Believing Still in the Magic of Christmas, an Essay

The daydreams always circle back to one thought; at Christmas, so many hidden things—like breath to the air—are made purely clear.

A holiday essay by Jaimien Delp—

One of the first Christmas gifts I have a vividly clear memory of is clouds. I woke that morning to find the pale blue of my bedroom transformed; afloat all around me were sweeping curves of white that appeared, in my imagination, to move throughout the entire room. At a time when most of my waking hours were spent leaping off the back of the sofa or jumping from swings into snow banks trying to reenact the scene in Peter Pan where the children learn to fly, Santa had opened the sky for me. It was the gift of belief.

This opening of worlds—the admittance into secret places filled with living objects only the heart knew how to find—surrounded my childhood, and Christmas was the apex. When we went to Caszatt’s tree farm every year, stepping into the beauty of snow-tipped pines felt like being transported into another world, and downtown Traverse City became a smaller version of the North Pole, with watchful elves hiding around every corner, a reindeer sighting entirely plausible, everyone thinking how best to bring joy to someone else. Even Britty, my childhood dog, appeared to see something more than snowfall while she sat, golden and intent by the window, looking out at the December nights.

Perhaps these are the reasons I never entirely stop daydreaming about Christmas. Regardless of the season or where I am on the globe, between my usual reveries of dipping below the spray of cresting waves or slipping into still water on a summer night, it’s Christmas in Northern Michigan that my mind returns to. It’s curling under blankets by the fireplace to read The Polar Express, watching the lights from our tree reflect on the windows and blend with the swirls of snow, the dog’s tail knocking down ornaments. It’s images of Front Street lit with delicate strands of white bulbs, boutique windows decorated with plaid bows, all the coffee shops playing “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” and serving mugs of hot chocolate. It’s the prevailing expressions of generosity, merriment, and always, awe—everyone suddenly happy to kiss cheeks in shop doorways, to revisit their list of priorities in the spirit of giving a little more to others, those glances toward the night sky at the thought of sleighs—and all in a place so undeniably gorgeous.

It’s all this, yes, but it’s more, too. The daydreams always circle back to one thought: at Christmas, so many hidden things—like breath to the air—are made purely clear. Otherwise-veiled expressions of compassion or love or belief are formed without hesitation, wholeheartedly. At Christmas, a homeless woman can walk into the lobby of the Park Place Hotel, her eyelashes frozen, and a man will see her, hand his credit card to the concierge, and say, “Give that woman a room with a view.” At Christmas, we can practice forgiveness and reconciliation with the ones we love just a little more easily, and with just a little more grace. At Christmas, we can create small villages out of gingerbread, braid tree branches with light, wear ridiculous sweaters, drink spiced cider and watch It’s A Wonderful Life on repeat, kiss under mistletoe and fall asleep to silver bells … Finally, Christmas is where the world of the imagination and the spirits of our childhood selves play out on the landscape as though there were never any distinction between them. Because the truth is, I never stopped believing—the way it’s possible to believe in something for the simple fact that it inspires beauty in the world—in Christmas.

For weeks every year, I still anticipate the particular light of Christmas Eve, and when it comes, I lie by the fireplace or snowshoe out on the lake, and feel something clear and smooth stir in myself. When the presents start appearing under the tree, I still lift the edges of the shiny blue paper when no one is looking and take the tiniest peek. And on slow, blizzardy evenings, when it’s best to stay in with hot chocolate and a soft sweater, I still love curling by the window and imagining a creature the size of a horse flying through the night sky, while below, smoke rises from chimneys, dissipates into flurries of cool air.

This holiday essay is featured in the December 2016 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Get your copy!

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