When I was a kid, the smell of the large, cardboard boxes labeled “Holiday Décor,” combined with the scent of a freshly cut Christmas tree, ignited a giddy, excited and magical feeling.
The tree smelled like cold, sap and sawdust, and the boxes were a basic blend of slightly musty and dusty cardboard, with a hint of Elmer’s Glue and a base note of pine cone. If I labeled the fragrance it would be Kid at Christmas, and a whiff of it even now would touch off holiday memories.
As a kid I never thought about how traditions would morph from things I did to become memories. I never could have predicted that the annual battle with my brothers over what went on the top of the tree (green metallic fountain or gold star), or the race to be the one who got to display the manger scene would become cherished memories instead of holiday traditions.
I never could have known that the enchanted, butterfly-tummy feeling from lying under a decorated tree and squinting to make the colored light rays change size would end.
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I wasn’t trying capture the feeling of the things I did and store them away like the ornaments in those boxes. Maybe even as a kid I knew that I couldn’t make memories — they are created as if by magic.
I don’t know when, but at some point childhood memory creating ended and adult memory cherishing began.
And, at some point, finding that magical, butterfly-tummy feeling became a quest instead of something that effortlessly happened.
Every year I try to fabricate it: I’ll lie under the Christmas tree with the lights on and squint. It’s beautiful, but the enchanted, childhood butterfly-tummy feeling has faded a bit more each year. As an adult I’ve learned that I can usually find a close enough version of the feeling where a self-centered child would never think to look: by giving.
But, I can’t lie, every year there is a little selfish part of me that still hopes I’ll be caught unaware by a surprise, magical, giddy rush.
Twenty Christmases ago, no amount of light squinting, pine sniffing or gift giving gave me anything that I hoped for from the holiday. Following a new job opportunity, my husband, newborn daughter and I had moved from the bright lights and busy life of the Chicago area to a tiny town in northern Iowa. Holiday joy was around, but it felt outside of our house, outside of my heart.
It was a huge family change: he had a new job, I had left mine to become a stay-at-home mom, and we knew nobody in the area. I tried to be happy for the adventure, but really? I was fooling myself.
One day after Thanksgiving a package arrived in the mail from my brother and sister-in-law.
We thought you might need a little Christmas the card said.
It wasn’t for the baby.
It wasn’t for the house.
It was for me.
Holding the thin, slim box in my hand…I smelled it.
No musty dusty cardboard; no pinecones or sap…just wrapping paper.
Part of me wanted to savor the feeling, but that part got silenced as I ripped into it: They were right, I needed a little Christmas, right that very minute.
Knowing that I was thought of was all that I needed, it was the perfect gift.
Now, 20 years later, when I put on the souvenir of that moment, the silver bracelet re-gifts me with a wave of giddy, excited, magical feelings that, if I were to label them would be called, Adult at Christmas.