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December 22, 2016

Wendy Walker: On Magic, Moms and Holiday Miracles

Posted by emily

Wendy Walker is a former commercial litigator who began writing while she was home raising her three sons. Multitasking seems to come naturally to the busy mom and bestselling author, which comes in especially handy this time of year. In her Holiday Author Blog, Wendy considers what, exactly, makes Christmas so magical: a combination of innocence, nostalgia, and a mom working hard behind the scenes. Her debut psychological thriller, ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN, was a Bets On pick when it released in July.

As a child, Christmas was pure magic. We were not a very religious family, so the holiday was about snow, no school and Santa. It was an unbeatable combination. I can remember climbing down the muddy steps of the yellow bus on that last day of school --- two weeks of freedom, sledding and snowball fights! It still gives me chills of joy when I think about it. Our house would smell of pine tree. Boxes of decorations would pile up in the hallway outside the living room, and my sister and I would dig through them looking for our favorite baby Jesus figurine. Relatives would come, and we would make them gifts and place them under the tree.

But nothing could compare to the BIG day: Christmas morning. After giggling ourselves to sleep, we would wake up at the crack of dawn to sleepy parents, our mother’s coffee cake, and gifts that Santa had delivered in the night. It was the first and last time I ever believed in something so impossible, and that belief was the magic that I still associate with Christmas.

After I learned there was no Santa, no magic, I wondered how my parents pulled this all off. Where did they hide the gifts? How did they find that one out-of-stock item? How did they turn our living room into a wonderland in the few hours when we slept? My mother eventually confessed that Christmas was the hardest time of the year for her. It was expensive, exhausting and terrifying because there was always something on our list that was about to sell out. But she never stopped. She wanted us to have that magic, to escape reality and believe in the unbelievable, even if it was just for one morning a year.

I did not fully understand any of this until I found myself on the other end of Christmas magic as a parent. Without conscious thought, I recreated these traditions for my own children, collecting presents, hiding them all over the house, wrapping all night, and getting up early to bake the coffee cake. Like my own mother, I find it exhausting and stressful, and every year I swear I am going to stop.

My youngest son is now a teenager. We haven’t formally discussed it, but I am pretty sure he doesn’t believe in Santa anymore! He does, however, have the book that I bought for my oldest son on his very first Christmas. It’s a small picture book called HERE COMES SANTA. A little felt Santa Claus hangs from a string, and on each page, there is a slot where you can insert Santa and see him through every step of his magical journey --- getting out of bed, making the toys, riding in his sled with the reindeer. The book lives in my son’s desk drawer. But in September, when he starts the countdown to Christmas (with a phone app, of course), the book comes out and sits on top of the dresser. And when I see it, I am brought back to the very first Christmas when I brought this magic into my own house. I can still hear the pounding feet of boys racing to the tree, and I can see their wide eyes when they discover the treats Santa delivered. Magic!

HERE COMES SANTA is out of the drawer. And as I write this, a list sits on my desk, next to a credit card. My son tells me every morning how many minutes are left until Christmas morning, and my anxiety races beside his glee. Most of their gifts will be things they need --- clothing, school supplies, even toothpaste. But it won’t matter. They will run to open their wrapped boxes, and then hand out the boxes they have wrapped for each other, and it will still feel like magic somehow.

I don’t know what to make of all of this --- that even just the memory of believing in Christmas magic makes them happy. It is, after all, one of the greatest universal lies ever told. Perhaps it’s a symbol of childhood, the embodiment of the fleeting time in our lives when anything is possible. And maybe we hold on to that as we muddle through the realities of adulthood.

I will leave that all unattended for now. There are sweaters to order. Groceries to buy. Tables to set. And a little square book about Santa to read to my nearly grown children.