The magic is in the moments.
This is the thought that comes to me after my niece Josie and I have just sailed through the tunnel of lights at Peddler’s Village. We are about to head home after taking in the Grand Illumination Celebration that starts the holiday season at the Lahaska attraction with Santa and Mrs. Claus turning on a festive one million twinkling lights. For years, I have talked about going, and this year, my mom, Josie, my sister-in-law Betsy and I finally make a girls’ night of it.
As we approach the glittering tunnel, Josie extends her hand, proclaiming “Let’s dance.” And just as I accepted her invitation to skip down one of the sidewalks only minutes earlier, I happily succumb to her carefree exuberance. I clasp her palm as we turn dramatically toward the entrance and then proceed to glide through the tunnel in a lively if inelegant version of the tango we used to dance in my mom’s living room when she was younger.
Josie is now 12, sometimes going on 16, but it always buoys my spirits to see how she still embraces the unbridled silliness and spontaneous joy embodied by children half her age. We raise several eyebrows with our laughter and determined footwork, but I think little of the spectacle we may be making.
As we enter a season as dreaded as it is anticipated, given the never-ending obligations and to-do lists that frequently accompany its festive atmosphere, I realize this is what matters: the small moments that sweep us up, even if fleetingly, in easy connection and joy.
That night at Peddler’s Village, I beam as I watch my mom toast her first marshmallow at one of the small fires that flares alongside the walkways winding through the specialty boutiques. When 6:15 hits and the village is sprayed with thousands of white and colored lights, and the sound of carols fills the air, I can’t stop grinning — though I am aware of a bittersweet ache, as well. Sometimes, such brimming happiness brushes against the sorrow that also lurks with a quiet insistence at this time of year, an acknowledgment of too many absent voices and faces. But as our quartet wanders the stores, occasionally erupting in song, giggling over gift ideas that puzzle us and consuming far too many sweets, I am mostly content. And every time I pause to admire the lights, I feel a weightless wonder, as if we’ve been loosed in some enchanted land with all that beauty flashing against the blackness of a frosty night.
The following weekend, my, mom, Josie and I wander some of the seasonal sights in Philadelphia: the Christmas Village holiday market in Love Park, Franklin Square with its illuminating “Electric Spectacle” and the Macy’s Christmas Light Show, the latter a holiday tradition in my family since we moved here from St. Lucia in 1985 (back when Macy’s was Wanamaker’s). At dinner, we scrawl with crayons on our paper tablecloth, after Josie draws a hand turkey and invites us to do the same. She laughs at how outrageous mine looks shaded in almost every color from our small basket of crayons, but she willingly ventures over to another table to sneak me the purple one I must have. And all evening long, she peppers me with questions of where we’re going next.
The entire day, which includes a sleepover at my house, has been planned around surprising her with tickets to see “Beauty and the Beast” at the Arden Theatre Company. She has always enjoyed its children’s productions and it’s been a while since we’ve seen a performance there. Though she guesses our destination as we walk past a banner promoting the show, my mom and I manage to throw her off-track. But to hear her declare “I love this place!” as I announce our arrival is one of my happiest moments that day.
It’s not that I don’t feel the tug of looming tasks: the Christmas cards to write, gift purchases to cross off my list, commitments to cram into practically every calendar day.
But I want to be present to what truly fills me: warm conversation over a simple coffee date; the annual holiday party with my Journeys of the Heart family, the ministry through which I perform weddings, which while always a mix of tender reflection and outrageous laughter, bears a poignant undertone this year as we usher our founder into her retirement; the chance to catch a play with one of my dearest friends at the community theater to which we subscribe; the hugs that enfold with a deep appreciation and welcome at an interfaith gathering. … Even just sitting in my living room with the glow of Christmas lights, carols softly spinning their cheer, is a gift to savor.
For as I’m inundated daily with promotions for one sale or another and a bombardment of gift ideas and specials guaranteed to make this the most memorable holiday ever, I’m aware of commercial and consumer fatigue. Having only recently remarked to my mom that December should be two months long given all the plans and expectations we ply it with, I know how stressful the season can be.
But I’m determined to simplify by cherishing the interactions that bring a smile to my face, a sense of peace and well-being to my spirit. Those are the moments that make Christmas my favorite time of year, festooning future memories with the shimmer of all I hold dear.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times