I grew up as an only child with a single mother. It was just me and her against the world, and we certainly didn’t have much. For a long time, Mom was on welfare and food stamps just to make sure the basics were covered. Meanwhile, she was going back to school. During all these years, I was somehow always given the absolute best holidays of everyone I knew. We celebrate Christmas, and despite our lack of considerable income, every morning I would come downstairs to more presents than almost any other child I knew. But it wasn’t just that. Throughout the whole Christmas season we adhered to our own traditions. We sang Christmas carols while decorating our tree. We would find ways to attend holiday events. We would watch all the Christmas movies when they were broadcast over the air. We didn’t have cable, and the internet wasn’t a thing yet – let alone Netflix. We paid attention to our TV Guide and made sure our schedules were cleared so we could watch Rudolph and Charlie Brown and Frosty, among other favorites. The magic of Christmas was alive and well.
One of my absolute favorite Christmastime childhood memories happened at the Cincinnati Zoo. We had waited in line for quite a while to see Santa, and when I finally went up, Santa knew that I had cleaned my room that day. Lucky guess, right? I was a kid. I cleaned my room every day. Then Santa proceeded to also tell me my name. I was absolutely floored. I looked back, and Mom was floored. My uncle who was in line with us was floored. To this day, Mom says that she doesn’t know how Santa knew my name. I am sure that there was a reasonable explanation for what happened, but I don’t want to learn it. I like that memory the way it is.
As I’ve grown into adulthood, some of that magic has shifted. I don’t believe in Santa anymore – at least not in the simple and matter-of-fact way I did. I don’t spend my holiday season wondering what awaits me under the tree. I don’t even get to watch every Christmas animation every year like I once did. I still watch Christmas movies, but somehow the animated ones take a back seat to other classics. And I think that’s okay. The magic that was once there, much like my holiday preferences, has matured. I still see the magic, but it isn’t always under a tee.
I am a toy collector – I guess that part about me hasn’t changed through the years – and I am a part of a few toy collector Facebook groups. I don’t post much – I just like to see what other people are posting and selling. Recently, a man came into one of the groups and made a post. He let everyone know that he and his wife were struggling financially and he was worried he wouldn’t be able to have a Christmas for his 4 and 7 year old sons. He even said “I know this will be met with a negative response, but I have to ask.” He didn’t want new toys or anything fancy. He was just asking for anything he could give his sons. Used toys were just fine. I reluctantly clicked on the comments and saw dozens of people telling him to send them his address. Not one negative comment to be seen. Instead it was comment after comment of people who wanted to help. That’s the Christmas magic I see now.
Yesterday I stopped in the post office after work. I had a few packages to send out. The line was pretty long, as was to be expected. It was near closing, and a lady walked in with a Priority Express box. The woman working behind the counter told her as she came in that unless she got her box scanned before 4:30, her system would shut down and it wouldn’t go out express. The lady behind the counter was killing it…doing a great job, but there were 10 or more people in line. She’d have never gotten to her in time. The employee was helping a man at the counter and I was next in line. I glanced up at the clock and saw that it was 4:27 and I told the lady that I couldn’t speak for everyone in line, but I was okay with her going next so her package got sent on time. The rest of the line agreed, and the lady thanked us as she moved to the front and got her package rang in just in time at 4:29. Then she turned around, thanked us again, and then told the employee that she wanted to pay the postage costs of the 10 or so people in line who let her go. That’s the Christmas magic I see now.
It exists. The way I see people treat each other at Christmas reminds me that there is hope. There is love. There is humanity. My own personal goal is to not let that magic only show up between Thanksgiving and New Year, but to keep it year round. There’s absolutely no reason we can’t take care of each other 12 months out of the year. We don’t have to sing holiday songs, or watch holiday movies, or even decorate everything with lights. Let’s keep that sacred…one month only. But this year, as we are taking down our trees, packing up our decorations, and eating the last of those holiday treats, let’s try and make sure we don’t pack away our love for each other too. We need it. Let’s take care of one another.