In my family, we have a little something called The Christmas Miracle. It started when I was younger, working in New York, and had a series of rather harrowing trips home to my sister’s house in South Carolina for Christmas. One year my flight was cancelled. Another year, a surprise snowstorm snarled traffic, and my flight took off while I was still in the Midtown Tunnel. Yet another year I went to LaGuardia instead of Newark. Sigh. But some how, some way, I always made it to Charleston by Christmas morning. And whatever crazy twists or turns got me there, my arrival was always heralded as a Christmas Miracle.
As the years went on, more and more events were greeted this way. Forget to buy molasses for gingerbread cookies, and then find an extra bottle lurking in the pantry? It’s a Christmas Miracle. The relative who always says something totally inappropriate at Christmas Eve dinner manages to keep his or her mouth sort of shut? It’s a Christmas Miracle. You need one more amazing monster iron-on t-shirt kit for your great-niece and one appears? You get the idea.
Now don’t get me wrong. In all this lightness, no one ever loses track of the REAL Christmas miracle. But to me, this tradition is a reminder that in a season that can have a lot of complication around it, magic is always possible. That the smallest things (molasses) or the largest things (Christmas at home with family) are truly wonderful gifts. They are real-life miracles, not to be taken for granted.
So all of this brings me to this year’s Christmas Miracle. But first, I have to take you back in time. Thirty summers ago, I was at Camp Yonahlosee. I was in the full-on starburst of amazingness that is only available in a 14-year old girl at the end of five weeks at her happiest place on earth. Every session, the entire camp would vote on a camper to receive the highest honor the campers and counselors can bestow: The Spirit of Yonahlossee. My mother was Spirit when she was there in the 1930s, and all the girls who received this honor in my years at camp were the girls I wanted to be: they were my earliest, and to this day, my most potent female role models. That summer, in 1984, the incredible happened: my friend Kate and I tied for Spirit, and we were both honored with the award. Now, it’s one thing to receive such an honor. But to receive it with one of your best friends? Well, as current 14-year-old girls everywhere would say, OMG. We each received a silver pendant with a little tent and campfire on the front, and the words Spirit of Yonahlossee engraved on the back.
Forever, it was my most treasured possession. I wore it every day throughout the school year, surrounded by people who had no idea what it was, nor cared for the reverence with which I wore it. I wore it all through the next summer at camp and as I proudly watched another dear friend, Meg, become Spirit of Yonahlosee in 1985. I wore it in the fall of 1985, as my mother gave me the unfathomable news that our camp was closing forever. And I wore it as my friend Lindy and I left angry, tearful messages on the answering machine of the Camp Director who we felt sold us out, sold our younger friends out, and perhaps most poignantly, sold our future daughters out. I wore it as I went off to college, and I wore it to the funeral of the first friend my age that I had ever lost. She was a friend from camp, whose brilliant light went out decades too soon.
Then one day, it was gone. I have no idea where it went. I remember seeing it in my pink jewelry box at my parents’ house in North Carolina, but then my father died, and life turned upside down. Years later my mother and her wonderful new husband moved, and I’ve been searching for it ever since. For almost 20 years, I’ve been searching for it.
Then, this year. A Christmas Miracle. After sharing this sad tale with both Meg and Lindy this summer as we sent our boys (!) off to camp together, a small package arrived at my house yesterday. It was from Meg. I opened it to find a box from her jeweler in Salisbury, NC. And inside a small, teardrop-shaped pink suede pouch: a perfect replica of my long lost charm. An exact copy of the one Meg received in 1985, but with the year changed to Kate’s year and mine: 1984.
I immediately burst into such hysterical and happy tears, that my boys actually looked up from Minecraft to see what was happening. And as I told them the story and showed them the charm, they both hugged me tight around the neck. Now campers themselves, they understood in a way I never expected them to. They understood the kindness and thoughtfulness and enormity of such a gift. They understood the miracle.
I’m wearing my new/old necklace as I fly to my sister’s house in Charleston for Christmas, for the first time in 10 years. There are no snowstorms slowing my progress, no drama surrounding my arrival. Just a wonderful, simple, precious homecoming, and a chance to spend the holidays with my sister, her entire family, my husband and sons, and my 86-year-old mother.
Just looking at that last sentence, I’d say that our cup runneth over with Christmas Miracles this year. Here’s to hoping yours does, too.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and a Joyous New Year to you all. See you in 2015!