Putting the Magic Back in Christmas

This past Sunday at church, we were asked a question: What does Christmas mean to you? And don’t hold back. What does it really mean?

After some thought, I said, “For me, Christmas had a mysterious quality to it, like I never knew what to expect. It’s sad because lately I’ve been missing that. Nowadays, Christmas means stress and figuring out whose house to go to and what to buy for who and stuff like that. I want to bring back the magic, and I don’t mean in a pagan way. I want to bring back that joy and delight that came when Christmas started coming.”

I remember when I lost that feeling, several years ago after I got married. I think I was walking around an outdoors mall, seeing the decorations and hearing the music, and not feeling much of anything. It saddened me, because I’ve always loved Christmas. I think I’ve felt that way for a long time since I’ve became an adult, but it was the first time I suddenly realized that the magic of Christmas was missing. That sense of wonder and awe, the feeling of ritual that comes in bringing out and decorating a Christmas tree, listening to Christmas music, that feeling on anticipation on Christmas Eve, of waking up at 4am and sneaking down with my sisters to see the Christmas tree still lit and the presents underneath. That type of wonder and mysteriousness and, well, magic.

Christmas was so much more fun when I was a kid. I didn’t think I would ever get that feeling back. Until Monday.

Ever see A Christmas Story? Who hasn’t? The movie’s pretty much a classic by now, or at least TBS wants it to be, showing it over and over and over and over on Christmas day. Geez hammer it into our brains already, why don’t you? But I’m getting off track. There’s the scene in the movie (and if I’m spoiling it for you, tough. It’s been out since the 80s and been shown on every channel–if you haven’t seen it, then you can’t be reading the blog because that mean you have absolutely no technology in your house) where the father asks Ralphie if he had a good Christmas. The kid hems and haws, then the father says, “Hey, what’s that over there? Looks like Santa left a present.” Ralphie goes over and pulls out the gift hiding behind the piano (or radiator…I can’t really remember). Of course, it’s the BB gun he’s been wanting throughout the entire movie. I always liked that part of the movie when Ralphie rips the paper off and his eyes get big as he realizes what it is. But this year, this Monday, I found myself paying more attention to the parents’ reaction.

Next time you see the movie, pay careful attention to the Mom and Dad. The father is nearly lost in his own wonder, excitement mirroring that of Ralphie’s as he watches his son pull open the gift. His hands even rises and mimics his son’s as he pours the BBs into the barrel. Meanwhile, the mother is watching them, her eyes moving from her son to her husband in surprise. For one brief moment, the father and the son is of one mind and one heart, and the mother can’t help but recognize it, albeit in a bewildered way.

I found myself thinking of that scene when we were opening gifts a little later. Daniel was sitting on his Daddy’s lap, and when he opened a gift, he immediately recognized it for what it was. “James!” he called out gleefully as he pulled out a train. (And yes, at two years old, my kid can recognize different trains from the Thomas the Train Engine series. Go figure.) The delight that crossed both his face, and my hubbie’s face as he realized that Daniel knew the gift, was, well…magical.

That got me to thinking about gift-giving in general. Christmas has always been about buying stuff. Buy! Buy! Buy! The stores tell us to buy stuff to make the people you love happy! Then buy more stuff. Buy! Buy! Buy! But that’s not what Christmas is about. It’s all about the giving. Giving something to someone to make them happy. And that doesn’t have to be exclusively gifts. It can be anything: from showing up at someone’s house you haven’t seen in a long time, to acknowledging a person’s hard work in front of them, to giving basic toiletries to needy families. It’s seeing that look of surprise, then joy that comes over their faces that personifies the magic of Christmas. That I-wasn’t-expecting-this-but-you-gave-it-to-me-anyway look. That same look on Ralphie’s face when he got the BB gun, and his father’s face as he watched his son’s delight.

I think God had that in mind when Jesus came down to earth. He gave the world a gift that no one deserved, that no one expected. Mary certainly didn’t have it in mind. I wish I saw her and Joseph’s faces when the shepherds appeared. I wish I saw the shepherds’ faces when all those angels appeared in the sky, then they rushed to Bethlehem to see if what the angels’ spoke of was true. I wish I saw the three wise men’s faces when they saw the star. His gift of redemption from sin certainly goes unappreciated today, but back then, the shepherd and wise men, and Mary and Joseph, realizing what the little baby meant, rejoiced. And God, seeing that, rejoiced as well, and He allowed the angels to fill the air with rejoicing.

That, my friends, is absolutely magical.

Now that Daniel’s a little bit older and beginning to understand Christmas a bit (“Present!” he said all Christmas day), how do I, as a mother, impart that sense of wonder on him? Not just at Christmas, but throughout the year? It’s a bit of a challenge. My hubby and I will have to go against the materialistic world and its “Buy stuff! Buy stuff!” message. But I think that sense of wonder is coming back for me. I want to cultivate it, see things through my son’s eyes. I don’t mean live vicariously through him, but to share his sense of wonder and joy. To be of one heart and one mind. And I want him to learn that Christmas isn’t just about receiving. It’s also about giving. I don’t know how to teach him that, but I’m gonna try.

And I’m taking the word magical back. Too often, magical seems to imply pagan, evil, satanic rituals in Christian circles. But the word can also convey the sense of awe, joy, wonder and delight. I want to experience that in my Christian walk. How do you think people responded when Jesus walked on water, calmed storms, raised the dead, healed the sick? By yawning and sarcastic comments of “Yeah, we’ve seen that before.” No, they were awed! They were stunned! God wants us to be delighted by what he’s done and to crave more of His wonder, His awesomeness, His…well, magicalness!

Merry Christmas, y’all. Merry Christmas to every single one of you. Here’s to praying that God will instill that bit of magicalness in you all in 2007 and beyond.