Every year, you could count on it. The Rochat Family Christmas Eve Parade of Nightwear was the most exclusive ticket in town.
You could tell simply by looking at the invited audience, a bustling throng of three people, max, plus assorted pets. The models were not under contract anywhere else. Heck, for much of its existence, the models hadn’t even entered secondary school.
No runway in New York or Paris could touch it. Not when it was Dec. 24, the first packages had been opened, and my two sisters and I were modeling our brand-new pajamas.
My parents, reinforced by Grandma Elsie, were most appreciative. And well they should have been. After all, they had once again completed an amazing double act: they had gotten young children excited about receiving clothes for Christmas AND ensured that said children would look presentable in family pictures the next morning.
Amazing, did I say? They made it look easy. And maybe it was. After all, they had just harnessed the most primal forces of the universe:
1) The desire of a child to open a gift, any gift, before Christmas morning actually arrived. Pajamas and out-of-town presents were always the exception for us, and thus eagerly torn into.
2) The desire of these children – especially my sisters – to put on a show for their parents.
3) The raw power of accumulated tradition, where something becomes exciting and anticipated simply because it’s always been.
With those forces on their side, even the most mundane items could become something magical. Even wonderful.
That’s a power I think the holidays still hold, though sometimes I think we’re in danger of inverting it. At a time that can be so special, we risk turning the magical into the ordinary.
It’s easy to do. We hurry and we hustle, weighed down with stress and worry and the accumulated cares of the world. December can all too easily become an obstacle course, one more list of things to do and accomplishments to check off before breathing a sigh of relief and packing it all off into the attic for another year.
We don’t stop. And look. And marvel.
Each night, someone somewhere has put out lights. They might be a soft gleam or a Disneyland glare, but it’s a moment of beauty free to any passerby. So routine we don’t think of it anymore.
Each day, you hear music you hear at no other time. And yes, some of it is silly or annoying or cringe-inducing. But some of it touches hearts and memories, different strains for different people. With me, “Good King Wenceslas” and “Here We Come A Wassailing” still bring back my English grandma; “Silent Night” still evokes my family decorating the tree while the vinyl-aided voice of John Denver explained the song’s origins.
Somewhere, always, small acts of decency and kindness and hospitality are offered and accepted, just because that’s what you do. It may not always be visible in a crowded parking lot (all things have their limits) but even if the practice sometimes falls short, the ideal is known and at least attempted. A training ground, maybe, for something quiet but vital.
Before the first bits of paper are torn and the first ribbons cut, these things and a hundred other ordinary things like them are the first gifts of the season. And if we can see the gift, if we can anticipate the gift and even desire to share it, we can re-awaken the magic all over again.
Christmas is coming. Check your gifts. The ones without labels and bows.
If you’re really lucky, there might even be some pajamas waiting for you.