For some it’s tearing open wrapping paper on Christmas morning. Others, it might be downing turkey with friends and family or hunting for some eggs on Easter Sunday. For others, it might be dressing up in costumes on Halloween, or knocking back a few pints with friends on St. Patrick’s Day.
But for me, the most wonderful time of the year isn’t a single day. It’s that time between mid-November leading right up to about December 23. Holiday music is once again on the radio, if we’re lucky the snow starts to fall, decorations begin to line the streets and there’s just this…certain spirit in the air.
It’s intangible, even hard to accurately put into writing here. But it’s that underlying theme to many a Christmas special that you just…feel.
It’s the feeling you get deep inside when the cast of Sesame Street sings about keeping Christmas with you all through the year, or Jack Skellington’s frustration when he’s not able to fully describe the idea of Christmas to his peers in Halloweentown, but it’s there. It’s felt inside.
And that’s why I love everything leading up to Christmas so much more than the holiday itself, because that lead-up is when that feeling is at its peak.
It’s when, depending on where you live and if we’re lucky, the first flakes of snow begin to descend and cover the ground in a blanket of white, ushering in a beautiful visual transition from one season to the next. It’s the excitement and the real-life magic that comes from watching children excitedly write letters to Santa, asking how he’s been, tossing out questions about life up north and his amazing abilities in ways only children can.
It can be found in our favorite media traditions and routines – whether it’s the way Dickens classic is brought to life in Mickey’s Christmas Carol, the revelation in It’s a Wonderful Life that even when life seems quite uneventful and miniscule that we do in fact make a difference. Or maybe it’s one of the many other holiday movies and specials that warm their way into our hearts and become as familiar to us as a close friend or the hug of a relative. Or it can be the voices singing “White Christmas,” “Jingle Bells,” or any number of carols that have entertained for generations playing in the background while you decorate a tree, or even during a mundane car ride, elevating otherwise moments of monotony into something joyful, full of heart.
It’s in all of it. Those memories are made well before the calendar falls upon the 24th or 25th of December.
By the time Christmas Day rolls around, and the wrapping comes off the gifts, well…it’s all done. The holiday is already on its way out the door. In the past, I’ve referred to as The Christmas Letdown. The store aisles will soon be filled with festive memories now at clearance prices, while candies and hearts fill the shelves for the next big gift giving bonanza almost two months later.
Maybe if we could find a way to bottle that feeling from mid-November to mid-December, if we could find a way to carry it with us through the months ahead, the world might be a bit more merry year-round.
Or, as Santa says in the classic Miracle on 34th Street – “Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind.”
With the hustle and bustle of life keeping us in an ever-increasing flurry – what needs to get done, who needs to be where – this time of year can lose a bit of its magical luster as we get older and slip into the robe of responsibility that is adulthood and parenthood.
We carry that magic around with us well after childhood. It might not always be so easy to see as we grow older and our focus finds itself divided among so many other things than we concerned ourselves with as children (though several years ago, I did spend winter wearing a Macy’s “Believe” button on my coat), but it’s still there, even if below the surface. It’s in the smiles on our faces, the kindness in our hearts and minds, and our actions to others – now, and hopefully all through the year.
So when a child, all but the age of six, starts asking questions on just how Santa Claus can do all he does, I admit, I started to wonder if the magic of the holidays season was already beginning to fade away from our household. I was feeling crushed.
When what, to our wondering eyes did appear, but a tiny little gnome, but no reindeer.
Not long after the questions began to arise from our oldest, our family returned home from an evening story time at Barnes & Noble and there, sitting in our living room, was a small gnome. With him was a note, explaining to us that some of Santa’s elves were doing reconnaissance work in the area and dropped off this little gnome, who wanted some visiting time with a good family. Unlike those elves on shelves we hear so much about, the note explained that gnomes aren’t the mischievous types or cause trouble. Instead, they just like to play hide and seek, careful not to move when we humans are around, but often enjoying finding places to hide out until we can find them.
Though his stay is only temporary until he hops a ride back to the North Pole with Santa, the little guy, whom our kids named Rex, has reinvigorated the energy and magic of the holiday in our home. Since his arrival, our kids awake, anxiously looking forward to what funny places Rex found to hide in overnight. Together, we share in the silliness, the laughs, and somehow, this little guy has very simply brought back a bit of magic to all of us, and made many of the questions of weeks past fade away.
Thanks, Rex. We owe you big time for the visit.