A Kernel of Magic

Father Christmas

Father Christmas (Photo credit: Scottwdw)

“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 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.

Coal mining

Coal mining (Photo credit: Toban Black)

Ferguson’s grandfather worked in the mines before he found a job at the Canadian National Railroad; but Ferguson himself  never saw the inside of a mine shaft, and in his words: “God willing, never would”. Born in Cape Breton, he became part of a tradition that comes from being in a coal mining area. 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 replaced Father Christmas over the years, but the tradition of “coal dust kisses” carried on. He remembers the “stampede of feet towards the bathroom mirror”  on Christmas morning, when 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 easily. The jolly old elf takes his magic with him wherever he goes, or 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.  Sometimes though, we have to just believe in the magic of Christmas and not dissect it until we no longer recognize its wonder.

So what proof do you have of the magic of Christmas? What is your “kernel” of Christmas magic?

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39 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I love the coal dust kisses!

    That’s a difficult question you ask at the end there, I’ve tried to think of an answer, but really can’t, so I shall just take the easy route and say that Christmas is indeed magical, but we shouldn’t question why or how, we should just accept! Is that good enough? 😉

  2. Santa is such a giving spirit … thus why I believe he crosses all cultural barriers in the world.

  3. First time I’ve heard of coal dust kisses. Love it!

  4. I like the coal dust kisses too. I can just see the expression on those kids’ faces.

    For me, the magic of Christmas is when I see a kid’s face lit with wonder as he/she gazes at a beautifully decorated Christmas tree or some other Christmas display.

  5. Ditto on the coal dust kisses. Wonderful! There is a magic in Christmas and that is why I love it.

  6. Lovely story and quote honey 🙂


  7. Beautifully said…I guess the ‘magic’ of the Christmas season was the fact that when we were little we never questioned there was a Santa because we knew our ‘mother’ could not afford to buy what we received. Each year I would ask for a new doll and/or some doll clothes and that’s what Santa brought.

    It goes without saying the real meaning of Christmas was paramount but Santa was part of our celebrations…..Diane

    • I always believed too–and there was never any trauma for me, as I believe still

  8. What a great story.. Christmas will always be magical no matter how old I get!!
    Feliz Navidad!!

  9. Something is wrong with me this morning. This just made this curmudgeon tear up. Thanks . . .

    • aww–it is time to come out of the curmudgeon shell and put your holly, jolly on – thanks Luanne!

  10. I love the coal dust kisses story! I’d never heard of this tradition before.

    Your question is definitely food for thought. Perhaps thinking about it will generate a blog post of my own!

  11. Santa where would we be without you and your magic? 🙂

    Choc Chip Uru

  12. I hadn’t heard of coal dust kisses but what a sweet tradition. For me the magic seems to be in the heart of giving. When you see a child who while knowing there are presents for him or her to open would rather give a present first. There is such love shown in their eyes at that moment. It proves to me that no matter how many times we may hear, “I want” throughout the year, there are things more important than having it all.

  13. What a wonderful story!

    To me – the magic of Christmas is seeing the smiles & excitement of my children – my nieces & nephews & the fun in our family getting together. 🙂

  14. What a wonderful story! I can just envision how excited the children must have been in the morning when they had coal dust kisses.

  15. LOVE the coal dust kisses! one our son was little, we would always leave one special present on the roof, the one that was too big to fit down the chimney. One year it was the train set he wanted so much! I will never forget the look on his face. he truly believed. it was awesome.

    • that is just so cool–when I and my sister were little, our big brothers got on the roof of our house and pretended they were Santa and the reindeer–and I believe to this day!
      Your son must have been beside himself!

  16. The magic of Christmas is in the eyes of my grand daughter as she kisses the angels and santas goodnight that are hanging on the Christmas tree.

    Love the coal dust kisses.

  17. what a lovely post. for me the magic is the tree, everything centered around the tree. when it’s lit and the kids are home, it fills my heart with a sense of magic.

    • me too–if you have a tree to centre your attention on then you have all that is needed

  18. That is such a sweet story. At our house, Santa leaves a note and gives a clue as to where a special present is hidden, so my kids go on a little treasure hunt in the morning. The look on their faces when they read his message is priceless.

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