Showing Christmas Using the Five Senses

by Ava Pennington

Show; don’t tell.

We hear it all the time. Don’t tell the reader, show the reader. Draw readers into your story. Make it easy for them to feel as if they’re in the middle of whatever you’re writing.

Prompted by a recent series of blog posts on the Hartline Literary Agency website, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to use the five senses in my writing, especially during this Christmas season.

See Christmas

How do you write about what you see during the Christmas season? Do you describe twinkling lights, brightly colored wrapping paper, and lush garland greenery? Hmmm . . . a bit clichéd.

Consider a fresh approach. Have you noticed how homes respond to the earlier twilight? One by one, their lights flick on until entire blocks glow with inviting cheer. Regardless of your mood, you can’t help but smile at each building. They’re dressed as if ready to attend a royal ball . . . some in gaudy costumes reminiscent of Cinderella’s gauche step-sisters, and others looking as elegant as if Cinderella herself might appear at the front door.

But did you also notice the longing in the face of a single mom as she checks the price tag on a bicycle at Walmart before she walks away, shoulders slumped?

Hear Christmas

What do you hear during the Christmas season? Sleigh bells? Singing carolers? The crunch of snow under booted feet? Once again, a bit clichéd.

Listen more closely. Do you hear smothered giggles and whispers as siblings plan the gift they’ll make for their mom? Or the crackling of pine cones consumed by flames in the fireplace? How about the crescendo of a choir as the Hallelujah Chorus swells to fill the church and draws us to join the angels in praise?

But did you also hear the wistfulness in the voice of a new widow as she wishes you Merry Christmas even though she’s feeling anything but merry?

Smell Christmas

Do you write about the smells of pine trees in living rooms and chestnuts roasting in kitchens? Too easy!

Instead, close your eyes and recall the scents of your childhood. The aroma of cinnamon sticks stirring apple cider. Orange peel and cloves simmering in a potpourri on the stove. Move beyond the obvious!

Taste Christmas

What tastes of Christmas do you include in your descriptions? Peppermint candy canes? Gingerbread?

How about the smooth heat of hot chocolate as it coats your tongue and warms your throat? Or a creamy sip of eggnog? Maybe you remember the tartness of mashed cranberries alongside slices of Mom’s tender Christmas turkey.

Touch Christmas

Finally, what comes to mind when you think about the sense of touch relating to Christmas? You could write about cold, wet snow. Then again, so does everyone else.

Think again. How about the feel of a stolen kiss under the mistletoe? Or how your hand slides along the smooth surface of a package covered in glossy wrapping paper? Perhaps you thought of the velvety white trim on the costume worn by the mall Santa. And we can’t forget the various textures combined on the ugly Christmas sweater your grandmother bought you last year.

Challenge yourself this holiday season. Move beyond the usual descriptions to release fresh descriptions that will hold your readers’ attention!

What Christmas examples can you add to this post?

Ava Pennington is thoroughly enjoying her second career as an author, teacher, and speaker.

She moved from New York to Florida, leaving a twenty-year corporate career as a Human Resources executive. But don’t call her retired! She now teaches a weekly, interdenominational Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class of 300+ women from September through May.

Of course, Ava writes. She has written for organizations such as Focus on the Family, Christianity Today, and Haven Ministries. She has also been published in 30+ anthologies, including 25 Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

Her book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, is published by Revell Books and endorsed by Kay Arthur, founder of Precepts International.

Ava has also co-authored two children’s picture books, Do You Love Me More? and Will I See You Today?

If you’re looking for a speaker, she delights in challenging audiences with relevant, enjoyable presentations.

For more information, please visit

Please note: We reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

4 thoughts on “Showing Christmas Using the Five Senses