My younger brother and I used to sit in front of a lit Christmas tree in a darkened room and tell each other stories about Santa Claus and Christmases past. We were transported from our living room to some place larger, grander. When we were really little and talked about what would happen on Christmas Eve--Santa landing on the our roof and bringing presents through our sliding glass door (we didn't have a fireplace)--we would get all shivery and exited. Magic was about to happen in our very own house!
What I loved at Christmastime: how pink the sky got around 4:30 on the shortest days of the year. Driving through other people's neighborhoods to look at the lights. The smell of banana nut bread, my mother's traditional Christmas gift to our neighbors, baking in the oven on the day before Christmas Eve, what my brothers and I called Christmas Eve-eve.
I loved the holiness of Christmas, which is what people are really talking about when they talk about the magic of Christmas. I loved running my fingers over the ceramic figurines of the manger scene my mother set out every year, lightly touching the folds in Mary's violet-blue dress. I loved lighting our Advent wreath on Sundays, each Sunday a new candle adding its glow to the table.
I loved when my father put Christmas tapes on his reel-to-reel player. Did you have a reel-to-reel tape player when you were little? Do you remember the smell when the motor heated up? And the loud click of the buttons as the reels were set into motion? Those were Christmas sounds and smells to me, just as much as the smell of the tree and Christmas cookies baking.
Mostly I loved sitting in front of the tree and dreaming, all the lamps turned off. It's still my favorite part of Christmas, and I think that's why I'm always a little sad after all the presents are opened on Christmas morning. Ah, the possibilities that exist in a wrapped present! That's a wonderful moment, isn't it--the moment you lift the package toward yourself, test its weight in your hands? The moment right before you open it, and everything is possible?