenly, without blinking, through
clouds, upon the child in the
manger, from far away—
from the depth of the universe,
from its opposite end—the star
was looking into the cave. And that
was the Father’s stare.
Holiday poems and stories have an
lasting appeal, they take us back to childhood, they remember things not always
present in our minds, and they can make us laugh or cry. Most of you are
familiar with Charles Dickens’s story about Scrooge, Tiny Tim, and the ghosts
of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. For this
prompt, we’re going to do some variations on the past, present, and future
theme, and you’ll need to think about your past, present, and future
Christmases, Chanukahs, Kwanzaas, or other annual winter-season celebrations.
And here’s one of my all-time
favorite winter holiday poems, written by my late friend and fellow poet, Gail
Gerwin (from her book Dear Kinfolk):
Are We Done Yet?
By Gail Fishman
When my daughter
we lit the
atop the Lane
purchase as a married couple.
In our new home
we could peer
out the window
at the house below,
where the Todds’
in their den
blazed lights of every
by glossy ornaments,
all leading to a
star on top that seemed
directly from Heaven.
We chanted our
allowed Karen to
for her first
time, hustled Katey
to the other
side of the room
lest she set her
complete, we gifted
doll, a book, a toy
(only a hundred
dollars for an entire year,
reads the bill I
unearthed in the
basement as I
cavern where we
store our past).
Dinner, I told
everyone, the greasy
burning at the edges
as they sat in
oil on the new gold
Wait, Mommy, I
have a question,
what’s that in the window
over there? It’s
a Christmas tree, I told her.
Why don’t we
have a Christmas tree?
Jewish, I said. She wanted
to know then,
before eating brisket
cut into small
pieces so she wouldn’t
crunching the latkes,
now on the edge
When will we be
finished being Jewish?
1. Write about a holiday about
your past (dig deeply into family memories).
2. Write a poem in which you
compare winter holidays of the past, present, and/or future.
3. Write about seasonal ghosts
that haunt you.
4. Write about people from your
past who are no longer with you and how that impacts your present holiday
season; or, write about one special person with whom you always associate the
5. Write about aspects of winter
holiday traditions that remain part of your annual celebrations.
6. Write about the faith and/or
cultural aspects of your winter holidays.
7. Write about one unforgettable
8. Write about holiday food
treats and how they sweeten your memories.
9. Write about a holiday song
that replays in your mind because of its associations (or, write your own words
to a Christmas carol or other winter holiday song).
10. Write a poem based on an old
Christmas, Chanukah, or other winter holiday photograph
11. Write about a historical
12. Write about a winter holiday
yet to come. You might consider a fantasy poem with a futuristic sensibility.
1. Keep in mind that holiday
literature can be tricky—be sure to sidestep the pitfalls of sentimentality,
schmaltziness, nostalgia, and clichés.
2. Work toward fresh and original
language, figures of speech, and an integrated whole of language, form, and
3. Be sure to show through
examples and imagery—don’t simply tell.
4. Try to write in the active,
not the passive, voice. To do that, it can be helpful to remove “ing” endings
and to write in the present tense (this will also create a greater sense of
5. Be on the lookout for
prepositional phrases that you might remove (articles, conjunctions, and
unnecessary adjectives too).
6. Think about your poem. What it
reveals about being human? Is there a message larger than your memory or
subject? How might your readers relate to your poem?