Desperately seeking holiday magic

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Monday evening. Oh Monday evening. I planned for you to be oh so magical.

advent calendar

The plan began with me dropping homemade cookies into sandwich bags just before 4pm. Because the holidays call for a sweet twist on the traditional after school snack, yes? Especially on a Monday. Especially when I’m finally over the jet lag and feeling ready to do this. This, of course, is creating a magical holiday season and doing it right.

In my grand plans, the sweet snack would delight my little angels in the car all the way home. They’d sail through homework and after school chores. They’d open the ‘7’ box of our Advent calendar. They’d see hot cocoa and cuddling with books on the couch in their near future. They’d be excited, not so excited that they’d start bouncing off walls, but definitely happy. We’d move peacefully through dinner to eventually find ourselves all under the same blanket on the couch, sipping cocoa and reading about sugar plum fairies and the first gift of Christmas. Oh, and in the middle of it all, I’d bake and decorate a batch of sugar cookies, with the children’s help. The cookies would turn out delightful and beautiful and I’d post photos of them everywhere before we enjoyed them with our cocoa.

Oh my, was it magical. Beautiful. It was the stuff Christmas memories are made of.

In reality, of course, one small cookie does not an after school snack make. In reality, all people, but little people especially, struggle to make their way through chores at the end of the day. In reality, the promise of hot cocoa makes it nearly impossible for a three-year-old and a six-year-old to calmly make it through a meal with a healthy dose of vegetables. In reality, I fail at sugar cookies every year.

The afternoon quickly devolved into a clatter of chaos and loud, of big messes and lots of cleaning, of some tears and lots of complaining, and of hideous sugar cookies that tasted more like cake (not altogether a bad thing but not exactly the thing I was going for).

As I scraped unusable cookie dough off of my hands and transferred the remainder from the refrigerator to the trashcan, I felt like I was making a mess of our holiday season. That in one wild and ridiculous afternoon I had basically trashed the entire season right there with the dough, dashing any hopes of holiday magic or love or wonder.

Because of our Thanksgiving travel, we entered the holiday season a bit late this year. It was really just a handful of days but I’ve been feeling the absence of those days in the box-checking rush I’ve been on since we returned. Spending a week in the hot and humid, I was eager to slip into the warm and cozy winter holiday season. Spending a week so far from my comfort zone, I was desperate to curl up in the familiar magic of the holidays. I craved long, lazy mornings by the fire with our lights twinkling all around. I dreamed of slow, easy evenings with the smell of baking cookies wafting from room to room and the smooth voices of Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby dancing through the house. So I started a mission to catch up on all of the holiday goodness I felt like I had missed. And I ran about trying to do all of the things that equal Christmas magic in my mind.

But sweet holiday memories aren’t things that you can make in a rush from one place to another. They aren’t a thing you can engineer or cram into existence by sheer force of will. You cannot have a magical Monday evening simply because you decided that it is time to make some holiday memories and the clock is ticking so everyone get your aprons on and let’s do this thing. The kinds of holiday memories that you’ll look back on from year to year, it turns out, are not things that can be planned and scheduled and ordered to fit just right.

It turns out, in fact, that you can’t bustle holiday memories into existence. Rather, you have to stop. You have to pause for a minute, make a little space and sit in the quiet that results. You have to settle and let your shoulders drop and your breathing slow so that you can actually hear the music and smell the cookies. And once you’ve made this space, you have to watch the memory start as the tiniest spark. And then you have to not rush that little spark because it has work to do but it is slow, intentional, and ever so important work. You have to just sit back and let it grow. And it will be worth the wait, I promise. It is for me every time.

This time of year it is incredibly hard to sit back and make space. I know. I haven’t done it yet this year, myself. But I know from experience that the memorable holiday that I craved all the way from Bombay back home is possible if I slow down. And I’m working on settling long enough to see it through.

Monday night did end with all of us curled under the same blanket on the couch. We read four books together by candle light and the kids sipped hot chocolate and nibbled cookies we’d made the day before. They were delighted. In their memories, they will probably separate the chaos of the afternoon from that one, singular moment. I’m going to try to do the same.

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