Walking into my living room after work one evening this week I was surprised to find my 24-year-old son and my wife watching “The Polar Express,” an animated movie about a magical Christmas train. I told them I didn’t think I had seen the whole movie before, but soon realized that I had.
It didn’t make any difference. Before long I was caught up in the movie, so much so that when my son switched to another channel during a commercial, and lingered there a little too long, I asked, “Aren’t we going to watch the end of ‘The Polar Express?’”
Actually, the words that came out of my mouth were, “Aren’t we going watch the end of ‘The Solar Express?’ which resulted in a snide remark from my son, but he turned back to the Christmas movie.
As I sat there watching some more, I was reminded of days from my youth, sitting in the warmth and comfort of my parents’ home, watching “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” and other animated Christmas shows. I loved those movies as a kid. I suppose part of the attraction was that they gave me a little dose of Christmas magic, while at the same time heightening my anticipation of the approaching day when my siblings and I would tear into a pile of presents.
Before long my thoughts were drifting more, and eventually they landed on an almost forgotten memory from long ago. Maybe it was a scene in the movie that flipped a switch, but whatever it was, I was suddenly reminded of the days when I was really little and my parents would take us to downtown Cincinnati to see a special Christmas display at Shillito’s.
It is a vague memory, but as I recall we’d go into the store and up a few floors, then walk into what seemed like a magical Christmas wonderland. There was a large toy train running around a track, lots of snowy-looking scenery and even live deer, which I suppose I assumed were reindeer. Because believe it or not, you younger readers, a deer sighting in this area was rare in those days.
I do not remember much else about the display, but I do remember a feeling of astonishment as I took in the sights. Could it have been the magic of Christmas?
What is it that makes the Christmas season feel a little different than any other time of the year? Why do people seem more pleasant? Is it because of those memories from our childhood years, or is there something more to it?
There are likely different reasons for everyone, but for myself, I think it reminds me of the innocent days of my youth, of seeing the wonder of the season in the eyes of my children as they grew, and seeing the wonder in the smiles of each new generation.
This year, Christmas will be a little different for me. For each of the 56 Christmas seasons I have been alive, I have spent Christmas Eve with my parents, siblings and grandmother, Emma Mae Gilliland. Grandma will not be present this year. She passed away this week at the age of 99 years and 7 months.
It will seem strange not having her there for Christmas photos and such, or to show her the presents we purchased with the Christmas money she gave us each Thanksgiving. There will surely be some tears shed when her name is mentioned in the pre-meal prayer, and we will miss her warm and caring smile.
But there is another side to the story. My grandmother lived on her own and was still driving after her 98th birthday. Then she had a small stroke that gradually robbed her of her strength. She had decades ago made it known that she did not want to go to a nursing home, and thanks largely to my father and my wife, along with many others, she never had to. She spent her last months in my parents’ home, always with a loved one nearby.
It will be different not being able to look over and see her face. But her body was worn out, she had lived a long and happy life, and she is in a better place.
And as sure as you are reading these words, while we may not be able to see her, she will be there with us on Christmas Eve. That’s part of the magic of Christmas.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.