Ice World

By Sidney Stevens

I held my breath as my mom handed me advent calendars from the storage box. “They’re all yours,” she said, smiling.

I waited for the usual tingling as I stared at my favorites—a Victorian Santa surrounded by forest creatures, skaters sweeping across a frozen pond, majestic reindeer flying Santa’s sleigh through a snowy night. But I felt nothing. No impatience to open each calendar’s twenty-five secret doors bearing messages and scenes to help me count down the interminable hours and minutes. No intoxication or joy. No elation that my favorite holiday had commenced once again.

My grandmother—Granny—always said Christmas was about magic, and I believed it with every atom of my being, eagerly breathing in each part of the season, filling myself to the brim. But here it was the first day of December, official start of my grand anticipation, and nothing stirred.

I was eight, and had just learned Granny would be celebrating with her sister’s family in Missouri that year. We’d be staying home without her for the first time in my life. Of course, we’d still select our yearly Scotch pine and adorn it with heirloom colored glass ornaments, tinsel and white fairy lights. Its conifer aroma would waft through the house as always, as would the succulent smells of my mom’s Christmas roast beef and sticky-sweet pecan pie. The first light of Christmas morning would reveal Santa’s gifts arrayed under the tree, stockings overflowing with treats and small toys. But without Granny, the treasured traditions I adored seemed devoid of their usual magic.

I blinked back tears as I arranged advent calendars on the sideboard table in the living room. My mom stood silently beside me. I glanced up, aching to share my heartbreak. All I wanted was for Granny’s magic to return. It was real. I’d seen her conjure it every year since I could remember. I’d felt it flow through me, bringing a lightness of spirit, a joyful sense that only beauty existed, that all was well, that I was loved beyond measure. But how could I explain something so ineffable?

It’s not that Granny did Christmas so differently from other people. Yes, she had a special touch. She adorned her home with handcrafted Santas from around the world and lined her walkways with radiant luminarias on Christmas Eve. She had a remarkable knack for gift-giving, each present miraculously precision-tailored to the recipient without ever having appeared on their wish list. Her homemade divinity, a recipe handed down from her grandmother, melted instantly on your tongue.

Yet none of this fully conveys the special reverence Granny’s voice took on come December, how the world seemed to vibrate around her like she charged it from her own deep well of resplendent electricity. It doesn’t begin to explain how her elegant decorations, meticulously placed inside and outside her home, cast a spell as if they glowed from some secret inner source, or why her cherished childhood Christmas tales wove a deep sense of family in me, somehow twining into my DNA as though I’d lived her experiences myself. She was simply a Christmas magician, and holiday-time mysteriously ignited in her presence, like a million candles burning at once accompanied by a cathedral full of voices thundering divine harmonies.

Without her to bring Christmas to life, everything felt flat. By December twenty-fourth, my despair was unbearable. I didn’t know where to put it all. Despite a blizzard that had buried the Iowa countryside under a foot of snow overnight, I bundled up and headed down to my favorite ravine, hoping to lose myself in something besides misery.

Frigid air froze my nostrils, and my fingers and toes stung within minutes despite the bright sun. I hardly noticed, though, compelled to trudge on in the numbing cold to deaden my grief.

The path to the ravine lay hidden beneath snow. I plunged off the main road from memory, frosty breath hovering around me as I labored down to my favorite spot where a bend in the creek created a giant pool, frozen now except for a dark sliver-stream snaking through.

Gloom enveloped me in this arctic world. What if I never felt Christmas magic again? What if Granny held the only key to that beguiling sphere beneath the surface world where enchantment is birthed?

I stood frozen for what seemed like hours when suddenly in the hush came a faint gurgle of water. A crow called from the snowy fields above me. Every tree along the creek was laced with feathery frost, a shimmering galaxy of tiny crystals dancing in the brilliant blue sky. A dazzling world of ice—and magic. Yes, magic.

Awe overwhelmed me, thawing me through.

“Ice World,” I whispered, unable to absorb it all.

It was more exquisite than any sugar plum dream. More glorious than all the glittering Christmas trees combined. More wondrous than Santa’s bountiful visit each year. It came to me in a flash—the secret of Granny’s magic—a glowing sense of hope, abundance, possibility, beauty, and love that she undoubtedly sensed herself and conveyed to me. It’s what humans have always celebrated in winter festivals, eons before Christmas ever began: the exuberant coming together of family and friends, the joy of lengthening days and light’s ascendency over darkness, the arrival of new life, certainty that all blessings are possible through the universal power of love. The true spirit of Christmas.  

Somehow I’d found it on my own—or it had found me—and I knew I’d never lose it again. I could summon it at will simply by recalling that single spacious moment of grace when everything seemed to fit together, when the world’s underlying light and joy—its magic glow—suddenly turned visible and swallowed me whole. A sublime gift from Mother Nature.

The next morning I bolted for the living room. There was a red sled from Santa, an artist easel, a microscope, a silver bracelet delicately engraved with twisting vines, and many other gifts I no longer remember. There were chocolate-covered cherries, creamy eggnog sprinkled with nutmeg, carols playing on the stereo, and our traditional Christmas feast. We spoke to Granny by phone.

I loved it all, but something profound had whirled me around. All the treats, gifts, lights and music were mesmerizing, but I realized fully that day they were only beautiful reminders—symbols—of what the holiday season is meant to reveal. My true gift that year was an infinite sense of magic and love, tapped without Granny’s help, that has carried me through Christmases and the rest of life ever since.

***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sydney Stevens is an author with an MA in journalism from the University of Michigan. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in Newsweek, The Dillydoun Review, New Works Review, Sure Woman, and Nature’s Healing Spirit, an anthology from Sowing Creek Press. Her short stories have been published in several literary journals, including The Woven Tale Press, Hedge Apple, The Wild Word, Finding the Birds Literary Journal, Viscaria Magazine, OyeDrum and The Centifictionist. In addition, She’s had hundreds of nonfiction articles published in print and online, and has also co-authored four books on natural health. Learn more at www.sidney-stevens.com.

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The Green Shoes

The Green Shoe Sanctuary was created to be a creative space for authors to showcase their short stories.

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