December 23, 2012

REPORTING ASIDE: Golden anniversary of Christmas magic

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

It was all magic, a half-century ago today.

"I can't sleep," I told my older sister, Katherine, who sat on the edge of my bed and coached me on how best to make Christmas morning come quickly.

"Just close your eyes and don't open them, no matter what," she said. "And when you open them again, it will be Christmas morning."

Somehow, her advice worked. Indeed, I fell asleep and woke to the aroma of turkey roasting in the oven.

In those days, my mother would cook the turkey all night, with the oven turned on low.

She'd prepare it for roasting after we went to bed on Christmas Eve, barely able to contain our excitement after a long evening that included opening one present under the tree and going to church for the midnight candlelight service.

It was a special treat to dress up and head out into the winter evening, long after most people had hunkered down in their warm houses to celebrate the night before Christmas.

We piled into the station wagon and drove downtown, crossing the bridge over the snowy Kennebec River and parking next to the Federated Church, whose colored windows were all lit up for Christmas Eve.

Marching inside, we found comfortable places to sit up front, near the altar, where a large movie screen was set up. The lights were turned out, the 35 mm projector started rolling and we watched the 1938 movie "A Christmas Carol," based on the classic Charles Dickens tale.

It was scary, thrilling and heartwarming all at the same time.

The vision of Ebenezer Scrooge being visited in the night by ghosts both terrified and fascinated me and was the only part of Christmas that I did not totally comprehend. But I loved Reginald Owen's portrayal of Scrooge just the same, and to this day I watch the classic movie every Christmas season.

Sometime during the evening at church, the choir director handed out Christmas stockings made of red, netted material and filled with colorful foil-wrapped candies.

Those stockings were precious little gifts. We clung to them as we devoured the story of how Scrooge turned from a sour, stingy man into a loving and generous one.

At midnight, we stood in a large circle in the church, preparing for the candlelight service.

We were each given a small candle to hold, encircled with a white paper shield.

Standing elbow to elbow, we lit the candles and absorbed the magic as faces gradually emerged from shadow and appeared angelic in the soft light.

We were mesmerized by the festivities of the evening, and the magic stayed with us as we bundled up to go back out into the cold.

We followed the stars home but fought off bedtime.

"Listen," my father said. "I think I hear reindeer on the roof."

We scrambled upstairs and peered through the attic window at the snow on the porch roof, sure that Santa Claus had arrived.

Sleep was elusive. Too exhausted to rest, we lay, wide-eyed, as Katherine's voice nudged us into dreamland.

"Just close your eyes ... and the next time you open them, it will be Christmas morning."

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 24 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at acalder@centralmaine.com

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