The Love and Magic of Christmas Returns Every year
This year I again plan on buying that perfect Fraser Fur and making it the showpiece of my living room. Besides being expensive, it is a big-time commitment that takes considerable muscle.
It begins with getting it up three flights of stairs, into the tree stand, straight, to maneuvering up and down those same stairs with boxes of lights and ornaments and decorations. It’s strenuous and not for the weak or sleep-deprived.
I wouldn’t change a thing. The effort to create what will a living jewel is worth every bit of sweat and a testament to the light and hope so evident in the holiday season. What’s worth keeping is worth working for.
Every year I say without hesitation, “This is the best tree ever.” And I compare it to the previous year’s. And it is the best tree ever.
But all my trees from the time I was a child have been the best ones. The reason? They were there. Not because they were the most beautiful, but because of the time spent with my family.
I remember those trees of long ago and all the other stuff that went into the tree and activities of the season.
Oh Christmas Tree
When I was a kid, the tree was the biggest deal of all. It stood proudly at the end of our living room for the good part of December and was the sole source of light.
One of the most memorable trees was the year we didn’t quite strike the jackpot.
It was the year of the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. It was all of $20.00 and maybe the best for the money, but it was still not enough for a decent tree. My mother, with her sarcastic wit, actually named it and said it reminded her of a skeleton.
It stands out in its pathetic detail as a time of joy and laughter.
We decorated and thought none-the-less of it.
The men, my dad, and brother were assigned the difficult task of unraveling and testing the lights, those strings with the giant light bulbs that often overheated.
My sisters and I unwrapped decades-old ornaments. The only thing that was new and fresh every year was the tinsel.
These were some of our best times together.
And once the tree was up, all things Santa-related began to materialize.
Letters to Santa
My younger sister and I communicated with Santa on a regular basis. We always started by being polite.
How are you? How is your wife? Are you busy? Then we launched into our list and how good we’d been. And we always received replies.
Santa told us about his workshop in the North Pole, his elves, and of course, to be good. I was always mystified by how he knew about my temper tantrums or fights with my sister, especially the time she bit me.
These letters, mind you, were not always mailed. Sometimes Santa made surprise visits to our house to pick them up personally.
I knew when he was there because I could hear something on our roof. The noise was subtle, but it wasn’t the wind, it was Santa stealthily making his way to the chimney.
Oh, the joys of imagination.
Christmas in the City
Then there was what we called the trip into “town.” Boston, to be exact. It was a once a year special time with my mother, and a formal affair.
Mom removed our best dresses, fur hats, and muffs from her special cedar chest. No jackets, we wore our Sunday coats. We were the quintessential ‘Proper Bostonians.’
The city was bright and colorful; department store windows were adorned with falling snow, elves, Santas, and every other symbol of Christmas. You really could dream of that “White Christmas.” The feeling was everywhere.
Filene’s and Jordan’s, department stores of the past, had the best windows. But Jordans had something no one else did.
The Enchanted Village.
The Enchanted Village was a replica of Victorian-era Christmases. The displays were life-size, children playing in the snow, couples dancing while a fiddler played, and a dog leaping in the snow.
After we made our way through the Village, we were treated to the ultimate: a visit with Santa.
Oh, to sit on his lap and give him our list, to promise we’d be good and then have our picture taken to prove to everyone else that yes, we had met Santa.
And did you know that Santa’s reindeer visited the Boston Common every year?
Yes, mom, my sister, and I walked up to the Boston Common, adorned with lighted trees, and visited these gentle creatures. It was one fantasy after another.
I watched my breath in the crisp air as one at a time; the reindeer made their way to the fence. Dancer, Prancer, Comet, and Vixen, greeted us one at a time. I looked into those magical brown eyes, knowing they would lead Santa to my home soon.
And they looked back and knew that I knew.
After that, it was back on the subway. Dad picked us up at the end of our train ride, and we were happy to pull into our driveway, our house sparkling with orange candles in the window.
Christmas Eve Magic
Christmas Eve was the best. The ultimate in anticipation, the air alive, and electric.
Every year even until this very day, Santa makes his way around my little town on a fire engine adorned with a Rudolph, bright lights, music, and a police escort.
The first sign that he is close is the sirens in the distance. And finally, there he is atop the fire engine in his red suit and white gloves waving merrily. For five hours, he makes his way through the streets.
I think back to those days as I sat atop my father’s shoulders. I believed that after traveling the town by fire engine with Rudolph at the helm, Santa would jump in his sleigh and begin his magical trip around the world, delivering toys to my house and to children everywhere.
“How does he do it?” I’d asked.
“It’s magic,” my mother always replied.
And the explanation always worked for me.
My mother didn’t have the heart to tell me there was no Santa, but one day I compared his handwriting to hers and figured it out. I dissolved into tears and wailed, “It’s like dying and finding out there’s no God.”
I was probably the only eight years old in my grade that believed in him. But I was glad it took that long because you can believe once you’ve unbelieved.
Santa still drives around in the fire engine, and adults and children line the sidewalks. No matter how cold it is, they rush outside when they hear the fire engine and see the telltale flashing red lights.
And it’s all for a chance to wave at the guy in a red suit who represents someone they were told doesn’t exist and yell, “Merry Christmas!”
It never gets tired.
Our extended families celebrate Christmas together and create new memories. In a future, when we are no longer here, they will be the memories of our children and grandchildren.
Time has changed everything, but that just makes it different. Santa is as real as any we’ve ever known. Different in the physical, but the same in spirit.
What we believed as children doesn’t exist.
And now that we know, it doesn’t matter.
Christmas magic always was and always will be.