Thursday, December 13, 2007

The 12 Authors of Christmas – Elizabeth Musser

Captain's Log, Supplemental

About Elizabeth:

Elizabeth Musser, a native of Atlanta, Georgia now living in France, is a novelist who writes what she calls ‘entertainment with a soul.’ Her novels have been acclaimed in the United States and in Europe. The Swan House, set in Atlanta in the early sixties, was named as one of Amazon’s Top Christian Books of the Year (2001) and was an ABA and SEBA bestseller. Her French-Algerian trilogy, which takes place during Algeria’s War for Independence from France (Two Crosses, Two Testaments, Two Destinies) has been a bestseller in Europe. Elizabeth’s latest novel, The Dwelling Place, (2005), set in present day Atlanta, and a sequel to The Swan House, takes the reader back into the events of 1968 in both America and France, examining themes of brokenness and healing, faith and forgiveness, surrender and sacrifice. Elizabeth’s new novel, Searching for Eternity, was released in October, 2007.

From an interview with Publisher’s Weekly, “Elizabeth Musser likes to say she has two part-time jobs. Not only is she an award-winning novelist, but she and her husband serve as missionaries at a small Protestant church in Lyon, France. In both lines of work, she avoids preaching and simplistic answers, choosing instead to portray a God who cares in the midst of life's complexity...”

For over 20 years, Elizabeth and her husband, Paul, have been involved in mission work with International Teams. They presently live in Lyon, France. The Mussers have two sons, Andrew and Christopher.

To learn more about Elizabeth and her books, please visit her website at www.elizabethmusser.com.

Tell us about your first Christmas memory?

I was about four or five and it was Christmas Eve. A knock came to the door. My father answered it and there was Santa Claus! My brother (14 months older than I) and I were in awe. He told us we had to go to bed so that he could come back later when we were asleep=) You can bet we went to bed after leaving out some cookies and milk!

Growing up, did your family have Christmas traditions? Tell us how you incorporated them into your family life. Or, how you created new ones.

When I was a girl, several times I was able to sing with my church choir at something called 'The Lighting of the Great Tree'. This was an event on Thanksgiving Night where choirs from all over Atlanta were invited to sing at the downtown Rich's department store on the 'bridge' across a road. This bridge was three levels with glass windows that looked out at the crowds of people below in the streets who had come to hear the choirs. Near the end of the program, all the choirs joined together to sing 'O Holy Night' and when we got to the words, "Fall on your knees", the lights on an enormous Christmas Tree perched on the roof above us came on. It was a wonderful celebration and memory. Then on Christmas Eve, we always attended our church's Christmas Eve service. A woman in the church played a handbell solo of 'O Holy Night' that was very soul-stirring. And at the end of the service, we each lit a candle and held it up to celebrate Christ's birth. What joy to see the whole sanctuary filled in that light!

In France, where I have lived with my family for 20 years, we cannot attend special events like the ones described above so my family has started our own traditions. Every year we bake many, many Christmas goodies--cut-out cookies, 'Kiss' cookies, blonde brownies etc etc--American things--and give 'cookie plates' to our neighbors and the merchants in town who serve us throughout the year. This is not a typical thing to do in France, but has opened up many doors for fellowship and discussion. We usually include a little handmade card (by our sons) with a Bible verse. Now that our boys are teens, the tradition has become inviting the whole youth group over to bake cookies and prepare the cookie plates and hand them out as well as distributing bags with socks, gloves, cereal bars, chocolate and Gospels to the homeless.

Another tradition is that I buy an ornament for each of my sons each year--from a location we have traveled to during the year--and they open the new ornament on the night we decorate the tree. We also still read all our favorite Christmas books together--the ones our boys read when they were small. Our favorite is 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas.' And in France, our nativity is made up of little clay 'santons' ('santon' means 'little saint') that are hand-painted in the south of France. Not only do we have the Holy Family and the wise men and shepherds, but dozens of townspeople bringing there gifts to the baby Jesus. (See picture). You buy these santons at open markets in France and I always bought two unpainted clay santons, along with the hand-painted ones, for my sons to paint when they were young .

When do you put up your tree? Describe the decorating at your house.

We usually put up the tree during the first week of December. For years in France, it was hard to find a tree that early. Now it has become easier. We choose the tree one day and bring it home. Then, on the day when the boys have the least amount of homework, we decorate--first the lights by Dad, then the ornaments by the boys and Mom, and finally I add little red bows and balls to finish it off. Our tree is always very eclectic! We have hot chocolate too. And we read from an advent book as often as possible in the evenings, lighting candles on our advent wreath.

What is your favorite Christmas song or album? (Feel free here to talk about choirs or other musical things you participate in during Christmas.)

I love Christmas music and have many albums, but the one that holds the most memories (and tears) is Amy Grant's first Christmas album. Amy was at Vanderbilt at the same time I was, and I watched her career bloom. I loved her music. After graduating from Vandy, I headed to the mission field of France (much to my surprise!) That first Christmas far away from home was so hard. A dear friend sent me Amy's new album. I was babysitting the children of the elder and his wife. She was at the hospital with her 6th child. I was going crazy caring for the others--fortunately I had my dear friend and teammate, Odette, there with me. I put on Amy's tape and as soon as she began singing 'Tender Tennessee Christmas', I burst into tears and cried and cried. I longed to be home. That was true homesickness. Now after 20 years in France, I listen to that tape in awe and wonder at all the Lord has done in and through my family.

Relive your childhood Christmas mornings for us.

My brother and I would wake up early and tiptoe downstairs, being careful not to look in the den where the tree and gifts were. We'd wake Mom and Dad and then all gather in the den to see the surprises Santa had brought. There were always stockings overflowing with fruit and candy (always a banana and orange!) and several unwrapped gifts from Santa and then many other gifts under the tree. After we opened the gifts, my father would fix a breakfast of eggs and bacon and grits and rolls. Yum! As we became teens, I used to rise very early and sneak out of the house and feed the horses that were in the barn behind the house--I'd get up at 5:30. It used to be my mother's job, but I took it on and even took special gifts to the horses before going back inside and waking my family. If it was cold--you never can tell the weather in Atlanta--we'd make a fire, too. Later in the afternoon, we'd gather at someone's home for a big feast (either ours, my aunts, or another relative). When I was a young girl, I loved to sneak away and find a quiet spot to read the new Nancy Drew mysteries I had received for Christmas.

Tell us about your Christmas setting--do you have a white Christmas?

We live in Lyon, France which is about 4 hours southeast of Paris. It gets chilly and there is always the possibility of a white Christmas. We have snow in the winter, but not often at Christmas. The big celebration in Lyon is on the 8th of December when the whole city celebrates the Light Festival. Everyone puts a little votive candle in the window to commemorate the Virgin Mary saving the city from the plague and from war. Hundreds of thousands of people go out into the streets to see the lights that are set up throughout the city. There are laser shows and elaborate lighting designs. It's an amazing 'party' that people come from far and wide to participate in. Our church youth group goes out and does questionnaires about spirituality and who is Jesus. It is a time to be bold about our faith because most people are only there for the lights.

It's Christmas Eve… Describe your day and evening.

It varies. When the kids were young, we often had a meal at our house or our teammates house and sang carols and gave gifts, came home, opened one gift, lit the advent candles, had prayer time, then turned off all the lights except for the lights on the Christmas tree. We welcomed Jesus. Then we tucked the kids in bed and put out all the 'unwrapped' goodies, stuffed the stockings and wrapped any last gifts.

The next morn, the kids got in bed with us and we read Luke 2 before going downstairs to open gifts, have a special breakfast and get ready to welcome friends to our home (since our families are on the other side of the Atlantic, we invite those who don't have anywhere to go). Some Christmas Eves were spent in the French tradition of 'Reveillon"—the French go to midnight mass and then have an elaborate meal that lasts until the wee hours of the morn. Four or five courses. The kids open their gift before tumbling in bed and sleeping until late the next morn.

On Christmas Day evening, we gather whoever wants to come for dessert and watching 'It's a Wonderful Life'.

Confession time. Shop on line or at the mall?

I like to make a lot of my gifts--photo calendars, collages, albums—and then I do a little shopping at the mall. Now I do some online, because it's easier and less expensive to send gifts back to the States via some of the things offered on line!

Christmas grows more and more commercial every year. Setting the hustle and bustle aside, what does Christmas really mean to you?

Emmanuel, God with Us. Jesus came and made a way. We're a family who knows about living in a different culture and what 'culture shock' means. Christmas is Jesus accepting culture shock, infinite deity becoming finite man for us so that we could taste eternity. It is wonderful mystery. As Michael Card sings, "And so the Light became alive and manna became man; eternity stepped into time so we could understand." Christmas is the opportunity to say to those who do not yet know Christ, "Jesus came in a manger, but he didn't stay there. He grew up, humbled Himself and died for us. Won't you come along and find out about Him and how much He loves you?"

It's Christmas day… what's for dinner? Do you make cookies or other traditional foods?

Dinner depends on who is fixing the meal. Often it is turkey, but there's usually a French twist to it. For instance, foie gras on toast, smoked salmon on toasts, a good white wine, (that's the first course), then (second course) perhaps a salad with all kinds of good things inside, and you might have oysters (I don't like them, but our friends do!) and then (third course) turkey and stuffing and gravy (American necessities) and different vegetables and mashed potatoes and then (fourth course) cheeses with bread and then (fifth course) dessert. We always have Jesus' birthday cake at the end and sing happy birthday. His cake is a wonderfully yummy pound cake that I used to make with my mother when I was young.

Tell us about your favorite Christmas memory.

I don't have a very favorite--I have so many wonderful memories. Perhaps the most poignant is when my second son Christopher was a baby. He was born in late November and so was an infant at Christmas that year. I could suddenly relate all the more to Mary and the awe and joy of the Savior's birth became all the more real to me. How precious to hold a newborn while celebrating the birth of our King.

What are your plans for this season?

We will stay in Lyon and celebrate with friends who do not have family. We'll have both boys home (they are both away at school now) so we are thrilled! We'll do many of the things described above. The youth group will come and make cookies, we'll hand out bags to the homeless and this year, there is a Christmas Eve candlelight service in English. Our first ever in France. We'll be attending. We'll read stories, listen to Christmas music and try to make the season simple--the beauty we enjoy is being together, taking long walks and sharing deep conversation, helping others, cuddling around a fire and talking on the phone to our dear family across the Atlantic.

Any final thoughts on Christmas?

My prayer is that we can celebrate Jesus' birth and glow with the change He has brought to our lives. May we never take our freedom for granted. May we remember those who are not free to celebrate as we are. And may we give more away than we keep for ourselves.

Camy here: Thanks for sharing, Elizabeth!

Here’s the cover and blurb from Elizabeth’s latest novel, Searching for Eternity. (On a very random side note, isn’t the guy on her cover just dishy?):

A youth yanked out of the only life he's known to live on the other side of the Atlantic with a grandmother he's never seen before... A mother who shrugs off her son's anguish with breezy assurances like, "You'll love America, Emile."... A father's sudden disappearance from his son's life with no explanation or even a good-bye... French-born Emile de Bonnery lands in the strange environment of 1960s Atlanta with decidedly mixed emotions. Some memories make Emile want to believe the best of his father. Others cause him to fear the worst. Does his mother know more than she's willing to tell? Determined to learn the truth, Emile finds an ally and friend--who seems to be hiding secrets of her own. Together they search for answers...and what they find changes everything.

4 comments :

  1. camy, I'm loving your christmas series. thanks so much. it gets me in the spirit.

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  2. Elizabeth, thanks for writing this. I really found it fascinating the glimpse of Christmas far away.

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  3. Thanks Elizabeth.
    We make the cookies here also and give to friends and neighbours and a few of the business's that have done extra for us. Like the bike shop they always do extra when fixing my bike. When we were little our christian endevour group use to take cookies to the older members and some of the older people in town. it was a great time.
    Thanks for sharing Christmas in France. its great to hear of other countries.

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  4. i forgot to add i love the little nativity with the extra people.

    ReplyDelete

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