In search of holiday magic

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Once we knew that we were buying this house but had a long wait before we would actually arrive here, I began to set my sights on the holidays in order to get through the agony of waiting. Halloween was really my first light at the end of the tunnel, but we didn’t end up moving in by then. So then it became Christmas (because we’ve never really done a whole lot for Thanksgiving, so it wasn’t magical enough for me to focus on), and the idea of getting our first Christmas tree in our very own home was absolutely magical. I couldn’t wait, so when Thanksgiving rolled around I told Kristin that we were definitely getting our tree that Friday.

When I was a kid, my parents tell me that Halloween was my favorite holiday, but I also had a whole lot of enthusiasm for Christmas. I remember keeping my parents’ Christmas CDs in my room and listening to them every night when I went to bed throughout the weeks leading up to Christmas. We always put those fake plastic candles in the windows, and I loved mine so much (I had three windows in my bedroom growing up, and my room faced the street) that I’m pretty sure I kept them in my room year-round. My sister and I would barely sleep on Christmas eve and we would wake my parents at ungodly hours in the morning, ready to see what Santa had brought us. Honestly I think that my parents loved it just as much. They always went way overboard with gifts and loved seeing our excitement.

Here’s what I find tough about the holidays though. That sense of magic from your youth, you don’t forget it, and every year I look forward to it. But when you’re an adult it’s never exactly the same, so something is lost and that always makes me a little bit sad and a little bit panicky. I find myself hoping to feel the same things – no, not the desire for lots of stuff (and maybe that’s part of the problem: as a kid getting stuff was a huge part of the mystery and magic and as an adult I’ve developed an aversion to getting a huge amount of new “stuff” in one swoop, because that means I have to find places for all of that stuff, and that makes me twitchy) but just that sense of holiday magic and wonder and beauty. And sometimes I find it! There is magic out there to be found, but I also find myself trying to force the magic to happen, and to do it quickly before it’s too late, and that ends up causing anxiety. It makes me think a little bit of my friend Jodi’s writing on happiness projects and also of this article that I find to be so resonant, about the impossibility of scheduling and forcing quality time with your extended family.

So here I am, at the start of the Christmas season in our new home in our new town and trying to find new holiday traditions for our family that will infuse the month with some of that elusive magic. When we set out to get a tree, I’d heard that Costco had affordable Frasier Firs, so we drove out that way only to discover that it was no more than a dark semi-trailer in a parking lot full of pre-wrapped trees that they wouldn’t open for you. Now, to be fair, my memories of getting a tree as a kid involved parking lots, and my dad confirmed just the other day that we usually got our tree from the Kmart parking lot, but I still remember going to a tree lot and selecting the perfect tree. It was more than a semi-trailer, so without even getting out of the van, Kristin declared that we needed more of an experience and I couldn’t agree more, so we drove way across town in the other direction to Gull Meadow Farms (the same place from our fall fun post). It was lovely – lots of twinkling lights out front, and a greenhouse full of beautiful, good-smelling trees to choose from. Without having measured our ceiling height I told K that I thought a 6′ tree was probably sufficient, but she wasn’t willing to go small. “We aren’t in a NY apartment anymore”, she declared, “and I don’t want a tiny NY apartment tree.” So we went with the 7′-8′ category and hoped it would fit. Once we got it into the stand it just barely fit, and it felt like it was meant to be.

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Once I picked up some stocking hooks I also hung up our stockings (something we never actually did in New York because we didn’t have a fireplace, and the last Christmas we spent there Jonah was young enough that he didn’t really know about stockings so we didn’t bother coming up with a solution). We also wanted to wait until the twins were born so that we could order a matching set with everyone’s names on them, so we did that last year and used them at my parents’ house when we were there for Christmas. We LOVE these stockings, which came from Etsy. The seller also makes ridiculously adorable bonnets (we have some for the twins).

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We made a million trips to Lowe’s to buy lights to put on our bushes outside, because I’ve always wanted a house so that we could do that. I say a million trips because I grossly underestimated the number of lights we would need for these two bushes out front, and kept having to go back for more. I also made the amateur mistake of buying the “net style” lights for bushes, assuming that I’d just kind of lay them on top and voila! Instant Christmas magic! Not so; don’t do it, just buy the strings.

Last night we took the kids downtown because it was an Art Hop night and while we don’t really ever see any art when we do that with the kids, I knew that Bronson Park would be decorated and I wanted to go see it as a family. It may not be the most incredible light display out there, but it’s our park and it made me really happy to take the kids. K promised Jonah hot cocoa with marshmallows once we got home, so we didn’t stay out long. The twins went to bed and Jonah enjoyed his cocoa, and I felt good about our night and knew in that moment that most of the time it’s about the small stuff. But how to find all of the small stuff?

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So I’m still searching for holiday traditions that we can begin and continue each year: places we can go, the best Christmas houses to drive past, activities we can do together, beauty I can help them to appreciate. I want Christmastime to have magic for the kids not only now, but throughout their lives. In my mind that means that I need to teach them now that the magic is in lots of things, not just in the presents. When I began to lose enthusiasm for getting lots of presents, some of the anticipation and magic vanished for me, and I don’t want that to happen for our kids. So I’m inviting ideas and suggestions and would love to hear about any traditions that you’ve enjoyed either now or in the past, and I’ll keep you posted on what we try. Happy holiday season!

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