Three of My Favorite Holiday Reads and A Fireplace

Three of My Favorite Holiday Reads and A Fireplace

By Eleanor Parker Sapia

My quirky, old house in West Virginia is the perfect house for me with one glaring exception: it doesn’t have a fireplace. When I first walked through this 1907 Federal-style house, it had everything on my house hunting check list and the remnants of where a fireplace had once stood. Even without a fireplace, the house had enough charm for me, so I quickly bought it.

Although I prefer a wood burning fireplace, I would be more than content with a gas one, but as a full time writer, that’s probably not happening any time soon. If I had the money, there would be wood burning fireplaces in every room, especially in the living room and in my bed room. Luxurious, cozy, sensual, and glorious! My house would then be the perfect house for me. I’d never leave my home, which as it happens, I don’t leave much now; that’s how much I love my cozy home. The period features throughout the house more than make up for only having three miniscule closets, one bathroom with a claw foot tub that drains when it feels like it, and no dishwasher…except for me, of course.

011why is a fireplace so important to my winter happiness?

I’ve thought about my obsession with fireplaces, and this is what I came up with. Imagine you’re 100% ready for the holidays and the family is out buying last minute Christmas gifts. You are sunk into the world’s most comfortable, cushy, reading chair with good lighting and you’re covered by an incredibly soft, warm blanket. A sleepy cat warms your lap and your dog lies on the ottoman at your toasty feet. On the table next to you sits a pot of steaming tea, a frothy cappuccino, or a glass of your favorite wine or sherry. As the roaring fire warms your cheeks, you tuck your feet under the blanket and begin reading from your favorite book. The view outside your window is all about glistening, crystalline, snow-covered trees and mountains against a wintery sunset, and somewhere in the distance you hear the faint sound of church bells. The smells around you fill your nose: orange, cranberry, a light whiff of frankincense, and the incredible smell of a freshly-cut Christmas tree–it just doesn’t get any better than that. A heavenly scene in my book, and speaking of books, I’d like to share three of my favorite holiday books to gift and read during the Holiday season, especially on Christmas Eve.



  1. A VISIT FROM ST. NICHOLAS, more commonly known as THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, by Clement Clark Moore

When my children were young, I read this holiday classic to them every Christmas Eve and they read the book aloud on Christmas Eve when they were older with just as much anticipation and joy as when they were little ones. My adult children now have their own homes and I live alone, but I still place this beloved book on the coffee table and read it on Christmas Eve. And every year, I wish for a fireplace!

I hope to share this time-honored classic with my future grandchildren and great-grandchildren. There is still something comforting about the illustrations and descriptions of cozy home life when the world was simpler. Yes, I get nostalgic! My Christmas memories take me back, way back to when I used to kiss my sleeping children’s warm cheeks with red lipstick (a kiss from Santa), and sprinkle powdered sugar inside the fireplace and then step in the sugar with my husband’s heavy boots, recreating Santa’s steps to the Christmas tree with his sack full of gifts, much to my young children’s delight in the morning. Beautiful and peaceful days of Christmas past.



“In the preface to ‘A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens wrote that he tried “to raise the Ghost of an Idea” with readers and trusted that it would “haunt their houses pleasantly.” In December 1997, 154 Christmases later, the New York Times Magazine asked our Edward Gorey, ‘the iconoclastic artist and author’, to refurbish this enduring morality tale. What is Gorey’s moral? Don’t eat fruitcake? Don’t look for morals? Don’t mess with the classics? Whatever. You decide. But don’t think too hard, and have a Merry Christmas.”

I added this gem of a book to my Christmas Eve reads a few years back while searching the Internet for obscure, weird, or little known books written about the holidays. I don’t remember which website I gleaned it from, but the blogger described the book perfectly. If you’re like me and you love Christmas, and weird and interesting reads, this is the book for you. I love it. Let me know what you think after you read it!


  1. Noche Buena: Hispanic American Christmas Stories, Oxford University Press.

“A family seated round the fireplace singing and making merry; a sprightly waltz played with grace, Noche Buena brings us all the magic of the Christmas season as seen through the eyes of the Hispanic Americans who celebrate it. Christmas is at times a universal story, and many of the images here are recognizable across cultures. We hear and see proud, joyful singing; the adoration of the Infant Jesus; and the peaceful strains of Adeste Fidelis. But here as well are the rich traditions and legends specific to the Hispanic culture, such as the celebration of the posadas for nine nights leading up to Christmas, with candy raining down from colorful swinging piñatas, egg shells filled with confetti, and beautiful paper lanterns crafted to illuminate the town on Christmas Eve. There is the “Legend of the Poinsettia” where a poor child embarrassed by the modesty of his gift for the Christ Child sheds tears on the dull green leaves of the familiar plant, thereby miraculously transforming them to a brilliant red. And here too are hopeful children singing “If You Give Me Meat Pies,” asking for the reward of warm meat pies and rice pudding in return for their sweet caroling. Thirty-six inspiring literary selections comprise this enchanting collection of works from Mexican, Colombian, Cuban, and Puerto Rican writers–writers who represent the range of Hispanic minority groups in the United States. Through these stories, traditional tales, songs, and poetry, readers gain a true understanding of the importance of the Christmas holiday within the Hispanic community, and begin to grasp the issues that inform the Hispanic American creative process–issues such as communal identity, patriotism, poverty, assimilation, and religion. With vivid illustrations and original Spanish text for all poetry, this fascinating anthology will inform readers of all cultural backgrounds, and give them the opportunity to celebrate this cherished time with a newly extended family.”

Not much to add to the book’s summary on Amazon; it’s a great book to share with your children and family over the Holiday season.

November and December 2013 286

So, what is to be done about my missing fireplace situation?

Well, it turns out that I found a very old, beautifully-carved fireplace mantel for under $100 at my local ‘antique’ shop. For now, it lays against the dining wall room wall until I can figure out how to build it out and attach it the wall…like it has always been there. I might even figure out how to build a hearth, too. Then I’ll place white candles of every size inside the opening to read and eat by candlight. Romance is good!

And next Christmas Eve, my children’s old Christmas stockings will hang from the mantle, just like when they were young. I will recreate Christmas past from my well-stocked memory bank, and again, I will remember that Christmas is in my heart and mind, not with the material things around me. But hey, I have a vivid imagination and I truly believe that what we visualize will materialize. Let’s see what I come up with.

Happy Holidays to you and all my best wishes for a wonderful 2016!

About Eleanor


Puerto Rican novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker, and a refugee case worker, inspire her stories. She is a member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, and the Historical Novel Society, and she is a contributing writer for Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman, Eleanor’s debut novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club, and is listed in Centro Voices, The Center of Puerto Rican Studies, ‘Essential Boricua Reading for the 2015 Holiday Season’. Book clubs across the United States have enjoyed A Decent Woman. Eleanor is featured in the newly published anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani. Eleanor is the mother of two wonderful adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel and a short story collection.



Motherhood: The Hen or the Egg?

When I think of Mother’s Day, my thoughts immediately go to my children and to my mother, Mercedes, who died in 1992 at my present age. I think of my grandmother, Eloina, now passed on, and her mother, Amancia, who died tragically when my grandmother was the tender age of nine—for without the long lineage of amazing and beautiful Puerto Rican and Canarian women before me, my children wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be a mother. Of course, my father, the men in my family, and my ex-husband played a big role, as well. But, since today is Mother’s Day, I’ll stay on the subject of motherhood and children.

matthew's 21st bdayOn Mother’s Day, I don’t immediately think of receiving gifts, cards, and flowers from my kids. I don’t wait for invitations to brunch, and I would certainly understand if my children couldn’t call me on this day. I don’t guilt them into remembering me one day out of the year; they remember me well every day of the year…but I am happy when they do.

They’ve never missed sharing Mother’s Day with me in some special way, and I wonder to what extent my heart would ache if they did forget? Knowing myself well, my heart would be heavy, but I would never doubt their love for me. Never. Their actions and behavior during the year and over the years, have taught me actions will always speak louder than words. Was I always this way? Quasi-wise? Are you kidding? No, definitely not. I had to learn…the hard way.

If you were to ask my children to describe what it was like growing up with me, they’d probably say I was strict, over-protective, physically demonstrative, fun, sometimes clueless, funny, and always loving. They know I am their biggest cheerleader, always will be, and they’ve given me much to celebrate and be proud of. When my kids were in their twenties, I had a hard time letting go of them, which stemmed from my naive expectations that their childhood would resemble mine.

I realized that as much as I wished my children could experience what I’d experienced growing up with my mother, my grandmother, and the women of my family—we weren’t living in the 1960’s, and memories are not to be repeated. Some traditions, though wonderful, aren’t meant to last. Instead, for me, memories and traditions are to be treasured, kept safe, and are easily accessible to keep me warm and smiling. It was not our destiny to gather at my house for every single holiday and for many important life events. My kids and I wouldn’t spend every summer together at my river place. None of those things would happen very often because I taught my kids to be independent, free thinkers, and adventurous. I showed them, and marrying an Army officer helped, that the world is a wonderful place to be explored and embraced—we traveled and lived abroad for most of my children’s lives.

IMG_3290Motherhood in my late twenties taught me to capture and nurture my children’s hearts and minds, to keep them safe, and hopefully teach them important life lessons. I know I missed some.

But as it turned out, my adult children taught me how to parent adult children—you don’t try. I learned how to release them in love when it was time. Release seems like a strong word, a word that conjures up thoughts for me of simple traps, nests, holding fledgling birds to the sun and the wind, and releasing them in an open field, knowing they are ready to fly into the great unknown with an arsenal of lessons and information. And that’s exactly what it felt like. They know I will always be there for them.

I soon found out (because it all goes so fast) that parenting children and parenting young adults is drastically different—I will always be their mother, but I can no longer parent—they stand on firm ground and have done so for many years. My children taught me as much as I’ve taught them, and no, I didn’t know it was time to let go when it arrived. As it turned out, I was the one who flew the nest first. I left the Washington, DC area in 2011 when my kids were working and building lives in Northern Virginia. They were settled and happy, growing strong roots when I decided it was time for me to move where I could afford to live and write full time. It was a tough decision, and despite their immediate concern and hurt feelings, I knew the time had come for me to leave the nest to ultimately allow my children to spread their wings and soar.

IMG_4576Four years on, my son moved back to Europe. He lives and works in the Netherlands. He’s never been happier or more productive. My daughter pursued her Masters degree and left a long-term relationship that could never nurture or protect her like she deserved. She’s never been happier or more productive. Me? I’m proud of my children. Loving and supporting my children from afar is enough, and when we come together like today on Skype—it’s magic. We shared a special time on Skype and I am happy.

Do I still give my kids advice, offer suggestions, and try to show them a better way to do things? Are you kidding? Of course, I do! Only now, I stop myself mid-sentence and grin like a Cheshire cat. A smile says, “Oh, yeah. You got this.”

About EleanorParker Sapia

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s work as a counselor, alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, and is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is her debut historical novel, set in turn of the century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club, Book of the Month. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and she currently lives in West Virginia.

A DECENT WOMAN available now on Amazon