Chorus Angelicus has revived this award in memory of our dear friend and longtime narrator and supporter, John McDonough, who passed away January 2021. We have set up a Fund to provide the necessary award.
Historically, Chorus Angelicus collected submissions of original literary works that were to be read by John McDonough as part of our Christmas Angelicus Programs. We asked for poems or short stories based on a holiday theme. We invited all cultural traditions to participate with humorous, spiritual, or reflective works, 3 minutes or less in length and not previously published.
One prize was awarded to a child 16 or under, and one to an adult. The winning submissions were read at the Christmas Angelicus concerts by John McDonough. He was also on the decision committee!
A small committee has been formed to pick the winners the past two years, and instructions for submissions for Christmas Angelicus 2023 will be published in September 2023. Stay tuned for the details!
If you feel moved to do so, you can make a donation in memory of John McDonough to The John McDonough Literary Award Fund. All donations to the Fund will be held in an account and used to revive this tradition and to award the winners.
The Winning Submissions
Winner 2022 Adult Division
“What is something that you always carry with you?”
This question, recently posed by my professor, was followed by an invitation to the class to share what it was we aways carried with us. One by one, my peers began to share.
While they spoke, I ran my thumb over the two small words tattooed on my right wrist: Touch Hands.
When my turn came, I spoke briefly of my tattoo. The conversation moved on, and I found myself unable to focus, lost in the memories these words evoked.
“Ah friends, dear friends.” Memories of the decade I spent in Chorus Angelicus flooded my mind; so many Decembers spent listening to words urging us to forget, to forgive spoken by a man whose voice will never fade from my life. Every year, John McDonough reminded us of a message so easily forgotten in the hustle and monotony of everyday life.
“The false forget, the foe forgive.”
We have but one lifetime on this earth, a lifetime too short to hold onto hate. The polarized and violent world we face today invites hopelessness. After all, it is only human to fall into despair. It is then I look at my wrist and am reminded of why I carry the words both on my skin and in my heart.
Hate and anger are often easier emotions to have; the idea of grand acts of selflessness can feel like a naïve dream. But what we forget is that there is courage in the quiet grace of moving through each day with our hands and hearts open to our fellow man.
“Touch hands with those who stay”.
There may be days when all you can do is hold the door open for someone. In the face of all that is happening, our own challenges, to call a seemingly insignificant act like this courageous feels foolish. Yet, it is the imperfect collection of small acts like this that raise us above the apathy of our daily routine.
So as I sat in class, a little smile tugged at my lips; not for the benefit of my classmates, but for myself as a tiny weight lifted off my chest. It’s not much, but to say it’s inconsequential is to deny a fundamental truth: At the end of the day, what prevails is the spirit driving us to reach out to our fellow humans, not the size or grandeur of selfless acts.
2022 Winner Child Division
You are a tree. A pine tree to be exact. You live next to all your tree siblings in rows in a field, like you always have and always will. It’s usually quiet and peaceful and days go by when no one passes through except for wild animals. But when the weather starts to turn colder, humans start to turn up in groups or in pairs carrying saws. You’ve seen them before, giving you and your tree siblings water, but something about this seems wrong you think. They come and they saw down a few of your tree siblings. You think that those trees must have done something wrong, but even though you tell yourself this, repeatedly, you really have no idea what they could have done for it to be considered “wrong”. But one day, when you’ve been around for quite a few years, and you’ve started to think of your past worries of humans coming to kill you as “childhood fears,” you look down to find a pair of humans, with saws, looking at you and touching your branches. You hope with all that you have that they will move on and find another tree, but then they move down to your small trunk and begin to saw. You go still and try to accept the fact that your life is ending. But then you fall, and you’re not entirely dead. They carry you to this metal box on wheels, which moves you later find out, and they lay you on top of their metal box, tie you down with rope and you watch your home drift away from you. The humans get you out of their metal box and place you in a dish filled with water. Then they do the funniest thing, they start to hang little ornaments on your branches. You stand there, adorned with the funniest things, feeling stupid, when you see them, all gathered together. More humans come and you see them handing gifts to one another and singing all together, and you finally realize that this is where all your tree siblings have been going for all these years. You realize that this is your purpose, and knowing that fact, you stand a little taller.
December 2021 Winner Adult Division
Hannah Van Sickle
On Christmas Eve, when I was a child, my father upheld a single tradition: only after the tree was trimmed, and the last of the raised doughnuts shaken with sugar in a brown paper bag delivered to the neighbors, did he settle on the couch for his ritual reading of “Why The Chimes Rang.” I remember leaning into the gentle curve of my father’s side where, forever clad in a button-down Oxford cloth shirt, I soaked in the solace of his rhythmic breathing and the lingering scent of Barbasol shave cream. Each year I listened with rapt attention as he told the tale of Pedro and Little Brother who, trudging together to church on Christmas Eve, come upon a woman in the snow who will surely freeze to death if left alone. Each year I knew precisely when my father’s steady voice would tremble as a lump arose there: once when Pedro sends Little Brother on to witness the church service without him, and again when the brothers’ offering to the Christ-child — a lone silver piece — awakens the long-silent chimes when slipped onto the altar. Upon their parting, Pedro offers a single instruction: You must see and hear everything twice, Little Brother — once for you and once for me.
I am now grown, and my father is 82. “I was thinking I’d take the rubber bus from Auburndale to the Boston Common this afternoon,” he declares one autumn afternoon. “Would you like to come? I hid my most important papers in the 4th step under the organ bench,” he adds, clearing his throat of phlegm before I can answer. A ragged breath shakes his gaunt frame, and he strokes his white whiskers with age-spotted hands. The haze of dementia envelops his piercing blue eyes, as he waits for me to answer. He is 125 miles, and 63 years, away from his life as an organist and bachelor in Boston. I shift uncomfortably in my chair by his bed, in the same living room where we once read bedtime stories together, unsure of whether I should play along. I pose a question instead: “What qualities are you most proud of?” I ask my dad, hoping to learn something new about him as he slips away. In a fleeting, lucid moment, he answers: “I am always willing to lend a helping hand, with music or woodworking; I am generous with my time and money, especially when it will help someone better their life; and I stand for honesty and doing the right thing, no matter what.” He pauses to lick his dry lips. Suddenly, the meaning of the traditional Christmas Eve story snaps into symbolic focus.
This Christmas Eve, the first without my father, I will continue his tradition — and while he may not be physically present to hear the story's magical message, I vow to listen twice as carefully as usual: once for myself and once for him.
Runner Up 2021 Adult Division
after a snowfall
the swamp alder finds its voice
and shouts its color
light confetti snow
congratulates us after
we hike our last trail
from the balcony
such joy to hear the pointe shoes
he butchers jingle bells but
no one seems to mind
church christmas pageant
the tall angel holds the small
shepherds yawn, lambs stray
checks a dead christmas bulb thrice
such a cold season
WINNER 2021 Child Division
Ruth Elaine Patrick
Age 7 years
The Single Note
One Christmas Eve, well, you know how Christmases are supposed to be joyful and all noisy? It was silent that night. Nobody had a note to sing. Nobody had a Christmas carol. Nobody had nothin’! Then a note was heard from the top of a building. The note sounded like a child singing a high C. The townspeople wondered who it could be, but nobody knew. Everybody tried to find the person who was singing the note, but nobody could. Then they heard it again! They looked up and saw something unbelievable. It was an angel who came down and said, “You all have to be joyful! It’s Christmas Eve!” The townspeople were confused. The angel said again, “Everybody start singing.” and everybody asked, “What is singing?” She responded to them by singing a high C again. Everybody tried and it sounded amazing! The angel clapped her hands and said, “Now you’ve got the hang of singing! Make this Christmas Eve the best Christmas Eve ever!” They sang, and Christmas caroled, and did everything you’re supposed to do on Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas day, there was a giftbox on the top of the building where the angel had landed. Everybody wondered what could be inside. The mayor of the town opened it, and he was confused. He read the card and it said, “Here is some sheet music. Read it and you will know how to sing a Christmas carol.” He was still confused so he asked the townspeople, “Do you know what sheet music, or a Christmas carol is?” and the townspeople nodded. More staff lines appeared on the paper, and it turned into the music and lyrics for the song, Jingle Bell Rock. Everybody read the sheet music and knew what it was, and they all felt very happy because their present was music.
2021 Runner Up Child Division
Age 13 years
An excerpt from the diary of one of Santa’s Christmas elves
Humans don’t know how hard life is for us elves. They think we’re all happy and joyous, but here’s a little secret: we’re not. We hate our jobs. And now you’re probably wondering why, I mean… we make toys for a living right? Well, we make toys. For. A. Living. I personally can’t tell you how many times I have hit my hand with a hammer. And I’m not going to tell you the stories. They bring back too many painful memories. The truth is that before this Santa Claus guy came along, we were all living our lives peacefully and happily. But now we’re working day and night to make toys for the human children. What about the elf children? Don’t they count too? And we don’t even get weekends off, and the only holiday we get off here is Christmas Eve. Not even Christmas day. And on top of all that? The humans don’t even believe that us elves make the toys. They think they’re from all the human factories that create all the toys that the human children get when it’s not Christmas. And you know what? We elves are told to make the toys, so they look factory made. Ugh. Such ignorance. And Santa? He does nothing except deliver the toys to the human children on Christmas eve night. I’ve never actually met another human other than Santa Claus. And honestly, I don’t want to. I have a feeling that they’re all tall, fat, and chubby with white hair all over their faces. Hmm I wonder what the children look like. But whatever they look like, it’s our job as elves to make them happy each year with toys, and that’s just what I’ll do.