The Envelope Please: The Winner and Finalists

Thanks to all who participated in the Christmas Story Contest, announced originally on Huffington Post.

The winner is Kendra Korte, an ex-pat American living in the UK. Her piece, "Waiting at Westminister" appears at the end of this post. She'll receive a copy of Mentors, Muses & Monsters.

The 6 finalists are listed here, and the openings paragraphs of their pieces follow.

Because of technical difficulties - that I didn't understand until a few minutes ago - I will not be able to post PDF files of the finalists (this system does not allow it), and space does not allow me to publish all the pieces on this blog in their entirety. As a last resort, I've come up with a way for you to get a flavor for the pieces, and a way to read them all.

Please read the openings, and email me for the complete package of finalists. I'm preparing the emails to send out right now.
ebenedict@earthlink.net. I'm sorry for the screw-up. I was certain I'd be able to post PDFs on this blog, but it seems that I can't.

1. "Christmas" by Lai Lee Chau

In my head is the pitch-perfect New England Christmas fantasy of my
childhood, complete with a gently twinkling and fragrant Christmas
tree standing by the warm and bright fireplace, and family gathered
around opening presents, crowded close to keep the chill at bay while
the snow falls silently outside on the pine trees. Bing Crosby or
Frank Sinatra is singing. It is a fantasy that was inspired by learning
the words to Christmas carols in elementary school, studying the
tranquil scenes in the red box of assorted 100 Christmas cards, and
visits to my uncleʼs house in Massachusetts suburbia during
Christmas breaks, where for a brief moments I could pretend to be
my America-born cousins, who lived the all-American lives where
such Christmases were possible. Pictures of me from that time had
me and my sisters standing in front of the rustic wooden fence ringing
their front yard, knee deep in an expanse of pure, clean snow. Such
a life seemed far away for a girl growing up in an apartment building
in Washington Heights who wanted these things to be her familyʼs
traditions but which were not.

2. "View Finder" by Ida Chavira

Grandma Mary sits on the chair watched through the lens of my Nikon Life Touch. I zoom in to snap a picture of the guest of honor. She sits with a carnation corsage pinned on the matching sweater of her dark green dress - the one with gray and pink stripes on the hem. She barely smiles, just to be polite. Her cane leans against the sofa. One hand clenches a stiff, double strapped, black purse that holds a handkerchief, Avon lipstick, last month’s phone bill and Kleenex. Her other long fingers, that rolled tortillas every morning, now squeeze and suffocate the skin inside her palm.

3. "That Christmas Spirit" by Paul Genader

The old homestead was sold off long ago now. I haven't been by the place and don't intend to go. Business brought me back to the area and I just came up the hill for the view. There was a nice view from the house when I was a kid, but the trees grew over time and the view just isn't what it used to be. Nothing is what it used to be. The view a little further up the hill is still worthy, though. It's a clear night and the panorama looks as good as ever.

4. "A No 'L' Tantrum" by Jennie Heckscher

They were opening the third round of stocking stuffers when someone suggested mimosas. Eager to keep the Christmas morning peace, everyone heartily agreed, and Henry hoisted himself up to fetch a bottle of Krug.

“Get out the new champagne glasses, Henry,” Martha called shrilly after her husband. She glanced around the room, carefully surveying her grown daughter and step-children, triumphant in her role as supreme family leader. Her daughter Sarah and her step-sons, Charlie and Will, had come for Christmas at long last. Dismally unaware of the depth of persuasion it took
Will to get his wife Jenna to come along with Ally, their two-year old daughter, Martha thought of what she could tell her friends at bridge club next week about their Christmas surrounded by adoring family.

5. "Christmas Presents" by M.J. Rose

I'm Jewish but we celebrated Christmas growing up. My dad was in the toy business, and to a man in the toy business, December 25th is a holy day no matter who you pray to the rest of the year.

Imagine: it's Christmas and your dad is the EVP at one of the top three
toy companies in New York City. Imagine the sight under the tree. Nah
. . . double that. Practically all of FAO Schwarz was under our tree (the
tree, by the way, was five feet tall, plastic, pink and decorated with
pink and silver ornaments.)

6. "Snowflake Kisses, a Day Before" by Zaina Sukkarieh

The phone is beeping again.

My sister catches my eyes through the long blades of the green grass, and raises her eyebrow. Her forehead wrinkled, her blue eyes blazing as fiercely as the sky. She huffs angrily. “Thank God!” she mouths.

Lying on her stomach with her elbows deep in the grass, she sinks
her head back into the pillow of clovers and watches a lady beetle
balance on a long flimsy fern. I roll onto my back and pluck at a single
dandelion. Holding it up to the sun and shielding my eyes I let out a
long exasperated sigh, and watch the seeds dwindle and fall like
snowflakes. I close my eyes, the seeds gently flutter down onto my
face and I wonder if this is what it feels like to be kissed by a

As you can see, these are wonderful beginnings, and wonderful pieces. Please email me for the complete set:

The Winner:

"Waiting at Westminster" by Kendra Korte

Bit chilly out here, isn’t it? It’s a little bit ridiculous that we have to be here so early but, I suppose, what else are you going to do on Christmas Eve? When do they open the doors, do you know? I am looking forward to getting inside and sitting down a bit. It wouldn’t even be so bad out here if we’d just be moving a bit or something, but no, two hours standing in a line. I hear that the line started forming at the door about eight or so – not that it’s not an important service of course, but it doesn’t start until 11:30! If I’m going to be waiting for so long, I hope I at least get a good seat.

You here by yourself, too, then? Where are you from? I’m from the US, too - Minnesota. I always wanted to come to London, and my daughter’s spending Christmas with her in-laws this year, so I decided that it would be a retirement present to myself. Yeah, I retired this fall. What do you do? Oh, that must be nice, living here like that. Do you get back home often? Didn’t you want to go back for Christmas?

Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to - Do you miss your family a lot? Sorry, that’s a silly question, of course you do. It must be hard to be so far away for so long. But I bet you’ve made lots of friends here, at work and at your school there. Do you live alone or do you share a place or what? Four of you? That’s a nice number – just enough so that you don’t get lonely, not so many that you don’t have some privacy. Are you good friends, then? Didn’t they want to come along to this? Oh, dear, you must be so lonely without them. Is it far, where you live? I hear the Tube will be shut down for Christmas by the time this service is over. Will you have far to go to get home? I’m staying in Bloomsbury, so it’ll be a ways to walk but I’ll be fine, I’m sure. It’s already so quiet. It’s like the city itself is ready for Christmas. Even here. There must be hundreds of people waiting right now, but here we are chatting just as easily as if we were alone.

How much longer do you think it’ll be before they start letting people in? Can you see Big Ben from where you are? I feel like we’ve been standing here for ages. It’s only been forty-five minutes? Really? Well, I still hope they start letting people in soon. Services in Westminster Abbey, after all – I want to be able to at least look around me before it all starts. I came in on a tour yesterday to see the tombs and things, but there’s so many people, aren’t there? You almost feel run through on a conveyor belt or something, at least I sure did. I’d like to find out more about some of those people, too – some of the prime ministers or politicians or something. I know about the kings of course, but some of the others must have been pretty important to be buried in there. Where do you think they’ll let us sit? It would be nice to be in Poet’s Corner or something, look around at all those familiar names and all that.

So why’d you decide to come here, then? I mean, if you live here, there’s probably lots of places you could go for services. Yeah, you’re right, it is a special place. Something so old, with so much history, you can almost feel the presence of the past, can’t you, while you’re in there? At least that’s what I’m hoping. It was so crowded yesterday, like I said, but I usually find that as part of a service even the most crowded place becomes holy. Something about the community, about everyone doing it together, about knowing that all over the world people are doing the same thing. People need connections, you know, and that’s what this does for us. At least once a year, we come together. Easter may be more important from a Christian point of view, but Christmas is more important for us as people. Even when we’re alone, like you are and like I am now, we still need people at Christmastime. No matter what you believe, this is the time to be with people.

Oh, don’t be bitter, dear. You’re not alone. You’re here, aren’t you? If you were really alone at Christmas, really alone and not just lonely, you’d be back at that shared house of yours, sitting in the dark by yourself, instead of shivering out here in a line of hundreds of people trying to get into a thousand-year-old church. You’re just lonely, not alone. Not that you don’t have reason to be, mind you, being away from your family for the first time, and all your housemates going off without you and all that that you said earlier. But there’s a difference between being alone and being lonely and you, my dear, are not alone. At least for tonight, anyway.

Oh, don’t cry, dear. It’s too cold. Your face will freeze. That’s better, isn’t it? Now, I know that we only met half an hour ago, and we won’t meet again after tonight, but for tonight, anyway, for this service, we’ll have each other, right? Someone to chat to while the organ is playing and all those choirboys are coming in. The shepherds and kings and all gathered together to mark the birth, so we will too. It’s a shared experience, you know? And you need someone to share it with, or you wouldn’t be here.

Did I see movement up there? Oh, good we’re finally getting to go in. Not before time, either. I can hardly feel my fingers. It’ll be good to sit down for a bit, too. Don’t your feet hurt with heels that high? Just like my daughter, she wears heels like that all the time. I can’t do it, myself.

Yes, there’s two of us. We’re together. Merry Christmas.

-- Kendra Korte is an American ex-pat in the UK. She writes about books at mendramarie.wordpress.com.

Results of Xmas Contest to be Posted Later Today

I hope to post the winner and finalists of the Christmas Story Contest later today. Stay tuned.