Column: In Colorado, Waiting for a Little Christmas Magic

  • As viewed through a fisheye lens, the traditional holiday light display illuminates the City/County Building in Denver, Colo. on Dec. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) ap — David Zalubowski

For the Valley News
Published: 1/5/2019 10:30:13 PM
Modified: 1/5/2019 10:30:15 PM

I doubt that I’m alone in noting the way the magic of Christmas shrinks with age. Many things shrink with age.

As a child, the magic of Christmas was infinite, even after my belief in Santa Claus was accidentally shattered by my parents, who executed the late-night Santa plan unaware that I was peeking around the corner at the top of the stairs. My grief was deep and lasting — until morning, when joy triumphed in the form of a new bicycle, which was equally magnificent whether from Santa or Mom and Dad.

My family did Christmas well throughout my childhood, despite our robust atheism. Lack of theistic belief does not preclude wonder. The story of Jesus, whether historical or metaphysical, is powerful and timeless. While perhaps associative rather than causal, the music emanating from religion, Christmas particularly, is ineffably beautiful. And so on Christmas Eves we sang, listened to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, the Carissimi oratorio, Jephte, other carols and ended the nights with Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales accompanied by whiskey-laced, hand-whipped Tom and Jerrys (for adults only, defined for the holiday as over age 10 or 11).

There was a caroling walk in fresh snow, as it always snowed on Christmas Eve.

As our children, Jennifer and Christopher, came to the center of our lives, my wife and I swirled the Nelson and Hamilton Christmas traditions into our own, augmented by the singing of the 12 Days of Christmas with irreverent reverence. By tradition, the youngest child in the room was assigned “five golden rings,” which was sometimes a gentle, shy whisper and other times an elongated eruption of very loud golden joy. We, too, ended each Christmas Eve with Dylan Thomas’s elegant baritone pulling us toward deep sleep, eyes heavy with satisfaction and eggnog, legs heavy from the walk in the inevitable drifts of fresh Christmas snow. (That’s not completely accurate, of course, but we spent all of those years in northern Ohio, Michigan or Vermont, so the odds were in favor of a white Christmas.)

During the years of my now college-aged granddaughter Quinn’s childhood, the magic flourished. The Nelson-Hamilton Christmas amalgam was polished by our daughter’s creative and beautiful touches. Dylan Thomas came through all these years with us, too.

In recent years, Christmas has been complicated. We’ve traveled to Colorado to share the season with our son, his partner, Megan, and their two young children, Maddie and Jack. An Airbnb rental is not home — no freshly cut tree and no Dylan Thomas. Several years ago we did have Christmas snow, a far from certain thing in Boulder, Colo. I remember because of the hilarious, slippery walk in loafers through 10 inches of snow to retrieve take-out from the only restaurant open on Christmas — mediocre Chinese, of course.

And so expectations were low for 2018 Christmas magic in Colorado, although Jennifer and Quinn did arrive beforehand. For most of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the low magic expectations were met.

Chris, Megan, Megan’s mother, Ann, 7-year-old Maddie, 3-year-old Jack, Jennifer and Quinn joined us for Christmas Eve in our Colorado house. It was wonderfully spirited, including the 12 Days of Christmas with Jack’s debut at “five golden rings” (quiet whisper version). There was abundant joy ... but little magic. The moments of quiet reflection, looking up through the tree’s sparkling branches or the glory of Bach caressing the heart, just didn’t happen. Late in the evening, when magic often visits, we were too busy cleaning up, and then too tired, to even invite Dylan Thomas to stop by.

Christmas dinner was at Ann’s house in Fort Collins. It, too, was boisterously joyful, ending with gift exchanges facilitated by Maddie while Jack’s new dinosaur nibbled at our toes. But no magic. Perhaps, I thought as we got in the car for the hour’s drive to our house, the magic is just gone. Magic cannot be summoned — it must appear un-beckoned.

And so I drove through the snowless exurbia, my hand drifting to hold my wife’s, Jennifer and Quinn silent in the back seat. Traffic was light. Holiday lights by the roadside added cheer, but no magic. The moon, just past full, followed us starkly. It could have been any winter night in high-desert Colorado.

Then Quinn asked if she could play music from her iPhone. Yes, of course, I said. Suddenly Schubert’s unspeakably beautiful song Ave Maria came from the speakers, lifting the car through the dark night, the music moving through us.

For miles we spoke not a word. Ave Maria. Hail to the Virgin Mary. The moon sang back, the roadside lights danced and for a time I was a child again.

Steve Nelson lives in Boulder, Colo., and Sharon. He can be reached at

Sign up for our free email updates
Valley News Daily Headlines
Valley News Contests and Promotions
Valley News Extra Time
Valley News Breaking News

Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784


© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy