Christmas, Grown Up

Updated: Mar 29

I have a strange relationship with Christmas.

That is, I don't think I ever liked it for the right reasons. When I was young and Santa Claus was very real, I cared not for the presents or the Christ child. I cared about Saint Nicolaus, and I cared about what he was.


It was very clear to me that Santa wasn't human. He was, however, sentient and benevolent and capable of impossible deeds. Every Christmas, I waited for hoof-taps on the roof not because I was excited for the loot that followed (though, of course, that had its influence), but because reindeer couldn't fly, and that meant that something was afoot that nobody could properly explain. The world, for a couple short weeks, acknowledged the presence of magic.


The fact is, I wanted magic more than anything. I looked at a blade of grass in summertime and saw not an arrangement of cells photosynthesizing with their chlorophyll alphas and betas, their beta-carotenoids, churning through the Calvin cycle, the light reactions, dark reactions, the formation of glucose. I couldn't. I saw an inexplicable being that took raw materials--soil, air, intangible energy--and sculpted it into something green, soft, and very real. I didn't see fireflies and think of chemical reactions and flash-pattern communications, but of insects transforming themselves to light. It was alchemy in the details; it was the magic that nobody talked about.


And my God, I believed.


But I grew up. I came to see that beauty in the science, the elegance and precision of it, just the way I understand the well-meaning tradition of Santa and am happy for the joy it brought me.


Still, I can't help—even so many years after a tearful elementary-school girl tore back the charade—to mourn the loss of the magic. I lived off of the proof that there was something beyond the world. I reveled in the unknown. I loved watching the grass wave under the sun and the fireflies wink in the blueberry bushes and wondering how.


I think there's still magic out there in some respects. I feel it by the ocean in the churn of the tides, by the shifting light of the moon. I believe that in order for our cells to keep dividing, for tectonic plates to grind over each other, for conifers to stretch to the burning, reacting Sun, for oceanic saline to fall at the poles and creep in currents to the tropics, there has to be something holding it together. The very explanations for the phenomena, perhaps, serve as my proof. Because it works. All of it—the cells, the continents, the pines, the salt—works. In the most complicated, precise, un-random, one-in-infinity-chance way, it works. Read a biology textbook. Read about DNA transcription, about how the very stuff that makes us us is expressed; it's hundreds of molecules, proteins, RNAs, working together. One invisible mistake in an unbelievable chain of inanimate elements has the ability to end it all. Then our own cells communicate with the trillions of other cells, sending minuscule signals across the vast expanse of our bodies. Then we in turn sing, dance, write, speak, and we communicate with each other: fighting, healing, loving, hating, learning. That can be my magic.


No, Santa doesn't creep down the chimney at night, but something beautiful and mysterious is at work in the world.


So I shall hold on to that.


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