These days, exclaiming “It’s a Christmas miracle!” will more likely draw snickers than astonishment. Packages delivered before the 25th? It’s a Christmas miracle! A wine stain came out of your party dress? Another Christmas miracle! There’s just enough sugar to make shortbread? You get the picture. The phrase is uttered sarcastically so often that the punchline version has become more clichéd than its starry-eyed original.
And yet, if we let it, the Christmas season — with its focus on wonder, surprises and a baby born to bring hope to the world — has a way of nudging us toward something akin to miracles.
For this month’s cover story package, we asked four writers to share their own Christmas miracles. You won’t find angels or virgin births here. But it can feel just as extraordinary when a father’s depression lifts, when a tradition connects us to our ancestors, when a grandmother prepares a feast, or when a mother and son express their special bond through gifts.
Reading these stories reminded me of a Christmas morning during my childhood when we four kids woke to find a canoe in our house. A canoe! It was forest green and stretched the entire length of our dining room. Even my mother was shocked. How on earth did a brand-new canoe appear?
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Had I looked at my father’s hands, I might have guessed the answer. He bought the canoe before Christmas and hid it at St. Andrew’s United in Sudbury, Ont., where he was a minister. After the Christmas Eve service, he strapped the canoe to the top of his car, drove home and put it in our snowy backyard. He came inside to put the final touches on Christmas with my mother, and then he told her, “Go to bed. I just have one more thing to do.”
He slipped out the back door with no hat or gloves, hoisted the canoe over his head and walked it up an outside staircase that led into our dining room. He quietly slid the canoe into position and then went to bed. But the burning sensation across his palms and fingers announced his error: his hands were frostbitten from holding the metal gunwales. The pain kept him up all night, and he was still groggy when we all started squealing about a canoe at dawn.
Is finding a canoe in your dining room a Christmas miracle? To my young eyes, it was. And to my older eyes, it’s a reminder that miracles — even those we read about in the Bible — often come about because one person wants to delight another, or someone puts the needs of others ahead of their own, reaches out or forgives. It’s not the super-natural aspects of miracle stories that speak to me. It’s the transformative love, hope and human striving that leave me awestruck.
Jocelyn Bell is the editor-publisher of Broadview. She is also the winner of this year’s National Magazine Awards Editor Grand Prix award.
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