When you were a kid, December was your favorite month. It was the best month of all. There was magic in the air in December. You knew this because there were hundreds of cheesy television advertisements telling you about “the magic of Christmas.”

Which was easy to believe because when you’re a kid everything is magic. Your entire life is about fairytales, cowboys, international spies, firing cap guns, or galloping around on a stick-horsey.

But one day you got older and realized you were mistaken about the magic of life. Real life was about a lot more than stick-horseys.

Real life was rough. Real life was having your tonsils ripped out with medieval salad tongs by a family doctor who smelled like Old Spice and Lucky Strikes.

Also, real life was about the monkey bars, a good game of tag, or kisses from girls.

In grade school, you weren’t sure how life suddenly became about kissing girls, but everyone was getting kisses, so you thought, “Hey, why not?”

Then something went wrong. Somehow you ended up with not just one, but TWO girlfriends—Katie and Gladys.

You’d get a kiss from Katie in the morning, and one from Gladys in the afternoon. Soon, the girls got into a fight, with bloody noses and everything. This would be the only time in your life when two girls would ever fight over you. So you tried very hard to enjoy the magic of it.

Time marched forward. Eventually, you learned that life was not about kisses, but trees. Big ones, tall ones with lots of limbs. You climbed these trees, one at a time. Until one day you were picking mulberries from one and you fell.

You landed on your shoulder. You were certain it was broken, but your mother declared that it was not. Which was a rotten deal because when Fred Thompson broke his arm he lived like the king of Siam for weeks. His mom gave him all the ice cream he could eat.

But, you soon discovered that life was not about ice cream, but really about:

Cool shoes.

Yes, all the kids were wearing cool shoes. You were almost in middle school and you wanted to fit in. You were tired of being a dumb dork in stupid loafers. Converse All-Star shoes were what you needed.

Looking back, you still laugh about this. All-Stars are not “hip” shoes. In fact, they are the very same shoes your grandparents wore a million years ago when they were shooting marbles on trolley cars during the Revolutionary War.

But your mother actually bought you a pair. Suddenly, you were SO COOL! And this is what life was about. Shoes. And…

New jokes.

Jokes! Yes! That’s what life was about! You would sit in the cafeteria with your friends, and you would tell new jokes. And your buddies would die laughing.

You never knew you were funny before. But in middle school, apparently you WERE! Your pals were wheezing from laughter. And when you did your signature move—shooting lima beans from your nose—you got standing ovations. So the magic of life was about jokes.

Until it wasn’t.

That was the horrible year your father did something stupid. Something fatal. You’ve written about his death enough. There’s no need hashing over it here.

But you realized immediately that your life was no longer about and lima beans flying from your nasal passages.

At your father’s funeral, your pals walked through a reception line wearing neckties. One of your teachers was crying. She kissed your hair, and told you that if you ever needed anything to call her.

And now you truly knew what life was about. This was real. Life was unkind. It was not happy.

You, your mother, and your baby sister were left to pick up the pieces. And life would never again be about climbing trees, or jokes, or stick-horseys. It was about surviving, and there wasn’t any magic in it.

October came, and it was lonely. November came, and Thanksgiving was the worst day of your life.

You hadn’t heard from your pals in forever. Because people were afraid of you. It was like you smelled bad or something. Later you would learn that suicide was not a word people said in those days.

Then came December. You were dreading Christmas. You knew it would be the most pathetic holiday in the history of the world. And you just wanted it to go away. But it didn’t.

Christmas morning came with a sunrise. And a knock on the door.

People started arriving on your porch. Unannounced. They weren’t invited, they just showed up. One by one. And they were bringing things. Hams, casseroles, bottles of cider.

Whole families arrived dressed in ugly sweaters and pleated khakis because those were the kinds of dumb outfits people wore back then.

Pretty soon, your house was filled with them. With music. And laughing. And food. And your mother was surrounded by people who were constantly refilling her glass. And nobody was crying.

You had so much fun, even in the midst of hell, that it did something to you. And you knew then—even though it has taken a long time to understand—that life is not about cowboys, cap guns, playing tag, or kissing. It’s not about ice cream, or shoes, or winning a prize, or even happiness.

I think it’s about this. Right here. Right now. Whatever this is. About people. And love. And I believe if you mix it all together, you’ll see real magic.

And every December I think about that.


  1. Karen - December 2, 2019 7:08 am

    Yes. We navigate through this life in search of love in all of its forms, giving and receiving.

  2. chip - December 2, 2019 8:39 am

    Jesus lives it, taught it and is it … John Lennon sang about it, and out hearts are empty without it – All we need is Love

  3. theholtgirls - December 2, 2019 8:45 am

    Dear Sean, Thank you for your words about people and love. You have a way of stringing words, people, and love together to make magic. Happy mixing!

  4. Steve Winfield - December 2, 2019 9:36 am

    Mom left dad with my brother & me when I was 5 & he was 2. Just like that. No mom. Right after I joined the Navy she got in touch through the Red Cross. 13 years had passed. I decided to put it behind & get to know her. We became best of friends until she died at 74.
    Not sure why this came to mind but it did. I guess we play the hand we’re dealt the best we can.
    Thanks for being there & sharing your life. I feel like we’re old friends.
    Love forever, Steve.

  5. Meredith Smith - December 2, 2019 11:07 am

    Dear Sean,. I promised myself ahead of time I was going to keep this short so I’ll do my best.
    Your columns just reach into our chests and pull on our heartstrings sometimes – not bc you are seeking
    validation or hugs. No, you are just THAT GOOD of a writer. I feel like I’m right there with you, holding your
    hand and 🤗 hugging you. I hope your December gets better. If it’s any consolation, Mine always is a financial nightmare: Christmas for one, three siblings birthdays in December, local taxes and homeowners all due in December. Just to make things extra merry and bright! ☀️🙄😬

  6. Elizabeth - December 2, 2019 11:37 am

    Got me again, coffee is getting watered down! Thank you.

  7. Janie F. - December 2, 2019 11:40 am

    Beautiful Sean!

  8. Amanda - December 2, 2019 12:03 pm

    For years, I have played a game every December called “Look for the Magic Moments”. There is always more than one. Never know where or when they will happen, but they are always just what I need, when I need it. I could write a book on them. Usually they are awe-inspiring, completely surprising (they usually occur when I forget to keep looking), and the people involved are often strangers, children, and folks whom you would least expect to participate in the moment. These moments remind me of the very first Christmas which seemed to be such a surprise to everyone except Mary, Joseph, some livestock, angels, and wise men.

  9. Tammy S - December 2, 2019 2:10 pm

    Thank you for always sharing from your heart. Especially at a time of year that may be so very hard for some, for various reasons. Prayers for all those who may be hurting this Christmas. And that they are surrounded by the people who truly love and care for them. Peace on earth, good will to all. Blessings,

    Tammy S.

  10. Tommy - December 2, 2019 2:20 pm

    Christmas was indeed magic when i was a kid. Really did have a good home life and intact family, thought everybody did. Then came adulthood, jobs, etc. Loneliness. Then God sent Her to me. After that enjoyed seeing the little ones love Christmas, then grands and greats. Now it’s watching them, hoping to catch some cantatas, Mannheim Steamroller music, & celebrating the Baby in the manger @ church. And family. Magic again.

  11. MermaidGrammy - December 2, 2019 2:58 pm

    Thank you. Enjoy December. Enjoy this week. This day. This minute. This second. That’s what your daddy wants most for you. The poor man didn’t understand..,”it gets better”. Whatever “it” is; probably no one knows what pushed him so hard. But then, it’s none of our business. God is holding him just as He will hold you one day. On that day, you will understand. And forgive. Love you, Sweet Sean

  12. Liz Stagg - December 2, 2019 3:25 pm

    Best one yet.

  13. Ala Red Clay Girl - December 2, 2019 3:33 pm

    It seems weird to say this is a beautiful story, and yet it is, even with the unbelievable sorrow that you experienced. It’s beautiful because you survived and became the wonderful person you are today. The wonderful person that shares his life with all of us. Through your eyes and writings, you have shown us how kindness can change the world – at least the world of one person. Kindness and the love of Jesus is the origin of that Christmas magic.

  14. Edna Barron - December 2, 2019 3:41 pm

    I agree, December is a magical month. I hope it’s a great month for you and your family. Hugs, Edna B.

  15. Shelton A. - December 2, 2019 3:54 pm

    Small towns breed love of their own. I’m so glad you did have a magic Christmas that year! Now you have Thelma Lou and Otis Campbell to eat your hats…that’s sorta magic (especially when it’s not your hat). God bless and keep you and Jamie and the hat eating dogs (who otherwise mean no harm-usually). Happy Christmas time to you all!

  16. Shirley - December 2, 2019 4:21 pm

    Sean, one of your best today! Thank you. (I’m a “young” 75). My father took his life when I was 22.

  17. Mary Burns - December 2, 2019 4:23 pm

    So glad your Christmases and everyday eventually got better. You will never forget, but you now know there is life after something like this, or any death. And the holidays keep coming without them here, and you eventually get to the point of loving the holidays and birthdays and just everyday and can enjoy life again. Merry Christmas, Sean and Jamie.

  18. David P B Feder - December 2, 2019 4:44 pm

    Heck, I’m Jewish and even I found this Christmas story moving! Merry Christmas, Sean! And thanks.

  19. Linda Moon - December 2, 2019 5:03 pm

    December is magic for me. It’s my birth month. But I won’t say what my upcoming birthday age will be. I will say, however, that each year since my first cancer diagnosis in 2005 and three others since then have become my birthdays, because I will be 15 years “still living” in a couple of weeks. The real-life age, no matter what it is, is GOOD. Suicide and cancers are real. Cancer survivors and survivors of suicide, both of which I’ve experienced, know what to think and write about to make magic out of every day, especially in December. Thank you, Sean, for sharing thoughts and words with us! They are magic for me every time I read them!!

  20. Richda McNutt - December 2, 2019 5:10 pm

    And I am thankful you are one of the people in my e-world, Sean.

  21. Cathy - December 2, 2019 5:29 pm

    My in-laws had a calendar where you flipped the page each day to reveal some little quote or nugget of truth. One of the days said, “Where this is a woman, there is magic.” My father-in law wrote next to it, “I love magic.” These sweet people had been married 50 years and still held hands in the car. Magic is real and it comes disguised as love.

  22. Steven Paul Bailey - December 2, 2019 5:44 pm


  23. Nancy Wright - December 2, 2019 6:09 pm

    I’m so glad you were surrounded by loving people on that Christmas Day!

  24. grantburris - December 2, 2019 6:35 pm

    That was another good one, Sean. I’m sure you touched a nerve with a lot of folks. Sure did with me. Thanks.

  25. Rebecca Souders - December 3, 2019 12:51 am

    Spot on!

  26. Charlie Key - December 3, 2019 1:04 am

    Thank you

  27. Susan I Gleadow - December 3, 2019 2:03 am

    Oh yes!

  28. Jenny Murry - December 3, 2019 4:47 pm

    Magic happens when we least expect it, and maybe when we most need it. Thank you for this

  29. Ann - December 3, 2019 8:46 pm

    Whew…what strength and insight ❤️

  30. Mary Hicks - December 4, 2019 8:40 pm

    Memories, good or bad stay with us. We have to learn to live with them. So sorry for the loss of your Dad at such a young age. We lost our only son almost 17 years ago. He was 32. I know God knows best, but I can’t help but wonder what he would look like today, how he would be so proud of his son and daughter and especially his granddaughter! Thanks for these beautiful words. (((Hugs))) And love from our home to yours.

  31. Judy Cobern - December 7, 2019 2:57 pm

    This made me cry……for the sheer “goodness” in people & also for the “raw deal” so many receive in life. You have survived!!… No, you have Thrived.. God has Blessed You!

  32. Karen G - December 9, 2019 10:48 pm

    You are Awesome – that is all 🤗

  33. Marthajane Cassidey - December 13, 2019 6:10 am

    Thank You, Sean. Sometimes I forget to be grateful for my family.


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