A Little Less Magic

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.







Okay, so it’s time to blog about Christmas I suppose. I don’t really feel like it. It doesn’t feel like Christmas. I think that’s the problem. Here’s why:


1) I’ve spent the last six weeks going out of my way to avoid Christmas carols on the radio, the television, in the stores. It’s impossible. You have to try though because if you don’t you will go insane before December even begins. I used to like Burl Ives’ song Holly Jolly Christmas, but that was before the radio put it on heavy rotation between Halloween and Christmas Day as if it were the National Anthem and every fifteen minutes a ballgame was starting.


My Christmas ‘party’ was here.

2) Last night was my work Holiday Party. My wife looked stunning in her dress. The in-laws were prepared to take the kids overnight. All that was left was for me to get dressed. Then the eight year old came home from school in tears and with an earache and a 101.9-degree temperature. Instead of the party, we spent the night at the Immediate care center, then in line at Walgreens getting coughed on by strangers. Instead of a pasta bar, fresh salmon, and free beer, I dined on some bland bowl of something from Chipotle, or as I like to call it, the place with $7 flavored rice.


3) I live in Chicago and it’s going to be 40 degrees tomorrow. They’re calling for rain on Christmas Eve, which should turn to snow. In other words, slush is going to fall from the sky. I’m dreaming of a slushy, sock soaking Christmas, just like the ones I used to know. The really pretty snow, the kind we associate with Christmas even though we rarely have it which is why Bing Crosby had to dream of it will come. We will get snow. We will get that pretty, heavy blanket of white, but you can bet it is going to fall after Christmas, just in time to bury the decorations my wife will want me to take down, now.


This is what kids who don’t believe in Santa Clause get for Christmas.

4) The kids are getting older. My eldest is in high school and what he wants is either high-tech, too expensive, or it’s clothing. The other two are at the point where the clothes and the toys are about even and Santa is something they either aren’t quite convinced of, or haven’t the heart to tell mom and dad that they don’t believe anymore. Once that magic is gone, the whole thing becomes something else entirely.

5) I won’t be spending all-night, and I mean all-night, putting together little flimsy plastic toys with instructions that would make the people at Ikea scratch their heads in their complexity. ‘This was supposed to be Barbie’s Dream house, why does it look like a Pepto-Bismol factory post-apocalypse?

6) Of course it doesn’t help that right now my house is a cluttered mess and the whole place smells like chili.


7)   It ain’t like it used to be. I don’t have to go into detail on that. If you grew up in the 1940’s, it ain’t like it was in the ‘40’s. If you were a child of the 80’s, it ain’t like it was back in the day. If your formative years were the 1990’s, it’s not like that anymore is it? Our place of reference might be different, but when I say ‘It ain’t like it used to be’, we all get it. We grew up and so did the world. What a shame, huh?


8) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Charlie Brown are On-Demand. It used to be that those shows were Specials, events to be watched all together at the same time, and only one time each year because once it was over, it was gone. If you missed it, you were shit-out-of-luck. Now you can watch them all day any day as many times as you’d like whenever, wherever, nothing special, no event, just another damn show to choose from of the thousands on that digital jukebox of television and movies. Play it again, Sam. No need for a quarter, just hit ‘enter’ on the remote.


9) I’m lucky. Sounds strange but, it’s a reason. So much of secular Christmas is wishing and getting. Well, there isn’t much I’m wishing to get. I mean, at least not material things. My wife and I make a decent enough living that if there is something we really and truly want, we buy it. So, there is no excitement for that gift I’ve been dying to get. Nor is there much excitement for the gift I can’t wait to give, because there is nothing special on her list either. ‘Let’s get through it without getting the flu’ seems to be at the top of the wish-list this year. Can’t circle that in the Sears catalog.

10)   I’m getting older. Shit, I’ve been through this rigamarole now forty-two times. This will be the forty-third. I have to admit, it’s losing some of its charm. I mean, I get it, Bing sings, we go to Mass, the presents get opened, I eat too much, I feel like shit, and tomorrow is depressing because it’s been weeks of anticipation, a flurry of momentary excitement, and then it’s over until next Halloween when Burl Ives starts singing A Holly Jolly Christmas.

27777393 Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Halloween too I suppose, it’s all running together now.


Christmas Eve Remembered – a passage from the novel, ‘In The Sanctity of Revenge’

From the new novel, In The Sanctity of Revenge available now on Amazon:

Mrs. Kelly awoke Christmas Eve morning to WGN radio on her alarm clock. She shuffled to the kitchen and made a pot of coffee. Sitting alone at the kitchen table, she remembered Christmas Eves past. She could recall the children bouncing off the walls almost as soon as they got out of bed waiting for night to come so they could go back to bed and get up for Christmas morning. She remembered Harold getting up, grumbling his way through the morning’s first two cups of coffee and first three or four cigarettes. Then he’d announce to the kids that it was time to get dressed. The kids would immediately rush upstairs to their bedrooms and change out of their pajamas and into the day’s clothing.

Once dressed and back downstairs they would tug at Harold’s arm begging to head out to the stores for the day. It was their annual tradition. Harold thought it important to include the children in the shopping for their mother’s Christmas presents since it was they who benefitted most from her hard work and sacrifice.

He’d finish off his coffee and take a last drag from his cigarette, then he’d head off to the bedroom to get dressed in his cleanest white t-shirt and a pair of brown polyester pants for a day at the department stores. He’d take the kids to Sears and they would shop for dresses and slacks and scarfs for their mother. Mrs. Kelly didn’t know it, but Harold saved a few bucks a week all year long for her Christmas present. Whereas Jack shopped on Christmas Eve because he liked the fun of the spontaneity of it, Harold Kelly shopped on Christmas Eve because that was when he finally had saved enough money to give his wife a proper Christmas. Along with his yearlong savings, each child contributed a little from his/her allowance. Money that, upon their father’s orders, they were supposed to have been saving for their mother’s Christmas since August.

From there, they would take the bus to the Ideal Pastry bakery where they would buy their mother her favorite cookies and donuts, plus a cookie for each kid. After that, he’d take them to the Irish Imports Shop, where they would usually purchase a record of Irish songs like the ones Mrs. Kelly’s parents would sing when she was a child.

Her folks had both been born in Ireland and met here in the States. While little Irene was growing up, her parents would play songs from the homeland and dance around the front room of their one-bedroom apartment with their little girl. Mrs. Kelly didn’t know what happened to those records after her parents died, but every Christmas Harold would surprise her with a record album of the songs of her youth.

Harold was a stickler for tradition, and so, there was never an artificial tree in the Kelly residence, and there was no tree in the Kelly residence until Christmas Eve. So after the Irish Imports shop, it was straight to the C-Davis Truck Rental lot, where the trucks had been temporarily replaced by Christmas Trees, to choose the perfect tree for the Kelly family Christmas. Mrs. Kelly often wondered if it was truly tradition motivating her husband to shop for trees on Christmas Eve or if it was the fact that he could haggle the salesman down so easily at such a late date. The pickings were scarcer, but you couldn’t beat the price and he always managed to bring home a tree that, once decorated at least, would be brilliant.

She smiled a bitter-sweet smile as she conjured up the vision of her husband dragging a six foot tall Christmas tree onto a city bus with children in tow dragging shopping bags from Sears and the Irish Imports, bumping into other riders, needles flying and falling off the tree throughout the bus, bags and packages bumping against knees and seats. It was no wonder she never got a porcelain tea set or Waterford crystal for Christmas, it never would’ve survived the journey.

Once home, the children would run the shopping bags up to their rooms where they’d wrap them while Harold took the tree and a hacksaw to the yard and sawed off the bottom few inches. She could see him in her mind’s eye out there in the dark snowy yard in his work boots, polyester pants and plaid winter coat sawing off those few inches of tree trunk so that the fresh cut could soak up enough water to make the tree last until the Feast of the Epiphany when it would finally be taken down and the Christmas Season would officially end.

Next came the annual hour of Harold lighting the tree, mumbling words not appropriate for such a sacred Holiday, as he fought with tangles and burned out bulbs and flashing strands that had never flashed before.

Then, with the tree firmly placed in its stand and fully lit, Harold sipping from a fresh brewed cup of coffee (with a three count splash of Jameson), and enjoying a well-earned cigarette after a long day of children, store-clerks, crowds, tree salesmen, and those goddamn Christmas lights. Then Mother was presented with one record from the Irish Imports (the others to be saved for the morning). The sounds of the Emerald Isle would play on the phonograph as the children decorated the tree with the family ornaments Mrs. Kelly had brought up from the basement while they were out shopping.

With the kids in bed, the stockings stuffed, and the presents beneath the tree, Harold and Irene Kelly would slip off to bed where it was time for another Christmas Eve tradition. Both of them bursting with love – love for their family, love for their blessings, love for their Savior, and love for each other – they would nestle in beneath the covers, legs rubbing the other’s to produce some warmth, arms wrapped around the other, bodies pressed together, they would embrace and envelope each other in a physical love that only years of marriage can invoke. That well practiced tradition complete, they would both settle in to drift off into a solid slumber.

In The Sanctity of Revenge can be purchased at Amazon.  If you buy a paperback, you get a free Kindle version.


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