‘Tis The Season: Authors Talk Holidays is a special seasonal feature on Pop! Goes The Reader in which some of my favourite authors help me to celebrate the spirit of the season and spread a little holiday cheer. So, pour yourself a cup of hot chocolate and snuggle in by the fireside as they answer the question: “What does the holiday season mean to you?”
About J. Elle
J.Elle is an author and advocate for marginalized voices in both publishing and her community. Born in Houston, Texas, Jess is a first-generation college student with a Bachelor of Journalism and Master of Arts in Educational Administration and Human Development. Her passion for empowering youth dates back before writing to her first career in education. She’s worked as a Preschool Director, Middle School Teacher, and High School Creative Writing Mentor. In her spare time you’ll find her volunteering at an alternative school, providing feedback for aspiring writers, loving on her three littles, or cooking up some dish true to her Texas and Louisiana roots. Wings of Ebony is her first novel.
Growing up, the Holidays were fried turkey, sage, nutmeg, thirty cousins, all the Grandmas. It was shouting at the football game, that baritone solo in the Temptation’s rendition of Silent Night, too many servings of too delicious food. It was red-lipsticked smiles, cashmere sweaters, chests barreling with laughter, Luther Vandross and Mariah Carey. It was saving up dollars for months to be able to drop off wrapped packages on doorsteps, late-night drives through sparkly lights, last-minute runs to the grocery store.
It was family.
It was togetherness.
All of us.
I remember waking up at my Grandma’s on Christmas morning to notes of thyme and sage in the air. My Uncle, who was basically like a dad to me, had usually already arrived and was out back standing over a turkey fryer with Grandpa. I’d climb out of bed and hurry to put on a favorite shirt or something special because it was the day all my family came over and I could count on fun, togetherness, and lots of laughs.
Food was always ready by Noon. My Grandma’s a stickler about time. If you show up after Noon, you’re getting side eyes and you *might* not get a to-go plate. (Okay not really. Everyone leaves with arms full of styrofoam, but you’ll definitely get some empty threats thrown your way if you strolled up at 1 p.m. (which someone always inevitably did, LOL). Grandpa always blessed the table, thanking God for another year together, health and all the things. Then we’d all say, “Amen!” And the EATING BEGAN!
I remember in my really itty bitty years, Grandpa would usually get his mountain of a plate first and my strategy was to slide up on his lap instead of waiting in line for my own. Worked like a charm. And it was doubly effective because I’d get to munch on his best bites, then someone would inevitably hand me my own plate. LOL. There was always a contest to see how many of Grandma’s seven deserts we could actually put away in a single sitting. One year my spouse put a slice of each on his plate determined to tackle them all. (He lasted through a slice of sweet potato pie and Grandma’s Chocolate Sheet Cake before he was snoozing in the recliner.)
It’s so funny how those cobwebbed memories ring so vividly after all these years. The smells, the sounds, the way I’d tuck into a chair in the corner of the room with the perfect view to watch Uncle Bobby and Uncle Chuck get to arguing like they do. I’m grinning right now, remembering.
Grandma’s hands have gotten a bit more wrinkled over the years and she doesn’t move through the kitchen quite as fast. Uncle and Grandpa aren’t standing outside in the yard this year over a fryer #BecauseCOVID. They might even (gasp) order one! And the chair in the corner of the room wouldn’t just be me anymore as I’ve grown three minions of my own who’d happily pile on top of me. The reality is, we won’t be together this year, in person. And that’s hard to swallow.
But as I started grocery planning and hanging decorations around my own house, setting up playlists, the like, I’m reminded that this year especially, I’m creating those colorful memories for the little people following me from room to room with wide sparkly eyes. That the memories that warm me up inside are being written on their little minds and hearts right now. So after a year like this one, when I’m so tempted to be down about what I’ll miss out on this Holiday season, I’m reminded of what I do have. I’m here. I’m healthy. And thanks to technology I can at least see my extended family, virtually. Because, when I really dig into why those Holiday memories with all my family are so special, the heart of it I’ve realized, is it’s a time in life when people usually focus, with great intention, to live in the moment and spread joy.
So that’s my challenge to myself this Holiday, (and to you, if you’re up for it). To live in the moment with whom and what we have right now, grateful to have survived this upside down of a year. And where I can, I hope to spread contagious, cheek burning joy to those right in my home and my immediate community – the mailman, the neighbor on their morning walk, the person behind me in the grocery line, a follower on socials. In a way, aren’t we one big extended family, bonded by the shared experience of surviving this year? So I’m grabbing hold of this opportunity firmly with both hands, to love on the people right around me. (And that includes myself, because it’s been a year and self-care is self-love).
The littles and I talked about how to execute our plan and settled on the idea of “giving warm-fuzzies.” And as my 5-year-old has so eloquently defined: a “warm fuzzy” is when you “make someone feel like a teddy bear on the inside.” LOL. Sometimes it’s a kind word, a thank you, a compliment, a greeting. Little things. Just anything to give someone joy, make someone smile. This year maybe that’s enough? For us, it’s going to have to be. And I’m slowly, but surely, finding joy and peace in that.
On that note, here’s a warm-fuzzy from me to you: J.Elle’s Holiday Spotify Playlist.
Photo credit: Rebecca Honeycutt Photography
Title Wings of Ebony
Author J. Elle
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Publication Date January 26th 2021 by Denene Millner Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Find It On Goodreads ● Amazon ● Chapters ● The Book Depository ● Barnes & Noble ● IndieBound
In this riveting, keenly emotional debut fantasy, a Black teen from Houston has her world upended when she learns about her godly ancestry – and with evil sinking its claws into humans and gods alike, she’ll have to unearth the magic of her true identity to save both her worlds. Perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Tomi Adeyemi, and The Hunger Games. The entire first printing of this novel will be signed!*
“Make a way out of no way” is just the way of life for Rue. But when her mother is shot dead on her doorstep, life for her and her younger sister changes forever. Rue’s taken from her neighborhood by the father she never knew, forced to leave her little sister behind, and whisked away to Ghizon – a hidden island of magic wielders.
Rue is the only half-god, half-human there, where leaders protect their magical powers at all costs and thrive on human suffering. Miserable and desperate to see her sister on the anniversary of their mother’s death, Rue breaks Ghizon’s sacred Do Not Leave Law and returns to Houston, only to discover that Black kids are being forced into crime and violence. And her sister, Tasha, is in danger of falling sway to the very forces that claimed their mother’s life.
Worse still, evidence mounts that the evil plaguing East Row is the same one that lurks in Ghizon – an evil that will stop at nothing until it has stolen everything from her and everyone she loves. Rue must embrace her true identity and wield the full magnitude of her ancestors’ power to save her neighborhood before the gods burn it to the ground.
*Excludes the Barnes & Noble exclusive edition.