The magic of Christmas. Children looking out the window in excitement
Christmas Day by Norman Rockwell
“I make no apologies for the fact that my love and heightened anticipation for the holidays is a little off the charts.”
–Stephanie Riley

4 Minute Read

You remember that spark, right? That magical energy…when the child within your soul completely believed in the magic of Christmas.

I’ve felt that thrill since childhood. My twin sister and I were the only children to our parents who were both only children-so we were lavished with love and attention from not only our parents, but all sets of grandparents. 

Early in our courtship, my husband, John, shared that Christmas was a big deal in his home too.

So when I unveiled my plans for the holidays, he gave me the green light to aspire to make our family the living representation of the nostalgic Norman Rockwell paintings you see depicting the joy of Christmas.

I’m not just being “P.C.” here, using the word “holidays.” I’m simply pointing out that from September/Harvest time on…through Halloween and Thanksgiving; it’s all just the Opening Act leading to the crescendo of Christmas. 

As soon as our children were old enough to understand, a “24-day Countdown Calendar” filled with all the activities one could think of was hung in our home.

Each day a different adventure: ice skating 90-miles away in a mall adorned with Christmas décor, baking cookies, and cutting down our own tree in the snowy foothills to name a few.

For years, I tried to capture these “perfect Norman Rockwell moments” in photographs, and quite often, even hit the mark. I have an enormous collection of treasured memories, capturing genuinely beautiful moments in our family’s life.

But, what you see in these Instagram-worthy photos are just snapshots of moments –there are literally thousands of pictures that didn’t even make the cut.

It’s been a work-in-progress over the years to accept that life doesn’t always fit into my expectations and carefully designed plans-as our holiday season very rarely resembles Norman Rockwell’s idyllic artwork.

Sometimes it’s not a white Christmas. (It’s only been one perhaps three times in my 47 years of life…)

Sometimes we get sick on Christmas.

Sometimes we suffer loss on Christmas.

Sometimes we fight on Christmas.

Sometimes we just don’t get what we want on Christmas.

And, all of those losses and disappointments mean I haven’t gotten what I’ve really wanted on Christmas – many, many times over.

But, still I hope…and over the years I’ve have tried to model to my children that just because one thing doesn’t go your way, it doesn’t mean “everything’s ruined”. 

My children are now 20 and almost 18. And while my son once insisted he’d NEVER want to give up on all the adventures the Countdown Calendar has taken us on over the years, this will be the year we drastically scale back.

My daughter is excited to share the magic with our best friend’s young daughter, and we’ll save some of my kid’s favorites for when our twenty-yearold comes home to stay with us for a few weeks in December.  

Years ago, I thought I’d be shedding tears at this conclusion; but it’s simply a beginning of a new chapter. I find myself excited to see my daughter sprinkling some magic of her own for our young friend. 

I’m finding the time and energy to be present and enjoy the moments as they come…instead of totally preoccupied with planning the next event.

As I embark on this new season, I’ve found myself conducting an inventory. A review of all the other “traditions” I’ve not only instituted, but expanded on each year. It’s had me asking:

Does this activity bring me personal joy – either in the act itself or the joy it would bring to others?

Is this activity causing more stress than good?  

Is this planned adventure adding value to our family, or… is it just one more thing keeping my husband and kids from experiencing the wonder of unexpected joy this season?

This last one is especially important as my husband lives for spontaneous fun, but the reality is that over the years- my capacity for anything spontaneous run completely empty.  

Whether it was from lack of energy, physical or social energy (I’m a natural introvert, so my reserves need to be overflowing to engage in anything spontaneous), all of the gallant efforts I make the last four months of the year deplete me from showing up for my husband in the way he’d appreciate most.  

Even more than no time for last minute fun, this packed schedule and hectic pace often brings irritability, rigidness and defensiveness…all of my “go-to behaviors” when I have no margin to pause and unwind. 

As I write this, I’m sure it hasn’t escaped notice, that striving for “magic” during a holiday that only exists because of a God-given MIRACLE, might be the problem in and of itself.  

This “magic” I ascribe to, has been fostered only to further the celebration of the miracle of Jesus’ birth.  

Truly, to us, it is not a “one or the other” but an expansion of the fullness of the joy of the season.  

Which leads me to the biggest reason to be Reinventing the Magic…to recognize what fills my family the fullest is to be living vessels of that miraculous joy.

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