It bothers me, sometimes, that I don’t feel the way about Christmas that I used to. When I was a kid, Christmas was the golden time with songs and presents, with fun and cookies and candy canes. Days would drag along like a sled through to deep snow. I remember my antsiness sitting in the pews of St. Anthony’s church, breathing the incense and staring at the flame on the the first of the four advent candles and feeling like the other three would never be lit.
Now though, time seems to go too fast and the antisness of Christmas sometimes turns to pure anxiety. As a teacher our semester ends right before Christmas. As a result, there is a mad rush to grade essays and revisions, to figure out grades and to field a thousand questions concerning the mistakes the computer ‘must’ have made in figuring out final averages. There are end-of the-semester meetings, lost textbook lists and on and on and on. When that’s over it’s another mad rush to get the house in shape for visitors and to fight the crowds to get the presents that you need. Then there are gatherings on Christmas Eve at this house and that. There are late bedtimes for the kids who will get up way to early the next morning. Groggy and blurry eyed, we’ll watch presents being torn open and then put aside because there is no time to explore them. We have more gatherings, more parties, and before you know it, Christmas is gone.
My children are a lot like modern Christmases, too. At times, I look at them (my daughter who is in seventh grade and my son who is in third) and vertigo spins my head as I wonder just where the hell I had been the last handful of years. Lately, I’ve been noticing the change in my son–the kid who I used to carry on my shoulders, who would sleep tucked in the middle of a literal zoo of stuffed animals–the most.
Now, he’s as tall as the boys a grade or two higher than his. He’s lean like a swimmer. He’s a huge fan of WWE wrestling and he begs and pleads to use his birthday money to rent the next pay-per-view event. The only time a football is not in his hand is when there’s a basketball in them instead.
But when he goes to bed at night, a few stuffed animals still peek their heads out from the sheets. That makes me happy–almost as happy as the early Christmas present I know he doesn’t know he’s given to me.
I woke a couple of weekends ago and found, on the dining room table, a sheet of paper covered in my son’s scratchy handwriting. “I want an Elf on the Shelf” he had written, over and over and over again. I never knew he wanted one, but after asking him about it, my wife and I found that he had story after story tucked away in his brain of all the crazy things other Elves on the Shelves did at the houses of his friends.
We told him to be patient, that when you put words on paper you can give magic to things.
That afternoon my son found an Elf on the Shelf sitting on the roll of toilet paper in the bathroom. The elf held a wad of tissue in his arms and a hand-scratched sign that read “May I Help You?”
My ability to write is not nearly enough to describe the look on my son’s face when he saw that elf sitting there, but what I saw in his wide smile was pure and simple wonder. In his wide blue eyes, I saw that child-like belief you read about in the Bible. I saw pure joy.
He was electric with that joy the rest of the day. He told us again all the stories he heard from his friends. He made certain we knew–and pointed to his elf as further proof–how elves liked playing with toilet paper and that if we found shredded paper all over the house that we shouldn’t blame the dog.
He found his pen and more paper and wrote notes back to the elf thanking him for coming. He made stairs out of folded towels, the ottoman, and the clothes basket so
the elf could climb onto the tree if he wanted and then smacked his forehead when he remembered the elf could fly.
There was a moment of panic when my son thought someone moved the elf on the toilet paper roll. We couldn’t do that, he said! The book said if we touched him he would lose his magic!
It took us awhile to convince him it was all going to be okay. I’m not certain he believed us though, until he woke early early the next morning and saw his elf sitting on the chandelier with a candy cane.
Looking for that elf is the first thing my son has done every morning since. And every morning since, I’ve been blessed with seeing true magic.
I’m so thankful for that, because in the glow of that magic, time slows. My son is no longer a third grader, he’s just a boy.
And when I see him darting around the house in search of his elf, I can feel his excitement and wonder. I can feel it deep and real inside of me. My own eyes get wide and my chest fills. I feel that moment of fear when he can’t find the elf right away and starts to think that maybe the elf has gone. I swell with relief when my son finds the elf face first in a cupcake. I know how the laughter feels in your belly when he find the elf stuck in the ice chute on the refrigerator.
He makes me remember those feelings that I used to feel all those Christmases ago. He makes me remember that wonder and awe I used to feel about a lot of things…
Christmas presents don’t get much better then that.
Merry Christmas and may you find your own bit of magic this holiday.