It was a few days before Christmas, and Marley was as excited as ever. She had turned 12 just a few weeks earlier, and though she had long ceased to believe in Santa Claus, she was still young enough and carefree enough to find the holiday season entirely magical and exceptional.
To her, it was almost as though the ordinary world — normally so gray, reserved, businesslike, and adult — was temporarily replaced with a world designed by and for children. And if not really created for children exclusively, at least made for the children in all of us.
Every year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, Marley thought the world became brighter, shinier, noisier, busier, colder, crisper, whiter, fuller and happier. In stores, on streets, in neighborhoods, in downtowns — no matter where you went — everything and everybody was better.
Houses had Christmas lights, and you could see trees in their living rooms. Stores were festive, and toys and gifts seemed to become most important. Music played everywhere. On sidewalks, people rang bells, and sometimes, you’d see groups singing. Best of all, everybody seemed to be smiling all of the time; and really best of all, children got a lot of attention.
Marley thought the best time of year might just be Christmastime. There was school vacation, family gatherings, parties, snowstorms and more fun than usual. There was lightheartedness — some people put wreaths on the front of their cars or wore ski hats with ears.
Around Christmastime, everything seemed possible to Marley. She felt the happiness, the optimism, the reciprocal goodwill and the security that seemed to define the holiday. The future seemed bright and promising and safe, and it would almost certainly be even better than the present.
But this year, something was wrong. Marley could see it and feel it. It was as though everybody — but the adults especially — hadn’t noticed that it was nearing Christmas. No magic was in the air; no exceptionalism, no zaniness and no brightness of any sort.