Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Holding on to the Magic of Christmas

I wrote this last year for an online publication. Yesterday my older daughter asked me how old I was when Santa stopped bringing me presents. And my son wondered why Santa hadn't emailed the kids' video messages yet. Seems the magic is still alive...

It all started with a loose tooth. Well, maybe that wasn’t the only factor in my efforts to make this Christmas the most magical one yet for my children, but it was the deciding one.

A few weeks ago, my youngest daughter, on the tail end of six years old, had a wiggly tooth. This led to a discussion of the Tooth Fairy, during which my nearly nine-year-old girl said, quite matter-of-factly, “I don’t know about the Tooth Fairy. What does she do with all those teeth, anyway? And the Easter Bunny. Bunnies are wild forest animals. Why would they leave eggs for kids? I think it’s really people. I think the parents do it.”

This came not half an hour after she’d happily been drafting her annual letter to Santa Claus, filled with questions about the well-being of his reindeer and polite requests for items on her wish list. I tried not to panic.

“Please just give me one more year of magic at Christmastime,” I wished silently. “One more year of full-fledged, whole-hearted belief in flying reindeer and a busy North Pole workshop staffed by pointy-eared elves and a jolly, bearded, present-bearing man who eats the cookies we leave out on Christmas Eve.”

I know my children won’t believe forever. And I know that when they stop believing, some of the enduring enchantment of the season will disappear like a poof of smoke in a magic show. So I’m walking that line of building up the magic as much as I can and trying to keep it real enough that they don’t start doubting. Finding that line is tough. If Santa can get around the globe in one night in a flying sleigh that holds presents for all the world’s children and is powered by reindeer—well, what isn’t believable?

I find myself second-guessing many things. If Santa brings one child something slightly different from what she requested, will it be good enough? Are the individualized Portable North Pole videos still plausible to kids who are developing a more mature sense of reasoning? And if they watch those videos too many times, will they notice subtle similarities and differences between each that make them wonder? How am I supposed to answer the question, “Is that the real Santa?” when we go to the town Christmas party? And will the children recognize that Santa is a local high school teacher we often see around town? If I forget to move the Elf, does it mean the magic gig is up?

Ah, yes, the Elf. I was an Elf on the Shelf holdout for a long time. The thought of having to remember and plan one more thing during the frenzied holiday season did not appeal to me in the least. For years, I have resisted the Elf trend. But the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny discussion inspired a panicked Elf purchase. Even as I placed him in his first hiding spot, I wondered if the kids would question the timing of the Elf’s arrival, well past December 1st, when the one at their Grandmother’s house had appeared. Or if they’d think it strange that an Elf showed up even though they hadn’t asked Santa to send one.

“Santa must have read my mind!” my son exclaimed, when the Elf was discovered. The girls jumped excitedly around the living room, eyes fixed on the red-and-white, unblinking, perpetually smiling Elf perched precariously on a stocking holder. “He knew I wanted one even though I didn’t say so in my letter!”

They named him Jingle, and every morning since his magical arrival the children have hurried downstairs, still bleary-eyed, heads pivoting from side to side, looking in the tree, on the mantle, at the dining room shelves, searching until Jingle is gleefully spotted. They have written him letters, drawn him pictures, composed Elf-y haikus for this strange little toy. Jingle, it seems, has injected a bit more magic into this most magical time.

I know my children will still love Christmas even when they learn the truth about Santa (will they think me a great liar then?) and discover that Jingle is moved by the same humans who hide treasure-filled plastic eggs on Easter. But some of the sparkle will be gone then, no matter how twinkly the Christmas tree lights, how glittery the snow outside, how tantalizing the promise of presents.

We fill the holidays with magic that is, supposedly, for the children. But along the way, we grown-ups get swept up in the magic, too. In the memories of our own childhoods, the happy anticipation of a loved one opening a special gift, the comfort of a season of kindness and cookies and gathering with family and friends. As with so many things, it’s the children’s enthusiasm that inspires the level of joy.

I’m holding on to this abundance of Christmas magic for as long as I can. Jingle the Elf is helping, I think. “Mama, I love Jingle,” my littlest one tells me. And all three, daily, say, “I’m so happy we have an Elf.”

On Christmas Eve—our last day with Jingle until next December—we’ll hang our stockings by the fireplace and leave a few cookies on a plate by the tree for Santa. Then, as we do every year, we’ll snuggle up to read “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” And my children will drift off to sleep with visions of sugar plums, Santa Claus and flying reindeer dancing through their minds. Like magic.

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