I was eating nuts out of the sleigh-shaped glass bowl my grandparents used every year when it hit me. The magic was gone. It had been gone for years, but it sort of slowly slipped away from me so that I hadn’t noticed its absence until that moment. But I realized it then—it was utterly and completely gone.
We had been sitting around in a perfectly organized circle for two hours, munching politely on chips and nuts. Uncle Bob and Aunt Cheryl, Uncle Jeff, Mom, Dad, Holly, Joe, Grandma and Grandpa, all perfectly aligned in our polite little pow-wow. Uncle Bob asked how school was going. It was going well—same as last time. And what was I studying again? English. And did I know what I wanted to do with that? No, I still didn’t have a clue. And then the polite little silence would resume while we all averted eyes and grabbed our small portions of chips and nuts.
It was another holiday reunion with the family, and we were all adults. We talked about education, politics, the fiscal budget. I remember when Holly and I were kids and we’d run around the house yelling at the top of our lungs—much to the chagrin of our mom—that Santa was coming! Santa was coming! This was followed by a rowdy outburst of “Santa Claus is coming to town” which was—more often than not—inserted with questionably revised versions we learned at school. But despite the craziness of it all, there was something in the air, something magical about it all. It was like the reds and greens and whites of the holidays became an invisible buzz that arrived with the crispness of the winter air, reminding you that magic was on its way. When the tree ornaments and Christmas lights and nutcrackers came out of their yearly hibernation, it was as if they brought back the same mysterious energy from the year before. Every Christmas Eve, after my sister and I had carefully placed two cookies, one carrot, and a glass of milk on the kitchen table, I lay tucked in bed, and I could swear I heard sleigh-bells on the roof and a faint scuffling noise coming from the chimney. It was this magic that had brought the Big Man from all the way from up north to my sunny neighborhood of Costa Mesa, CA. Santa—yes, the big man from up north—was actually coming to town to see me (and all the other 3 billion children on the planet, but most importantly here to see me). Something vibrated in the air weeks before his arrival. He had even sent his elf helpers to the malls in order to assure he got us the right gifts. Gingerbread cookies baking, hot chocolate, mittens, tales of flying reindeer…they all foretold of the Big Man’s arrival. Even the smell of the pines when we were Christmas tree shopping seemed to exude some kind of northern, wintery prophesy of his impending arrival.
Nowadays, the tree just seems to appear in the family room one day sometime near the end of December. And Christmas day celebrations have been relocated from our cozy living room—where Santa was guaranteed to know our location—to a beach condo in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico. And Santa now signs his name with the same all-caps lettering as my Dad, unlike the mysterious cursive lettering he used in my childhood. As the years have progressed, the holidays have become overrun with these so-called family “gatherings” where we’re supposed to look nice and pretend like we eat with napkins in our laps at every meal.
But the truth of the matter is that I usually eat on a to-go plate and use my sleeve or hand as my napkin. And I don’t want to talk about education or politics or the fiscal budget. I want to rowdily sing some perverse version of “Santa’s coming to town,” and nearly glue my fingers together with sap from trying to find the perfect Christmas tree, and I want to sit on a mall elf’s lap and tell him what I want for Christmas. I want the magic to return to the holidays.
It’s funny, when you’re a kid all the adults tell you excitedly that Santa’s coming! Santa’s coming! And of course, we echo these hallowed words. But to be perfectly honest, I think it’s just a way for adults to cling on to that last tiny glimmer of hope that magic actually is real, as a last and final attempt to think that something magical and mysterious and otherworldly is possible. That somewhere the Big Man in a red jumpsuit really does exist, and that he truly is coming to town. So next Christmas, if you need me, don’t look for me in the adults’ nuts-and-chips circle—I’ll be at the kitchen table writing my Christmas list, address destination: The North Pole. And if you see them, please tell the mall elves I’ll be paying them a visit.

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