There was a little less magic this year. A little less awe. A little less work. A little less fun. The number of ‘believers’ in our home has dwindled down to none. It was a heartbreaking day last year, a few days after Christmas, when my middle-child, the last of the believers, learned the truth. There were a lot of tears and some resentment and anger at having been lied to. Resentment she still hasn’t completely let go.
She was eleven going on twelve and so it was time, and still it was difficult. As a result, Cutie and the other elves took their places on the shelves, but this year, they did not move and there were no little notes written by mischievous magical hands in the dark of night. Everyone had outgrown such things.
Caught up in all the usual little chores and plans and parties that surround the holidays, many of which have taken on a more obligatory feel than one of sentiment and cheer, as well as the rest of daily adult life – work, school, bills, dinner, the dog – I hadn’t really noticed that something was missing until late last night, Christmas Eve. That’s when I stopped long enough to feel it. There was food and wine and presents and a tree and ornaments and stockings and even those little plastic old-fashioned elves, but no sneaking and fooling and – well, no magic.
And, barring some unforeseen craziness, there never again will be, at least not for me as a father. The day will come, I hope, when I will see that magic light up the eyes of my grandchildren, but if all goes according to plan, that day is a long way off. I can still witness it in the eyes of my nieces and the younger children of my cousins and my friends, but it’s not the same. Yes, for them Santa lives; the difference is I’m not him. And that is all the difference in the world. I never really will be Santa again. I will not be the magic-maker anymore. It was a good 15-year run through three kids, but it’s over and that hurts.
I know, I know, that’s not what Christmas is about. It’s supposed to be about Jesus Christ being born to save us from our inherently sinful existence. To bring peace to Earth and goodwill to men. Well, I’ve been in a Wal-Mart parking lot in December, I’ve been to Costco on a Saturday, I’ve been in line at Macy’s on Black Friday and I am convinced there will never be peace on earth and goodwill is in short supply. Of course, that’s the fault of Santa and all the commercialization too, isn’t it? Sort of.
It’s become for some, all about the deals, the presents, the ‘it’ thing to get. It’s as if the whole country no longer has any ‘believers’ left, in Santa, in God, in basic decency toward the people around you, in not pushing your way through, in not short-cutting, stealing, and ignoring. The magic that the holiday is supposed to have, has taken a backseat to getting good stuff at a great price at any cost. I’ll be honest, I stopped going to church when the behavior in the parking lot there too closely mimicked the behavior in the parking lot at the Wal-Mart. If you walk out of Mass only to get in your car and cut people off and nearly run people down in your rush to not have to wait any longer than necessary, then you should’ve just stayed home. They went in the building, but they missed the point. They got up early and dressed nicely and then paid zero attention.
So innocent eyes filled with wonderment at the sight of, or even the mere idea of, a fat, jolly, mysterious, and generous benefactor who will magically break into your home with your parents’ permission to leave you toys and presents he knows you desire, was, at least for me, the second to last vestige of joy left in the Holiday Season. And now, at least for me, it is gone. The kids have outgrown the fairy tale and I must retire that little piece of magic I could perform if but once a year.
What remains is a thread of tradition, memories, and familial legacy. It is the one time a year when, as during Scrooge’s haunted night, past, present, and future all come together. One day my children will take on the role of magical elf as my wife and I have done and our parents did for us and theirs did for them. They will put on a pot of coffee, make blueberry pancakes, and list off the ages of each child as he or she approaches the tree on some sort of recording device for posterity. They will be sure the fat man leaves behind some cookie crumbs as evidence he was there. They will adorn their tree with gifts for their own little ones and we will gather, as we do now, to celebrate at least that goodwill towards the ones we love the most.
Family. That’s the remaining magic. That’s the one thing that will change and morph over time as we lose one generation and gain the next, but that thread, if you keep it in maintenance, will endure, and the result is the magic of timelessness. My grandmother’s elf, which I inherited upon her death, will not move for my daughter anymore, at least not in the way it did when she believed, but maybe he or another like him will create that same kind of magic for another little one someday. In that way, I guess my role as magic-maker will never die. Still, it would be nice to leave behind some awe-inspiring cookie crumbs just one more time.