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Country Views - Christmas magic

By Tim King

My parents were magicians and the Christmas magic they created for me and my brothers is as powerful now, in my memory, as it was when I was a child. Only now have I come to understand at what cost magic is created.

It’s hard to know when the spell began to be woven but perhaps it was just before Thanksgiving. That was when my Mom bought the dates and the colorful candied fruit to make her aged Christmas fruit cake. The small, dense and dark cakes were baked, perhaps with the help of my Grandmother who lived with us in those days, just after Thanksgiving. To keep them moist while they aged they were soaked in rum and wrapped in what we called tin foil. They may eventually have ended up in the freezer before the first moist slices were served, with great expectations, on Christmas Eve.

Some time after Thanksgiving my Dad went shopping at Custer Floral. There he’d order a colorful poinsettia, quite a few feet of balsam garland, and, unbeknown to we kids, a tall Christmas tree.

When the poinsettia arrived and Christmas cookies were baked and the Advent wreath at church was aflame it seemed to those of us who were seven or eight years old and new to all of this that there was something big afoot.

Part of that excitement is about secrets. Christmas holds a lot of secrets and children love them. My parents were good at secrets and they were part of their magic. For years, or so it seemed, they hid the Christmas tree they purchased from Custers. We believed Santa Claus decorated that tree on the night before Christmas Eve. So we never saw it until it appeared in it’s fully decorated and glistening glory on the morning before Christmas. To get it decorated our parents drugged us with warm milk, advised us to leave some Christmas cookies on the table for Santa, and sent us off to bed in our second story bedrooms at 8:30 p.m. We were strongly advised not to come down stairs until morning. Santa is quite shy, you know!

One year Dad caught all five of us on film. We were in our pajamas, hair still tousled, and halfway down the stairwell. We gazed in awe at the miracle of the tree as the shutter clicked.

Before the tree decorating Mom and Grandma spent several weeks decorating the house with garland, large red and golden ribbons, intriguing holiday baubles, and candles everywhere. Outside, Dad would drape the balsam garland from the porch and picture window and string big fat blue, red, and green Christmas lights among its branches. He’d do it dressed in a heavy winter coat in the cold dark of a late December early evening while standing on a step ladder. After he was done he’d plug the lights in and invite us all to bundle up and stand on the sidewalk and admire his colorful handiwork on our festive house. I’m glad we stood out there in the cold together and looked at those lights in that December dark but at the time I expect I was a somewhat reluctant and chilly participant in those family gatherings. Sixty-five years later I thank my Dad for gathering his flock together in the snow because I still am warmed by those memories today.

I believe, but I don’t know for sure, that one Christmas season out there in the cold December dark, Dad was stricken by the first of several heart attacks that would kill him a few years later. I say I don’t know for sure because my parents kept their secrets. They had five children to create magic for and a heart attack wasn’t going to stop them. I believe they understood very well how short and delicate childhood is and how easily it is bruised. So they kept their troubles, no matter how large, to themselves and made magic for their children.

In those years Dad would hire someone to be a Santa. In the early darkness he would come thumping noisily to the door ho-ho-ing and jingling and not shy at all. He’d come in full of cold and set each of us on his lap and tell us something. Once, he told me if I wanted to be a pirate with a mustache I had to drink my orange juice. Imagine that! Then he’d go noisily out the door all red and white and bushy beard and Mom would invite us in to her candle-lit Christmas Eve feast, which included spicy shrimp cocktail and long awaited aged fruit cake. We’d eat together as a family and, when we were done, Mom would read to us, out of a big picture book, about how a baby was born a long time ago in a manger in Bethlehem. She had a wonderful read-aloud voice.

The short time we sat at that table, surrounded by candle light and nourished by good food and that wonderful story was indeed magical.

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