Christmas came to my house on December 1, the day my mom hung the Advent calendar on the closet door in the hallway. For the next 24 days, I unwrapped the tiny presents that appeared in the little pockets.
The calendar was silk-screen linen, handmade in Denmark. It had 24 small pockets sewn onto the front, beneath a screen-printed image of children circling a Christmas tree.
Every morning when I got up, still in my pajamas, my mom and I walked together to check the Advent calendar, and there would be a new toy, folded neatly inside a Kleenex or wrapped in a tiny piece of brown wrapping paper, peeking out from one of the pockets. I can still remember how excited I got by all this, seeing a toy popping up from one of those pockets, as if it had appeared there by magic.
After work at night, my mom stopped at the Quik Chek on her way home and bought toys from the vending machine in the doorway. She stuffed the pockets of the Advent calendar with all kinds of things: plastic ring whistles, squares of Bazooka Joe gum, a rubber high-bounce ball, and ceramic animal figurines — a duck, a cow, a frog — each one about the size of a penny.
One year, each pocket held a different pewter miniature. There was a candlestick collection, each one about half the size of a toothpick. I got a tiny set of pewter dishes — four plates and four cups. A pewter iron. A pewter mirror, brush, and comb. A pewter fireplace shovel and stoker.
On Christmas Day that year, I woke up to find a dollhouse beneath our tree. It was beautiful — a two-story, white, wooden farmhouse — and it was electrified. Each room had tiny sconces mounted on the walls, and when the lights were lit, the whole house glowed.
The front facade of the house was on hinges, and you could swing the entire piece forward to get to the rooms inside. There was a living room and kitchen, a staircase, two bedrooms, two bathrooms. There was a fireplace, and I jumped up to get the candlestick set from my Advent calendar and placed it inside on the mantel. Such a tiny thing that filled in the empty space. It made the house seem complete.
The dollhouse was one of the best Christmas presents I ever got, and I spent hours stretched out on the floor in front of it, arranging furniture, imagining scenarios inside it, creating stories for its little people.
Years later, my parents told me about driving to Davidson to buy that dollhouse. They found a craftsman who had a shop across the street from Davidson College, and they went to look at what he had. I can imagine the two of them walking on the sidewalk at Christmastime, admiring the decorations, stopping at The Soda Shop for a hot dog lunch, and looking in all the store windows for Christmas presents for their little girl. I can imagine how excited my mom must have been seeing that house on display in the shop window, its front opened up to a miniature, happy home that reminded her of our own. I can imagine the smile spreading across my dad’s face when he loaded that house up in the truck bed, wrapping a blanket around the structure so it wouldn’t get damaged on the drive back home.
My parents gave me the best childhood Christmases.
I guess that wasn’t magic at all.