I worked in retail for 25 years. That pretty much took the thrill out of the Christmas Season for me. But it never took the MAGIC. I love Santa and the flying reindeer and the star and the manger and the hymns at midnight mass. I love the tree and the cookies and the Christmas Pageants. The funny thing is I remember when I became aware of the MAGIC. It happened one winter night when I was 7. A little background might prove helpful here.
Father Paul was our parish pastor. He was old and always looked angry. He could be harsh and intimidating. Adults often found him to be unbending and old fashioned. I loved Father Paul. All the kids did. Somehow we saw the sweet, humble, holy man he was under all the bluster. Don’t get me wrong, we were scared of him, but in a good way. We did what he said to please him, not for fear of punishment. (Well, there was the fact that if you misbehaved he would tell your parents and there would be hell to pay, but I digress.)
One cold winter evening Father Paul came to our house. He had coffee and blessed the house and after awhile he asked my Dad if he would take a ride with him. He needed some help, he said, and why not bring Linda along for the ride? She would enjoy it. Confused, but unwilling to say no to a priest, Dad got me ready, even though it was a school night. We got into Father’s car (a big, old green Ford; it was 1955, so the car must have been a 1945). And from that moment on, there was MAGIC around every corner.
We rode across the George Washington Bridge. WOW! It was huge and all the lights and the river made it sparkle to my 7 year old eyes. Then we rode through the most magnificent city in the world. The lights for Christmas were up everywhere and the tall buildings with a million windows made my neck ache from looking up. I had been to ball games in Brooklyn, but never before to Manhattan. I didn’t really know where I was then, but I figured it out years later and confirmed it with my Dad.
Eventually we came to a neighborhood with stores and warehouses. We got out of the car and went into a store. The clerk there had several boxes for Father Paul. Dad took them to the car and put them in the trunk while Father attempted to pay the man. I stayed with him because it was warmer in there. The man said to Father, “They are the latest thing for Christmas. I won’t take your money. Put it in the collection. You have done so much for my family, and we want to thank you.” I still don’t know what that was about, but I know he did alot for many families, including my own.
On the way back we went through town. He showed me Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. My jaw dropped and stayed there until we went through the Lincoln Tunnel and home. The tunnel proved to be an issue. That’s the night I found out I was sort of claustrophobic, but no matter. The MAGIC was about to unfold.
We pulled into the church parking lot and Dad unloaded the boxes. We went into the cool, dark church and Father Paul put on the lights. He had my Dad fetch the ladder and a hammer and nails from the Rectory next door. Out of the boxes came strings and strings of teeny, tiny lights. We had lights on our tree, but they were big colored bulbs and were hot to the touch. These were as yet unlit, but they were really small and seemed to be all clear with no color at all. I was confused and not a little disappointed. But Dad and Father worked their way through the church hanging the lights evenly all the way around. I said my Rosary, as I was told to do by Father Paul, like a good, quiet Catholic girl should. I prayed for my family and world peace, and that they would be finished soon, and that Father would invite us to the Rectory for hot chocolate and cookies after.
When they were done hanging the lights, Father went and doused the church lights. My Dad plugged the strings of tiny lights in and for the first time EVER, I saw the MAGIC. These little white lights were like stars in the sky, and by God, they actually twinkled. They blinked merrily in the dark church, delighting the seven year old girl, her Dad and an elderly priest like nothing else that Christmas. We were amazed and speechless. Father Paul commented,”I think the Baby Jesus will be very happy with our little church. These beautiful lights honor his birth and remind us of his heavenly home.” (From what I gathered later, we were the very first church in our area to boast twikle lights. Folks came from all around to see them. MAGIC has a way with people!)
We did have hot chocolate and cookies at the Rectory that night. It was so past my bedtime that I fell asleep in the car on the short ride home. I will never forget that night or those lights or the two wonderful men who brought me with them to witness all the happy Christmas MAGIC. It abides in my memory and is remembered often, but never quite the same as it is remembered at this time of year. I try to bring a little MAGIC to my grandchildren with Elfs and stories, but kids are well traveled and well connected nowadays, so MAGIC is a little different. I still try, because I love them and want them to have MAGIC every day.
Happy Christmas everyone. I wish you MAGIC and good cheer. Thanks for reading.