Ever since I was a little kid, I've felt the month of December was magical. I was very fortunate to grow up in a happy, intact family. Granted, we were not storybook-happy/Disneyland/idyllically happy, but normal happy, with all the brother/sister fights and imperfections that most families have. As the next to youngest child of five, all of us spread out in age by an average of four years apiece, we had developed traditions already that I was eager to participate in as soon as I could. We'd go with Dad to pick out our Christmas tree, help him get it all set up, get the Christmas tree ornaments out of storage, decorate it with that silvery tinsel that no one uses anymore. (Was that a fire hazard or something?) I know that many people didn't use it even then because their pets might eat it, but we didn't have a dog or cat. In the earlier years, we re-used the tinsel over and over again, but eventually, as manufacturers came out with more flimsy tinsel at lower prices, we'd break down and get a new package or two every year. The lights on the tree had to be strung first before we'd do all that of course, but with Dad an engineer, he always had a certain plan about how to put them on the tree.
Also, in early December in our town, the local firehouse would host an event where Santa Claus would ride in on one of the trucks and give out little treats to the kids, if I remember correctly. And I don't, actually; it's all a little fuzzy, but with a warm shiny glow around it, as if were in a snow globe in my memory. Makes sense, though, because it was always snowing when that happened, and it was always dark outside. Like it still is now, everywhere you go in December, you see colored lights, decorations, and hear cheery, familiar songs playing on the loudspeakers.
And the anticipation! That was the most fabulous part about this season! I couldn't wait until Christmas morning when I could finally open presents and see what I got from Santa and everyone else. I always liked wrapping presents and not that many others in my family loved it, so I quickly capitalized on this disparity by setting up our only card table and commandeering all the wrapping paper, ribbons, bows, tags, and the scotch tape and scissors and promptly began to charge everyone for my gift-wrapping services! The bonus was that I got to see some presents before everyone else did! As a generally selfish person at heart, I had a hard time myself giving others things and paying for it with my own hard-earned allowance (or gift-wrapping earnings). I remember one time when I bought this neat $10 pinball game for my older brother that you had to set on the floor with the top of it tilted off the floor about 2 inches, just like the big machines are slanted upwards. With shiny steel balls that rolled easily into the launching spot, numerous flippers on the sides to open or shut trap doors and whack the balls in a different direction on their way down, the machine had flickering lights and a cool headboard at the top end that featured the game's context. After buying it, I had taken off the annoyingly alluring cellophane and hid it under my bed where I'd take it out at night or in the evenings when my brother would be gone and play it to my heart's content, on the self-delusional pretext that I was "testing" the present first to make sure it worked right before I gave it to him. I didn't want to give him a defective present. No, sir!
Then, possibly because I had been observing him a bit more judgmentally since I'd gotten the tantalizing present, he must have done something that made me decide he didn't deserve to have this magnificent thing bestowed upon his unworthiness. So the day before Christmas, I marched down to the corner drugstore and bought a couple 15-cent comic books to give to him instead. I think I eventually showed him the pinball game, but probably not before I broke it by playing it too much. Come to think of it, maybe that's what made me go get the comic books. Hmm....can't quite recall. Well, at least that wasn't as bad (probably worse, actually) as what my younger brother (who was too young for an allowance still and thus had no money of his own) gave the same brother: he swiped one of David's baseballs and wrapped it up for him and put it under the tree! Even though David and I had a hearty laugh at Scott's gift, his present to David certainly had much more tenderness and love behind it than my pathetically stingy offering.
Despite how Pollyanna this sounds, I still feel the holiday season is supercharged with magic and specialness, even though nothing that is most special about it involves wrapped presents or how much a person spends.