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O Come, Let Us Assemble It    

There seems to be some pushback this year, in various media, against the “Magic of Christmas.” I understand. Times have changed. It’s not Bing Crosby’s holiday so much any more. Hallmark’s cookie-cutter Christmas movies seem woefully out of touch. (The personal assistant saves the day and wins the heart of the widowed billionaire… again! The guy on the Snow Ball committee helping the down-and-out girl, able to value her quirky ways, is secretly… a prince… again! With the requisite cookie-baking scene…flour on his and her noses… adorable!). What happened to the good stories? They used to be good.

This year perhaps more than most, money is an issue, germs remain an issue, and weather, fuel costs and world events are bringing us down. Power outages have caused many people and businesses real hardship.  Perhaps a creature or person you love died. It’s hard to care much about the Perfect Gift—or even wrapping it. I, for one, used to get very, very into wrapping.

They say nostalgia glosses over the past. Makes it seem prettier or more enchanted than it was at the time. As a nostalgic, who talks to other nostalgics, I don’t buy that. We say it was in fact enchanted. The following story illustrates when Christmas was pure magic. 

I preface the tale with my own childhood proclivity for holiday snooping. Driven in part by our keen sense of smell, my siblings or I would notice something in December when we went to, say, get a towel from the closet. That smell. Sniff, sniff. Why does it smell like that in here? The unmistakable smell of… fun

The smell of toys. Plastics. Whatever they pumped into the air in toy stores to make you want live there. That smell was, weirdly, right in our own closet. Let us get a step stool and investigate! Dear Reader knows where I’m going with this. Snooping for presents secreted away by the parents during the weeks leading up to December 25th. Many of them mercifully already wrapped by the grandparents and aunts who’d mailed them. 

On to the story. I hope to do it justice.

My Vermont friend was a little boy growing up with his older brother in the 1960s. Remarkably, their parents took seasonal nighttime jobs in addition to their already demanding day jobs in order to pull together a nice Christmas for their two sons. Which left the sons entirely to their own devices several nights per week. At which point the snooping naturally began.

They found in a closet one year a well-made and elaborate Lionel train set they had badly wanted. Overcome with excitement, they got on the step stool and brought it down. Very, very carefully, they unboxed it. And proceeded to put it together. It was complicated and took a long while. Then they played with it happily for hours. With an eye to the clock, they very, very carefully re-boxed it, got on the step stool, and put it away. Each night they went through this ritual. Each night they got faster at assembling the set, and at re-packaging it perfectly.

On Christmas day the boys could have won Oscars® for the gleeful surprise they displayed upon opening the well-made and elaborate Lionel train set they had badly wanted. They were eager to put it together, this time without fear that they might get caught. The train set was finally theirs.  

The parents were beside themselves with the Christmas Day delight they had brought to their sons. All their hours of hard work had paid off. They felt as much joy as their sons. Their joy was overtaken by astonishment. Look at them go! Our boys! How could our sons be this clever, this talented, that they could assemble the thing with such rapidity? They must be advanced, possibly even geniuses! Clearly, they must go into engineering.

I love that story. I don’t know if they ever told their parents—ask David Atkinson for the full story. For now, it stands as is: a charming, true tale told at dinner one night at a holiday party in Vermont. It brought the house down. Magical times revisited.

The story takes me back to our own childhood. When Mommy would make a huge deal about  snowfall, illuminating the outside lights and opening the curtains so we kids could gaze at the different sizes and shapes of the swirling flakes. When Dad building a fire was a thrilling and special occasion; even the dog got excited. When hot chocolate was made by us children with 50% marshmallows—the big, fat, “jet-puffed” kind—as tinsel clung to our polyester pants and dog, and the parents sloshed brandy into their eggnog. Our hearts soared at the holidays.

Now Mommy is gone and Dad can’t build a fire. But there is still something about snow falling, seeing someone drive by with a carefully selected tree atop their car, children terrified or overjoyed to meet Santa at a town gazebo, and the first few bars of pretty much any Bing Crosby carol. It legitimizes our nostalgia. There was holiday magic. There was. I was there, I felt it. As, hopefully, Dear Reader, did you. If we can’t feel it this year, for whatever reasons, let us quietly watch others feel it. It’s out there. Even if we’re taking a year off ourselves. Good (holi)day to all, with love and memories.

Tip for Parents: Hide the step stool.

Ann Aikens

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