From the vault: Christmas Magic

Originally published, December 2009


Wedding planning was a nightmare for me. I wanted the whole shebang and, while my husband wasn’t resistant to the fuss, he had never once attended a wedding. Not one. He didn’t have a clue what was involved. Worse, we had just found out that he would be deploying soon and we wanted to get married before he left. We had six weeks to plan a destination wedding with 75 guests. (Because I refused to budge on having a real wedding.)

At every decision, instead of simply voicing an opinion, he asked a question – even about the things that you wouldn’t think were questionable. When I told him to pick some groomsmen, he asked me why. I explained that I had bridesmaids and they needed groomsmen to balance them out. Then he asked why I had bridesmaids. Up until a few days after the wedding he thought the bridesmaids were supposed to come clean our house. Seriously.

He wanted to know why he had to wear a tuxedo. Then he didn’t think his tux should match the groomsmens’ tuxedos because my dress wasn’t going to match the bridesmaids’ dresses. After that line of questioning I bought him a book called Grooms for Dummies or something like that, and every time he had a stupid question about a time-honored tradition I just referred him back to the book. Too bad Wikipedia wasn’t around then.

All of that’s to say that I’m starting to realize that incessant questioning is probably a genetic trait.

If you should drive by my house now, you’ll notice that it looks awesome. It is bedecked with garland, bows, wreaths and little white lights on the outside. On the inside there’s a fully decorated tree, more garland, stockings, some nativity sets and various other Christmas junk. I’m feeling a little smug, I gotta admit. But the decorating hasn’t been easy because at each step of the way Bo, my five-year-old son, has asked me to explain everything. Ev-ery-thing.This is the first year that he’s really been aware of Christmas and he is maxing it out.

“Why do we have a Christmas tree?”

“Why do we put ornaments on the tree?”

“What are stockings?”

“Why would Santa put gifts in a stocking?” and

“Why are they on the fireplace?”

And so forth and so on.

It has forced me to rethink all of the holiday traditions. I’ve read enough about Christmas history to know some of the back stories but, really, when you think about it, it all is pretty weird.

We chop down a tree, haul it into the house and then hang little figurines and lights on it. We put giant socks that no one could ever actually wear in front of a fire so that a fat bearded guy in a red suit can put presents in them – after he slides down the chimney, oh, because his flying deer are parked on the roof, you know, because that’s the fastest way for him to get to every house in the entire world in one night.

At my house we also have a little elf that comes and goes every night to report back to Santa about Bo’s  behavior and the elf plants himself somewhere different every morning. And we do it all, why? That’s right — because the Messiah was born in a barn in Israel 2,000 years ago.

What do we take these kids for, idiots?


But it’s fun for the kids and the adults, so we keep doing it every year.

This year I gathered all of our Christmas books into a pile and every night before bed I read Bo a different Christmas story – just to hammer all the magic in. Last night I read him The Velveteen Rabbit, one of my all time favorite stories. For those who’ve forgotten the story, a little boy gets a stuffed rabbit doll for Christmas and then he loves it so much that the rabbit becomes real.

On average I’d say I eked out about four words before each new question. I stopped counting the questions at 32. It was a 25-page book. The questions started with “What is ‘velveteen’?” (My answer: “It’s like velvet.” Which was followed, of course, with “What is velvet?”And have you ever tried to explain velvet? A few more months of this and I could write a dictionary.)

Anyway, as the story progressed Bo’s questions increased right along with his horror. (“They’re going to burn the bunny? That’s mean! What would they burn the bunny? What are germs? Why don’t they just put him in the washing machine? Why don’t they have a washing machine? When were washing machines invented? Who invented them?”) So I thought that Bo would be placated and comforted and all would be well when we got to the part where the rabbit becomes real. Bo has at least a dozen stuffed animals in his bed at any given time and he likes to pretend that they’re all real, so I thought he’d really be into the end of the story.

Oh, no, no, no.

To his little mind The Velveteen Rabbit was just a Victorian version of the movie “Child’s Play”. I didn’t pick up on his fright right away and so I stupidly asked him if he would like for his toys to become real some day, thinking that the mere suggestion would throw him into fits of sugar-plum Christmas magic. Instead, it sent him to the sort of place where Haley Joel Osment saw dead people.

“No,” he said, his eyes wide as he slowly shook his head. “Toys are toys, Mommy. They shouldn’t become real.”

“But don’t you want your toys to be real?” I asked.

“No,” he said, definitively. “They outnumber me. They might take over everything and destroy the house. And the teddy bears would turn into real bears and they would growl at me and eat me.”

I had to admit that there was a certain logic to what he was saying.

“Mommy, I don’t want my toys to become real,” he said. “What can I do to make them stay toys?”

“As long as you don’t love them you should be okay,” I said, instantly feeling a little guilty for warping the Christmas magic.

But this new approach to toy ownership might make life much easier for me come spring cleaning/consignment sale time. And I can’t imagine that Bo is going to beg me to drop another $50 in Build A Bear Workshop anytime soon.

Which is magical enough for me.