My most vivid Christmas memories are from a day when my Dad took my little sister and me to New York City. The day comes back to me like one of those movie montages set to music, one heartwarming scene after another. Ice skating at Rockefeller Center, a carriage ride around Central Park, ice cream sundaes at Rumplemeyer’s. Everything about the day felt magical, and not just magical as in delightful and enchanting. Magical, like, the normal laws of the universe did not seem to apply. I wasn’t a particularly great ice skater, but I remember cutting through the crowds while maintaining what I was certain was an Olympics-worthy arabesque. It might not have actually happened that way, but that’s what I remember.
But the best part of the day was at the very end, when we were heading home. We’d taken a train into Grand Central, and when we approached the main lobby area of the station, there was a huge and magnificent chorus singing Christmas carols. We were probably trying to get to a train quickly, but luckily we were on a busy line, so there were enough trains coming that missing one wasn’t a crisis. It seemed impossible that we’d just stumbled onto a performance by such excellent singers, and we had to listen. And then we realized that a group of people were handing out photocopied sheets of lyrics, so the “magnificent chorus” was really just a bunch of commuters, caught up in the holiday spirit and participating in what passed for a flash mob in the early 80s. That, too, was magic.
Later I realized that the outing into the city was engineered as a special day because of our new baby brother: it was designed to give a little attention to the older kids, while giving mom a break to focus on the newborn. It didn’t occur to me at the time that there could be any ulterior motive, because as a child, didn’t you sort of wonder why parents don’t choose to spend every day blowing loads of cash on ice cream and basically living it up? It made all the sense in the world to me. But now, looking back as a parent, it’s a reminder that it’s worth the time and effort to break out of the ordinary and plan something special with the kids, whether it’s a one-time occasion or inventing a tradition out of nowhere. And if you’re not planning anything and something special comes along, anyway, try to spare a moment before continuing with your bustling day. You won’t regret stopping to look and listen with the kids.