What if we remembered our first Christmas? Even babies born in the last six days of December lacked the verbal skills by their first Christmas to be at all prepared for the smorgasbord of stuff suddenly pressed on them accompanied by a showering of gleeful attention from those big people we’re learning love us. Remember, up to a certain age, young children think anything that moves is alive. I don’t remember getting a train that would flip every time it bumped a wall and move in the opposite direction until it hit another wall and flip again and head to a next wall until its batteries drained, but I’ve seen videos of me sitting up with chubby legs and tracking it enraptured.
Then we attach this magic to a guy named Santa Claus, who is either a myth or a lie. The choice is ours. The myth is a stand in for Christmas Spirit, itself a stand in for holiday cheer and good feeling, people doing nice things for each other. When we discover there is no Santa Claus we aren’t surprised. We kind of knew, not all along but by then, that our parents were behind the whole thing. Our parents have conjured magic for us at maybe the only time in our lives we’re capable of fully buying in. After we realize Santa didn’t bring us anything, our parents, maybe sometimes with money that didn’t come easily, bought us this stuff and gave Santa the credit so we would believe in the magic, the curtain is drawn back but the magic remains.
This will be my first Christmas with both my parents gone. That’s been on my mind pretty steadily since about two weeks before Thanksgiving. People say the holidays are tough when you’re grieving, but I keep thinking back on how great my parents made every Christmas. The TIE Fighter I found under the tree the year I woke up at three in the morning and snuck into my room to play with for five minutes before going back to sleep, the electric train set going around the tree I know my dad must have been excited to buy his only son, the copy of Infinite Jest my mom got me a few years ago after I dropped only one hint about wanting it more than a month before Christmas. I keep thinking of how magic Christmas felt long after the illusion of magic was gone because my parents always made it special not with stuff but with effort and care. That’s the magic that lets me, about as anti-commercialism as one gets, work in retail and not focus on shopper frustration around the holidays but see mostly people in good moods excited to buy stuff for people they love to make them happy by the thought behind the gift. That’s the same magic that lets me, a not religious or even spiritual in the typical way person, feel like my parents are with me this Christmas.