Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A grown-up Christmas magic

I remember little from age 5, but I can still see the basketball hoop waiting for me under the Christmas tree. It was a real basketball hoop, with a regulation rim, a shiny white net and a wooden backboard that my grandpa had made.

Clearly, Santa had looked past the “X” marks in my column on our family’s Santa Claus Behavior Chart. Sure, I had some gold stars on that poster board, but there were a lot of black marks under “getting along with brother and sister.” I think that was the year I tried to flush my sister’s Winnie the Pooh shirt down the toilet.

Accidentally, of course. Right, Santa?

Anyway, the image of that basketball hoop stays with me. Strangely, it’s one of the few Christmas gifts I still remember from my Santa years. What I do remember, vividly, is how I felt on Christmas Eve.

Lying in bed, my heart raced as I struggled to keep my legs still under the covers. My brother and I shared a room, and in a powerful display of Christmas spirit, we didn’t fight. Well, not much.

The feeling was magical that night. It was almost overwhelming, which is probably why my brother and I each got sick occasionally on Christmas. Our huge imaginations flooded our small bodies with an overdose of exhilaration.

Now, decades later, I have three sons, including one who is about to turn 5. His visions of sugar plums don’t include a regulation basketball hoop, but he’s in his Christmas-magic prime. As for me, I’m in the attic, attaching a kickstand to one of three bikes that will be hauled down the stairs as my wife stands guard by the boys’ bedrooms.

Attention, all kids out there! After reading the previous paragraph, you are now privy to some secret information about Santa. Because the world’s increasing population makes each Christmas trip more difficult, Santa sometimes sends a few large gifts ahead of time and asks parents to put them around the tree. So if you heard something on Christmas Eve that didn’t really sound like reindeer hooves, but did kind of sound like a socket wrench turning, then there’s no reason to ask your parents about it.

Up in the cold attic, hearing the furnace hum and hoping that any critter residents will keep their distance, the Christmas magic I felt as a child is far away. It’s a fuzzy fairytale that has given way to chapters of adult reality, as exemplified by my top Christmas wishes for 2012:

Peace on Earth. A happier 2013 for everyone. And a belt-drive garage door opener that includes one of Santa’s handiest elves for expert installation.

I’m sure my 5-year-old self, who dreamed of Santa’s arrival and expected to someday play professional basketball, would be appalled. I don’t have video games on my list, or a bike, or baseball cards, or an Evel Knievel Stunt Set.

Anyone remember the Evel Knievel Stunt Set?

It had a motorcycle, a ramp and an energizer motor for launching a 7-inch pose-able Knievel to amazing heights. One of Knievel’s greatest stunts was when he bravely soared off the ramp and cleared my sister’s Barbie Dream House.

Oh yeah, and there was that Christmas when I received Stretch Armstrong, a superhero made out of rubber and filled with corn syrup. He was cool. You could stretch his arms and legs way out, twist him into crazy positions and tie him in knots. I don’t know the details of his demise, but I remember one day there was a jelly coating on everything in the toy box.

The memories of Christmas gifts are coming back to me now. As my kids stomp down the stairs, talking, laughing, arguing, sounding just like my brother, sister and I, some of that Christmas magic will return.

It will never again be like waking up to a jaw-dropping, partially homemade, regulation-size basketball hoop (with ball included!). But the Christmas magic really hasn’t faded. It has only changed.

Knowing that my kids, as well as kids around the world, are getting their chance to experience the euphoria is magical to me. I only wish that every child — rich, poor or somewhere in between, of every religion and of every place in this world — could experience something like the wondrous delight of Christmas morning.

That would be truly magical.

Merry Christmas.

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