Some of my most vivid childhood memories are that of decorating for Christmas with my Grandma. I can remember the dusty smell of the Christmas boxes. I can envision the multi-colored lights reflecting off the paneling of the small living room walls. I can feel the way the gold garland made my wrists itch. I can hear Burl Ives singing Silver and Gold, Silver and Gold…

I remember the anticipation. I remember the joy. When I slow down to enjoy those memories now I feel safe and warm.

When I was about to become a mother I heard someone say how as a parent you have the power to create holiday traditions. I remember feeling awestruck at the idea. Then I did what any Christmas loving mother would do and considered this my new superpower.

In the years since this realization, I’ve savored this responsibility. I mess up plenty on the daily, but I think I may redeem myself at Christmas. In our nine years as parents, we’ve done it all. Not in a Pinterest sort of way. That’s too much pressure. We’ve tried a bunch of stuff and the things we love we keep doing, but feel no pressure to continue with the others.

One of the things that has stuck and become a tradition is visiting a certain light display. We first visited years ago, too long ago for my son to remember the first trips I’m sure. Each year since it’s grown in significance for us. It is more than a display, I’m certain it is a thin space between Heaven and earth. I can’t quite explain it, but this special place holds space in our hearts.

Marcia Hales (along with her helpers) has created a magical place in Duluth, Minnesota. It has become a tradition for many families.

When Marcia said that it was probably time to quit doing her light display I wanted to scream and cry like a reluctant toddler visiting Santa. It was getting to be too much and while I understood her weariness I was reluctant to let it go. It had become one of our favorite nights of the entire year. Volunteers rallied and organized and got the display for one more year.

So early in December, our family made the trek up to Duluth for our night to volunteer. My husband tended the bonfire and handed out marshmallows for roasting. I poured cider and filled cookie trays. Our son did a little of both. Visitor after visitor spoke of how grateful they were to have the experience. Families shared what an important tradition it is to them. You see the lights are beautiful, the setting on the shore of Lake Superior is grand, but it is Marcia herself that makes it magic.

She goes above and beyond. It would be enough to serve hot cider to strangers, but she makes a special house blend. She schedules Santa visits and groups of carolers. She embodies the Christmas spirit and radiates warmth even on the coldest nights.

The thing with traditions is, sometimes they come to an end. My grandmother is no longer with us. Yet, each year I unwrap her angels, just as I did as a girl. Only now they are so much more than figurines. I held my tears in while at Marcia’s this year, fearful it would be the last time. I tried to soak in the details and lock them into my memory for safe keeping. I think Marcia is doing the same.vintage ceramic angels photo by Michelle Koch

Fortunately, traditions live on in our memories. My grandma’s angels still dance and Marcia’s light will always shine.

If you are able to visit Marcia’s I highly suggest you do so, you have until January 6th. If you are able to support this lovely tradition here is the Go Fund Me page that helps cover the gallons of cider, countless cookies, bags of marshmallows, and electricity that create the backdrop for her magic.

Meaningful traditions can’t be forced. What makes something truly special lives in its authenticity. Surely, you can set the stage. You can buy the ingredients for cookies, you can collect the decorations, you can visit the holiday displays, but you can’t make demands on how the experience plays out. If you feel pressure to create perfection you will crowd out the magic. That holds true for Christmas and birthdays and random Friday nights. Keep this in mind as you start a new year. Loosen your grip a bit, lower your expectations, and leave room for some magic to happen.