Christmas isn’t broken, it’s an opportunity to conjure and create

This year will be different, yes, but it’s always possible to create a little magic

Appreciate magic in everyday life. If you keep your eyes open to it, it’s all around us. Photograph: Getty Images

Appreciate magic in everyday life. If you keep your eyes open to it, it’s all around us. Photograph: Getty Images

 

I met a mum in the schoolyard when my lads were young, who proudly announced that she was making all her kids’ Christmas presents by hand that year. “I’m just putting the finishing touches to my son’s quilted backgammon set,” she said as I searched for a suitable response and tried not to choke on my coffee.

Oddly, I am not one of the Christmas crew who loves everything about the sparkly season of joy and goodwill. In fact, I start to feel slightly nauseous about the excesses and enforced euphoria long before I have ravaged the tin of Roses. What I do love, however, are the little bits of magic. The ones that don’t cost much, that require a little bit of thinking outside the Christmas box and which you can carry over into adult life.

This year, as most are having to find ways to tweak traditions, I think it’s a good opportunity to conjure and create. In our house I like to think Santa’s magic was felt strongly. For example, he was a formidable fixer, repairing a broken toy every year which would then be sitting at the end of the bed, glued and glowing like new again.

I recall a precious bauble which had been smashed when we were dressing the tree but was magically back in one piece and hanging on the tree in full view on Christmas morning. Or an unfinished model aeroplane which Santa completed and suspended from the ceiling over the bunk bed on a string of Christmas lights to be spotted immediately upon waking.

Another year a Winnie the Pooh mug, which had been broken months before, had been repaired and placed on the breakfast table with a little “Love, Santy” label on it. Another time the boys awoke to find a tiny silver bell on their pillows after watching The Polar Express the night before (which you need to see to get the reference). As Pooh himself says: “Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” And that’s what this Christmas is going to be about.

Advent project

I was never going to compete with the quilting queen but I admit to having the odd fling with haberdashery in years gone by. Determined to upstage crappy cardboard calendars, I managed to stitch 24 Advent pockets out of red fabric and filled each one with creative bits and bobs, all building up to a “project” to be completed on Christmas Eve. There was always a chocolate too, mind. I may be cranky about some aspects of Christmas but never about chocolate.

The boys loved this Advent tradition so much that it kept going well into their teens when I really had to get creative. No longer could I put coloured pencils in each pocket and a giant poster to colour in on Christmas Eve. Or pieces from a Lego set with instructions to construct something cool while I flustered over festivities.

I started putting things like seasonal poems in every pocket which we all read to each other and then stuck them in a book on the 24th. Another year I printed family photos, put one in each pocket and then produced a frame on Christmas Eve to make a collage. I pushed the theme one year with 24 “be kind tasks”: take some hot chocolate to the homeless lady on our street corner, write a letter to Granny, do the hoovering. The last one was probably pushing it but you get the picture.

The Advent idea extended to buying old printers’ trays on Ebay. These are big old wooden drawers where printers stored their blocks and which I bought for each of my kids one Christmas, painted and added a few trinkets. As you can hang them on the wall, my real aim was to use them as storage for bits of stuff that just lie around gathering dust – a pebble from the beach, friendship bracelet, a miniature Tintin, swimming medal, model cars. I did one for my mum’s 80th birthday and filled it with 80 things, asking her friends to contribute. They loved the task and produced gems like a small photo of her as a child, costume jewels, a miniature porcelain rose, a school badge and a coin from the year she was born.

Chat with Santa

The most magical way that Santa filled our home every Christmas Eve, however, was by phoning the lads. I have a wonderful actor friend who helped out with this merry task every year. Briefed in the morning, he would call that evening and chat to both boys, congratulating them on specific acts or achievements: the time one of them helped his friend in the schoolyard when he broke his arm; when the other worked hard to overcome a fear of swimming; or when they brought hot chocolate to the lady on the corner.

This phone call was the ultimate magic moment for my kids over Christmas to the point that a friend criticised me for going over the top insisting it would cause them too much upset when. . . well, you know when. I am glad to say she was wrong.

When that moment finally came for my first born, I was given a piece of magic inspiration from above to help heal the wound. I told him that he was now old enough to appreciate magic in everyday life and that, if he keeps his eyes open to it, it’s all around us. Unsurprisingly he looked doubtful, until a few months later when we went hiking in the Alps and we had climbed all day to reach a panoramic view over several valleys. “Wow, this is amazing,” he said. For the first time I could see that he was genuinely moved by nature. I hugged him and whispered that this was one of those magic moments. And I knew he got it.

I write this with a little hesitation because, to be honest, I am a little out of magical Christmas ideas. I have lockdown brain freeze. Although my boys may be young adults now, I still feel I need to find some special sparkles to sprinkle, this year more than most. Maybe I just have to suck it up and start quilting. But secretly I am hoping that, for once, Santa will call me to give some inspiration or at least some reassurance that the little bits of magic will still be out there when we are finally allowed go find them again.

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