“No matter how tired and cranky, how jaded or cynical, how utterly tiresome Christmas becomes, there is always a kernel of magic at its core, isn’t there?” – Will Ferguson
The magic at the core of Christmas is what makes the season enchanting. Whether it is the wonder of the original Christmas story, our family traditions that lighten up the dark days, or even belief in that jolly old elf—the feeling that the season elicits is magical.
Canadian author, Will Ferguson wrote a charming little memoir called “Coal Dust Kisses”, which harkens back to his childhood days. He and the other children brought up around the Cape Breton coal mines had proof positive that Santa had visited their houses on Christmas Eve. The proof was not in the presents beneath the tree, but in a smudge of coal dust on their foreheads.
Ferguson’s grandfather had worked in the mines before he found a job at the Canadian National Railroad—but Ferguson himself said that he had never seen the inside of a mine shaft, and “God willing, never would”. Born in Cape Breton, he became part of a tradition that only comes from being in a coal mining area. He says that it only makes sense, “as any person—a miner say—who dealt with coal knows, if you spend time crawling through chimneys, you’re going to get covered in soot.”
It was Father Christmas that Ferguson’s father waited for on Christmas Eve. And on Christmas morning he had evidence that the gentleman “had tiptoed through houses, late at night, covered in soot…” He “would stop to kiss children on the forehead when they lay sleeping…” When the children awoke in the morning, there on their foreheads were “coal dust kisses.”
The author waited for Santa Claus, who had replaced Father Christmas over the years, but the tradition of “coal dust kisses” carried forward to his generation. He remembers Christmas morning as “a stampede of feet towards the bathroom mirror” where he and his siblings crowded into the bathroom and “stared in awe and wonderment” at the smudge on their foreheads—providing the elusive proof positive that Santa Claus had left his calling card. This, he said was “a moment of magic” captured in countless yuletide photographs.
He has continued the tradition with his own family, taking the “Scottish coal-mining tradition…from Cape Breton to the northwest woods, from Ecuador to southern Japan, and back again to Canada.” Tradition, handed down from generation to generation travels the miles with no loss of meaning. The jolly old elf, Father Christmas, or the more modern day Santa Claus takes his magic with him wherever he goes, or as Ferguson’s story illustrates, wherever we go.
The magic of Christmas belies the sometimes gaudy pomp and circumstance of commercialism (which we have to admit has its place and puts food on the table for many). Believing in something for the sake of believing without question does not seem to be a simple thing. We need proof, whether it be in “coal dust kisses” or something else that we can see, touch or feel. I am guilty of this, and in many cases asking for verification is not a bad thing. But sometimes, we have to just believe in the magic of Christmas and not dissect it until we no longer recognize its wonder.
My wish for you this Christmas is to recapture the essence and spectacle of the season and enjoy “the quiet beauty of a peaceful holiday.” (a sentiment from one of my Christmas cards)