Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas is coming, and magic is afoot

All Those Christmas Cliches” is a simple, beautiful song I heard for the first time this month. A woman sang it at Esmeralda’s Lounge at Riverside Theatre Works in Hyde Park on piano night, and people stopped talking and glasses stopped clinking and the crowd paid attention.
I don’t know why the radio stations don’t play it. They’ve been airing the same holiday tunes over and over for a month. This wistful ballad would be a nice addition.

“I want the tree full of toys and tinsel, I want the wreath on the red front door. I want the elves in the yard and each sentimental card dripping glitter on the floor.”

When I took my granddaughter, Lucy, to Jordan’s Furniture in Avon to see the refurbished Enchanted Village last weekend, I found myself thinking about this song and about the importance of continuity and tradition in a world that is so full of change.

Here were the same little houses and storefronts I saw when I was a child, the same animated figures, boys and girls playing, dogs barking, carolers singing, and the same awe in the faces of the children, the same Christmas magic.

I thought about the song again when I took another granddaughter to see Santa Claus at the South Shore Plaza. There was Santa and there were a dozen little kids dressed up and waiting in line. And there was Charlotte, refusing to go anywhere near Mr. Claus.

I have a photo of her mother when she was three (Charlotte would say, “I am three-and-a-HALF!) sitting on Santa’s lap flailing and wailing. And I have another photo taken the very next year of her smiling up sweetly at him. Tradition. Continuity.

I thought about “a tree full of toys and tinsel,” when I saw my daughters’ Christmas trees. And I thought about each sentimental card dripping glitter on the floor yesterday when I opened the mail and silver stars spilled out.

People say that Christmas is too much work and stress. And it is. For adults. But take away the madness of buying and hurrying and doing and fitting Christmas into already too busy lives, take away an adult’s worry about work and bills and the future, and look at Christmas only through a child’s eyes, and Christmas is what it has always been. A magical time whose essence has not changed.

When my kids were small, we made Jesus a cake and sang Happy Birthday to him every Christmas Eve. The cake and the singing may not be a well-known tradition, but so many other things are. Little girls dressed in red velvet with bows in their hair. Children gawking at dolls and trucks and bikes and sleds. Santa Claus and Frosty and Rudolph. Christmas pageants and caroling. Singing hymns. Reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Watching “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” while cookies bake in the oven and outside there’s a dusting of snow.

A child does nothing for Christmas but wait. He waits to eat the chocolate in his Advent calendar. He waits to be cast in the church play. He waits to see Santa, to mail his Christmas letter, for school to end. He waits for Santa to come.

Everything that gives him pleasure, all the presents, the food, friends and relatives showing up at the door with more presents, the movies, the music, the fun, the festivities. For a child all this magic just happens.

Adults are the magic-makers. We shop and wrap and cook and decorate and buy the toys and hang the wreaths.

It’s not easy being Santa Claus and Martha Stewart. But it’s what we do. It’s what adults have always done.

We keep tradition. We keep the magic alive.

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