As the holiday season swings into overdrive, many of us agonize one more time over the perfect holiday gift for our loved ones. No matter the budget, no matter the list, the agonizing is a yearly ritual. One of my kids’ early preschool, Montessori, teachers had the best gift idea of all. She nailed it when she said, “no matter what else you give them, be sure to give your kids some memories.” When you get down to it, memories are one of the very few things that you can count on lasting.
I still think about that bit of advice as I reminisce about the best Christmas ever when my own children were small. In the classic family tradition, they were indeed all snug in their beds. Sound asleep. I had just finished my holiday cleaning. Every decoration was perfect, all the gifts were neatly wrapped and truth be known, Santa had already stopped by.
Then, as fate would have it, the dog needed to go outside. I was unaware it was even raining until he trotted back in through the kitchen, leaving a tell-tale trail of muddy paw prints across my fresh shinning floor. I stared in dismay at the muddy paw prints. They led right up to the table where Santa’s treats were still waiting. Then, in a flash, I grabbed a bowl, trotted right out into the rain and scooped up my own batch of newly-minted mud.
For just about a minute, I pondered, wondering exactly what reindeer footprints looked like. Then, I realized, that since no one in my family had ever seen a reindeer footprint either, the only thing that really mattered was that they had to be different from those of the dog. I started the tracks at the door, and planted muddy little three-toed paw prints right beside the dog prints. I went all the way up to the kitchen table, and then back to the door again.
Then I took out a piece of paper and wrote:
I am so sorry, but Rudolph saw the snacks on the table and he came in behind me tracking mud all over the place. I am very sorry for the mess, but I have more toys to deliver and I have to run.
P.S. Thanks for the snacks.
Then, for the finishing touch, I took a few good bites out of some carrots and placed the stems back on the plate next to what now remained of Santa’s cookies.
Of course, the kids found the note and the muddy reindeer mess before I got up. They rushed in to wake me up and tell me what Rudolph had done and for me to please not be mad at him for messing up my clean kitchen floor. “Santa was really sorry,” my daughter explained, “he even left a note,” she said as she waved it in the air.
They were so excited, literally jumping all around. They read Santa’s note over-and-over and talked-and-talked about Rudolph being loose in the house. What were the gifts that Christmas? I no longer have a clue.
However, if you ask the kids about the time Rudolph got loose in the house and tracked mud all over the kitchen floor, they will tell you every detail about it. And me, I still remember their faces and all the excitement over the misadventures of Rudolph, Santa’s most troublesome reindeer. They’ll never forget that Christmas and I won’t either.
Christmas was suddenly alive: it was real, and the magic lived.
Years later, the kids asked me about what really happened that night. My son said that he never would have believed that I would track mud over my own freshly-mopped floor. He said that he had had his doubts before, but at that point, he believed in Santa Claus. If there had ever been a shred of doubt in either of their minds, it vanished that night and the magic of Christmas was born once again, made manifest for another generation.
Oh, you can plan, and create your own magic. And that is surely a good idea. But you can never know when an opportunity for a magic moment might arrive, and you really have to watch to make sure you grab them when you can too. Our best ever was Rudolph getting loose in the house and making a muddy mess in the kitchen. Everyone has a similar story, and if they don’t, then they most certainly should do a little thinking and do something about it.
My mom told me that when she was a child, all snug in her own bed, late one Christmas Eve, she heard sleigh bells in the darkness outside her window and she too believed. If you ask her about it today, she will tell you about those bells of yesteryear as if it were only last night.
This year, if you can, just for a moment, put the holiday frenzy on the back burner where it belongs. It’s Christmas. Relax and enjoy the season. Give the most enduring gift of all. Create a memory and keep the magic alive.
This post was originally published at MagicStream.org
Copyright 2005 Regina Pickett Garson
Illustrations from the Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore (@1870 edition).