Remembering the magic of Christmas
There is nothing like the excitement of Christmas Eve and the joy of Christmas morning when you’re a child. My parents were especially enthusiastic during the holiday season, going to great lengths to make the holiday magical for me and my two siblings.
I remember sitting in the living room with our entire family on Christmas Eve, and my grandma, Phyllis Fife, suddenly looking toward the ceiling.
“Oh, did you hear that?” she asked.
Everyone turned, quiet as church mice, as we strained our ears to hear what Mommom had heard.
“I hear it!” I shouted. The faint jingle of sleigh bells on the roof rhythmically rang out over and over again.
My eyes were big as I glanced at my brother and sister. They were just as intrigued.
We just knew Santa was making a quick stop on our roof for some reason. We ran outside and stared up at the sky, listening to the jingle bells with wide eyes and excited hearts. The bells continued to ring, and our smiles got even bigger.
It was magic. True magic.
I never questioned why Santa was visiting so early in the night before he dropped off our presents, or why my grandpa was not in the living room at the time the sleigh bells rang. It never crossed my mind to ask why there was a ladder leaning against the house. I just knew the thudding footsteps on the roof had to be Saint Nick’s!
Santa was real - and he was at our house.
We always left cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for the reindeer before we headed to bed for the - maybe - two hours of sleep we’d get before pulling ourselves out of our dreams to run into the living room and see if Santa had come.
We’d always find crumbs where the cookies had been left, the milk glass empty and only carrot stubs in the yard.
And best of all - there was always a large pile of gifts under the tree.
For a few years Santa wasn’t so careful with his soot-covered boots. I remember the first year it happened, I laughed out loud when I walked into the living room, probably around 3 a.m., and saw ashy black footprints coming from our front door and trailing over to the Christmas tree and back.
I ran into my parents room.
“He came! He came! He came!,” I shouted, waking them from their own sleep. “Oh, and you’re going to be so mad, Mom! He’s made quite a mess.”
She’d put on her grumpiest face when she saw the carpet and ask why Santa wouldn’t have wiped his feet on the mat at the front door.
Then - the gift opening! It wasn’t so much about what the gifts were; it was more about the process of opening every beautifully wrapped package. The surprise of each mysteriously shaped present was so exciting. And - Oh, the joy of opening just what you asked Santa for! Priceless!
Amid all this joy, we’ve had some hard times at Christmas too over the years, just like everyone has. Some years, money was tight. Other years, family conflicts caused heartache. In 2006, I lost my father unexpectedly just before the holiday.
But it’s not the tragedies that come to mind each Christmas for me. It’s the magic, the joy, the excitement.
Now, as an adult, I know a lot of people, hours and effort went into making each Christmas so special for us as children.
Christmas is a little different when you grow up. We stop believing and the magic dies, but this year our 1-year-old daughter Delilah brought back all those Christmas memories to me.
We were sitting on the floor at a family Christmas last weekend, with a big pile of gifts from relatives waiting for each child.
Delilah grabbed a gift bag and brought it to me. I helped her pull out the tissue paper, revealing a sweet red-headed, freckle-faced doll her Aunt Gina had got for her.
“Woooooow,” Delilah said, grinning and showing off her four little front teeth.
I reached for the next gift off the floor, but before I could give it to her, I saw that she had put the doll and tissue paper back in the gift bag. She grinned at me, and pulled the tissue paper out again.
“Wooooow!” she said again, grinning. Then she put the doll and tissue paper back in the bag.
She opened and repackaged the gift at least five times before moving on to the next gift - which was also opened and repackaged again and again. She was just as excited and surprised the first time she opened it as she was the fifth time.
By the end of it, I was teary-eyed, just watching her have so much fun.
The rest of the day, I couldn’t help but smile, realizing why my mom and dad had gone to such effort each year. As it turns out, for me, as a parent, watching my child’s joy at Christmas was maybe even more magical than those Christmas mornings in my own childhood.