Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight;
Make me a child again, just for tonight.
~ Elizabeth Allen, Rock Me to Sleep
Every day during the Advent Season, my mother would hang a Christmas ornament or set out a different decoration. When we came home after school, my brothers and I excitedly searched the house, trying to be the first to find some new Santa, elf, or angel.
Our stockings were hung on December 5th, St. Nicholas Eve, with letters for Santa earnestly describing our wishes, and we always received one little gift from St. Nick in return, along with a letter written in his elegant script. (Our imaginations were fully capable of conflating and separating St. Nicholas and Santa Claus as necessary; one is the other, after all, and “both” had a role in the seasonal flow that came to be our highly anticipated magical routine.) We were extra careful to behave during the weeks leading to Christmas as well, certain that elves were recording our every move. Once or twice, we woke up to find a lump of coal or a willow switch in our stocking, as symbolic warnings that we’d failed to be kind to each other, or we’d find an orange or chocolate to reward us for extra-generous choices.
We always had an Advent wreathe and crèche set out; the infant Jesus couldn’t appear till Christmas Eve after Midnight Mass, and then the Wise Men had to start parading from some distance, another room perhaps, until they arrived at the manger on the Epiphany which, in those days, was always January 6th. As they got older, my brothers liked to rearrange the animals and vary the positions of the wise men, usually in extremely unenlightened ways, to my mother’s annoyance (and perhaps secret delight, for this, too, became family tradition).
The energy of these memories, rituals of wonder, and charming customs circles around my heart as I set out my own decorations and tree, reconfiguring traditions into shapes that fit our beliefs and lives now, but also offering blessing and gratitude for the wonder, the love, and the gift of enchantment our parents gave us, especially during this beautiful season of darkness and renewal. Today, I placed one of Mama’s old Santas on a copper rooster weather vane I gave to my parents many, many years ago. The juxtaposition made me yearn so deeply for their presence that I cried.
I’m one of those fortunate people who can say I had a wonderful childhood, in large part due to my parents’ sense of fun and willingness to be the architects of a home that was safe, loving, and committed to our opportunities to actually have childhoods within set and known boundaries. Television wasn’t prominent enough to rob us of our imaginations and books were plentiful. When we were very young we were read to once or twice a day and when we started school, we’d come home at lunch and often hear another chapter or fairy tale. I never doubted the “truth” of these tales and have since discovered that, of course, they are true, and in our lives, we play and encounter most of the characters, at one time or another.
I’ve been reflecting on the “enchantment” of my childhood this week, as I’ve been re-reading Thomas Moore’s The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, along with Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment, and beginning to gather notes for a new fairy tale I’m writing, which I hope will enchant readers’ spirits as well.
While Bettelheim focuses on fairy tales’ deeply important contributions to a child’s psychological health and development, Moore reminds us that every aspect of our daily lives deserves to be grounded in the enchantment granted by a spirit-infused perspective.
Too many of our homes, workplaces, churches, schools, political institutions and lives are completely bereft of reverence for the spirit and thus, they render days of drudgery and unimaginative perspectives. When we live unenchanted with life, the world offers only stale inhalations of fetid air and exhalations of futility. The spirit shrivels.
At my core, I believe life is enchanting, and I know this is because of my parents and the childhood I was gifted. As an adult, I’ve done my share of stumbling; like everyone, I’ve suffered and caused the suffering of others due to choices that strayed from my inherent soul-truths. At times, I’ve followed paths that silenced my spirit and guided me solely by desire and ego gratification. As I reflect on these choices and times, I can see they corresponded to periods when I lost touch with the enchantment every moment offers. If that sense of enchantment is present and alive, we carry life with greater reverence and acknowledge its value as precious and unique.
My mother made every holiday special and every day holy; I miss her light always but more dearly during this sweet time of year. I miss my childhood family— our stories, our ability to nestle within reliable routines and exciting fantasies, and the annual re-enactments of our rituals. I miss my childhood, but what a lovely reminder this offers to infuse life—right now— with an enchanted perspective, so I don’t “miss” my adulthood as well.
I can’t “be a child again,” but I can nourish my spirit by seeking, with child-like openness to enchantment and wonder, the light that is always present in darkness, and by holding in my heart the certainty that Love is always advancing towards us, with arms wide open, inviting us into its enchanting embrace.
May this be a season of love, peace, insight, and enchantment for you and those you love.
And don’t forget to hang your stockings!