Written by Kate Besley

Evie Bradford from Louisa Wins State 4H Championship

The Magic of Christmas by Kate Besley

Christmas is a unique holiday in that it comes in many forms during our lives. On Facebook recently, I saw this quote: There are three stages of your life: You believe in Santa Claus, you are Santa Claus, you look like Santa Claus. And Christmas is just like that, morphing itself during different stages of our lives. As each magic stage of Christmas comes, it is important not to make the mistake of wanting Christmas to be like the previous chapters of our lives. We will miss the magic of each stage if we dwell too much on what Christmas used to be. So here are the stages of Christmas in my life, along with the magic of each stage.

As a child, I was in love with Christmas. Christmas magic for me then was about the anticipation, the smells, the music, the excitement. My father was a railroad engineer, and he worked every Christmas until I was in high school. Also, we were away from extended family, so Christmas was celebrated with my mother and 3 brothers. So I can’t explain this love I felt as a child for this holiday. I would dress up my toy horses and make carriage sleds out of cardboard down in our basement, creating my own little Victorian Christmas village. I helped with the decorations, though there were not a lot of them. I loved the music, buying a Christmas carol music book when I was only 10, learning all the old Christmas carols by heart and pretending I was playing the songs on my kitchen table. I couldn’t read music, but I didn’t care, because the music was playing in my head as I tapped my fingers along. The trip to the local Christmas store lot was one of my favorite trips. My brothers and I would run around the lot, looking at the bright Christmas lights, while my mother purchased the tree. I remember the string of lights my mother received from her brother in Peru, turning the lighted figures over and over in my hands, trying to imagine my uncle and his family in warm, tropical weather. My brothers and I would plan on how we would sneak out of our beds on Christmas Eve to make our way to the basement, where the tree was located. And one Christmas Eve, my brothers and I were sure we heard sleigh bells during the night. As a teenager, I started baking cookies, even learning how to make almond paste shapes for Christmas. I drew Christmas pictures, and decorated the tree, wrapped the gifts, and delighted in my much younger brother as he unwrapped his gifts.

When I went off to college, Christmas gained another piece of magic. Now Christmas meant going home, and we sat on our suitcases in our dorm rooms singing “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays”. Many trips home from school were adventures in and of themselves, and getting home sometimes left me so thankful to see my front door. I would rush up to Mom and Dad, hugging and kissing them. My brothers also would come home, and my youngest brother, who was still a child then, would tell me over and over how much he missed me. Now I was in love, missing the boy who couldn’t be there for the holidays, singing sad Christmas songs along with my favorite Christmas carols. I was not only wrapping gifts now, I was buying them, because Christmas break also meant working a job to earn money for school. Christmas dinner was full of laughter, Daddy’s famous Whiskey Sour drinks, and shared stories. Christmas still owned the magic of music, smells, anticipation. But now the anticipation was different. Would I see my sweetheart? Would my brothers be there? Would their girlfriends be there? And the company of all of those brought sweet memories for me to share as I made my way back to college.

Many times during my young adulthood, I thought that Christmas magic was gone. How could anything replace those childhood memories of family, friends, food? As a young teacher, at least Christmas meant schools were closed for a while. And now that I was married, I had to share my holiday with two families. Giving up those childhood traditions was not easy, and I remember my new husband and I drove back to my home late one Christmas Eve because I was so homesick for my family. I realized that now I had to find Christmas magic in a different way, and true to its promise, Christmas magic delivered again. Now Christmas was with two families, two traditions, and quickly I felt the anticipation come back, the sounds and smells now replaced with the quiet of the countryside.

At the birth of my first child, I began to look forward to Christmas right away. My husband and I now had our own house, our own car, and our own Christmas tree. I wandered the stores at Christmastime with my new baby, imagining Christmases of the future. Christmas Future came with two more babies, Christmas trees that fell over, cookies and fudge masking my children’s faces, hiding their gifts, assembling toys late on Christmas Eve and celebrating Christmas breakfast with one family and Christmas dinner with the other family. My husband once looked at me and said, “I hope you remember theses Christmases in the future.” And then the future came. Children grown, families apart, and once again, I wondered how Christmas would ever be magic again.

My job as an elementary school counselor led me to Christmas magic once again. After one Christmas break, a student walked off the school bus in a huff. “What did you get for Christmas?” I asked innocently. “Nothing.” He replied. I decided immediately that I would do all I could to make sure all of my students would get something for Christmas, and the next season I coordinated sponsors and needy families together. This project grew to include 25 families. Up and down the school halls I would go on the last few days before Christmas break, a flatbed overloaded with presents and food for my families. Sometimes, I delivered these items to families’ homes where I witnessed personally the great joy these efforts brought the families. What wonderful Christmas magic that was!

And now in the later years of my life, the memories of all those magical Christmases swarm my heart and soul. Christmas changes its magic again. Grandchildren laugh, cry and play through the holidays, and I watch them with wonder. I smile because I know whatever the future holds, Christmas and its magic will always be there.

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