BY KATHERINE KELLY
As a child in the 1950s, Christmas was indeed as magical as it gets. The tree covered in tinsel and lights and the display of mostly handmade gifts my mother arranged so it looked like Santa brought them made Christmas morning an enduring memory for more than half a century. Of course I carried on the tradition of Christmas magic for my own child, making sure there was always “the big gift” displayed prominently that Santa had left under a tree of lights and tinsel. For kids it’s always about the presents, but, looking back, for us kids back in the 50s the presents were secondary to the magic.
I remember the entire family piling into the car and driving around the neighborhoods to wonder at the colorfully lit houses decorated in their Christmas finest. And there was a Santa’s Village we would always visit where people would dress as elves and Santa’s lap was waiting. I remember it being very cold, and I was shy about talking to such an important person as Santa, but my fondest memory is the magical, whimsical displays of the workshop and the elves running about, and the candy. There was always lots of candy. Golden foil wrapped chocolate coins were my favorite.
All the days leading up to that magical morning, all the anticipation, and the fun of getting everything ready is what made that magic happen. I don’t remember all the Christmas shopping. I think mom did that in secret. I also don’t remember being slammed at every turn with shopping ads. I remember the big fat Sears catalog, aptly named the Wish Book, with the super-sized toy section. We would spend hours combing through the pages of toys and hope Santa would know which one we truly wanted. But hoping and wishing was the fun of it and we were never disappointed if we didn’t get it.
Christmas decorating was the most magical of it all. We made lots of decorations ourselves, from paper chains and popcorn garlands to toilet paper roll nativity scenes. Snow was batting from an old pillow. You didn’t go out and just buy this stuff, what’s the fun in that? Being kids with little money and lots of artistic talent, we always made our own gifts to give our parents, aunts or uncles. The handprints framed in construction paper or imprinted in plaster of Paris, or the macaroni covered can-turned-pencil-cup were always welcomed with enthusiasm by the adults in our lives. How that gold painted macaroni would shine in the colored light from the tree! My heart still swells with pride.
As an adult in 2013, Christmas is still in my heart and always will be. But not the commercialized spending fest it’s become. I don’t “do” Christmas in the new-fangled commercial sense. I can barely go into a store this time of year without becoming depressed. And not because I can’t afford to buy things for all my friends and family, but because I’m almost expected to participate in the spending frenzy and I feel assaulted by the displays. It’s the commercialization of Christmas that it is the true war on Christmas. None of this is magic. You can’t BUY magic, you have to make it!
So I retreat to my kitchen and bake some cookies, make some fudge and kettle corn, some biscotti for a brother, a pie for the Christmas meal. I create my own magic for the holiday and try hard to stay out of stores. Money can’t buy joy or bring peace to the world. Money and gifts are not love. But here, have a piece of fudge and some kettle corn. They’re best when eaten together. How about some homemade pistachio and cranberry biscotti with a cup of coffee, or perhaps a cookie with some hot chocolate? Now we’re talking love, and this is where the magic lives. No tinsel, no gifts, just friends and warmth and something made with my hands and thoughts of joy. This isn’t the magic of a child’s Christmas in the 50s, but it’s the new millennia Christmas magic for me.