November 2016 was not a good month.
Our Thanksgiving trip – a quick visit to Disneyland, which I’d hoped would break up our post-election gloom – had ended with norovirus in a hotel room. My “I’m With Her” sign was still up; my Christmas decorations were still stashed away. December was looming and the holidays felt overwhelming, rather than joyful. It felt critical that I find something celebratory: my three-year-old son only had a handful of Christmases ahead of him where he believed in magic, and I didn’t want that to pass us by. We all needed this Christmas to be a good one.
It was then that the idea for the Christmas fairies emerged.
It was rooted in many factors: the little yellow door my husband had gifted me earlier that gift, knowing my love of whimsy; my son’s affection for fairies; my own childhood excitement of opening another window on our sparkling Victorian advent calendars every other morning (I had odd days, my sister had evens); and, of course, our family’s need for a little bit of joy every day.
I bought a little pack of blank red cards and a gold glitter pen, and dug out the miniature Christmas tree that my mom had given me my first year of college, so I could have some small decoration as I worked through my final exams. And with that, the Christmas fairies were born.
Their names were Noelle (of course!) and Douglas (after a Douglas Fir tree), and they visited us every day of December.
The first day they sent us to the tree lighting at Golden Gate Park. The next day they delivered cozy flannel Christmas moose sheets. Mostly they suggested activities that we would have been doing anyway: buying a tree, decorating the house, writing letters to Santa, baking cookies, watching Muppet Christmas Carol, making cards for his preschool teachers, or reading The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
There were a few bigger outings, including visiting the giant gingerbread house at the Fairmont Hotel, attending family night at the San Francisco Ballet’s The Nutcracker, or visiting the Bay Area Children’s Theatre for Fancy Nancy’s Splendiferous Christmas. My three-year-old’s favorite adventure was going to the Dickens Faire at Cow Palace, where he got to make a little house to give back to the fairies. My one-year-old loved the Polar Express train in Santa Cruz.
The most important part was being flexible and realistic with our schedule.
Many evenings were busy and hectic, but we could squeeze in 20 minutes between dinner and bath to cut paper snowflakes or share a mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows and sprinkles. Mid-December, my son expressed an interest in making clay ornaments, so we made sure the fairies suggested that project one day. He also enjoyed writing back to the fairies, asking them to deliver his letter to Santa, and making a little wreath for their door.
This year the fairies returned on December 1, with some new ideas: Deck the Halls at the San Francisco Symphony, Sing You a Merry Christmas at Grace Cathedral, Children’s Holiday Tea at Top of the Mark, among others. (Another joy that the fairies brought us was the drive to explore how many festive celebrations San Francisco truly offers to families!)
As the boys are a bit older (4 and 2 ½ now), we’ll be looking for ways to expand their sense of serving and celebrating with others:
Adopting a family and shopping for them together, buying a big box of candy canes to hand out to strangers to wish them happy holidays, sending Christmas postcards to their great-grandparents who they won’t see this Christmas. And, of course, plenty of smaller moments: making a snowman, reading Twas the Night Before Christmas with Grandma, and going shopping for each other.
Last year, the Christmas fairies were a way for us to find joy and develop our own, new family tradition in what felt like a very uncertain time. This year, and in years to come, I hope they will be a way for us to bring magic to our children and foster a sense of Christmas as a time for shared adventure, collaborative projects, prioritizing family, and supporting one another – through darkness and light.
Gretchen Sisson is a mother of two young boys living in San Francisco. She’ll say yes to nearly any adventure, as long as she can bring her camera.