Making holiday magic on the Island of Misfit Toys

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When I was little, I loved Christmas. No matter what my family's financial situation, there were always presents under the tree, a huge meal and, well, magic in the air.

Shut up; it's true. I’m pretty snarky about sentimentality these days, but I was once a wide-eyed boy in wonder at the world, fully absorbed in seasonal spirit.

As the years went by, my disenchanged expectations of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” were dashed as I realized it took adult work to create childhood magic. I began to see the season as all about spending money, then feeling inadequate if you can't make someone cry by springing diamonds on them.


I won’t be home for Christmas this year for the first time in a long time. No drama; it just worked out that way. At first, I was relieved. Then I realized I'm going to miss the obligations I usually dread: Travel plans, shopping, crowds and family. It forced me to reevaluate what it's really all about.

Recently my channel surfing happened upon “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” the claymation classic about a gay elf with fabulously swoopy hair who ventures off with a flying dog and a lumbersexual to find their misfit paradise ruled by a gruff white-haired bear daddy with a heart of gold. What's not to love?

In the end, everybody finds home and the True Meaning of Christmas. Thanks, I needed that. I will be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

I need to rally, much like a Christmas 20 years ago. I was broke and depressed about how my budget would affect my ability to give as much as I received.

I cut out a construction paper heart, found a gumball, strung together some paperclips, balled up a long piece of Scotch tape and dug up a penny from the recesses of a drawer. All of it went into a used red box that I wrapped with a stray piece of ribbon.

In a card to my family, I explained each particular item:

The Paperclips are the inter-connection of all of us. We shift independently, but we're never far from each other.

The Heart reminds us of the love and joy we have around us all year, even if we have to look harder sometimes to see it.

The Gumball helps us remember to keep our lives well rounded, as we each define that.

The Tape shows how we can help each other hold it together when trouble hits from the outside world and our inner demons.

The Coin reminds us that, in a world where money seems to buy everything, it can't buy friends, families of origin and choice, or the community we're so fortunate to have.

There’s a little money in the bank these days, but I was emotionally bankrupt until I remembered my gift of Christmas Past. Back then, it made my mom cry with not a diamond in sight. She still pulls out the whole package every year — decaying gumball and all — puts it under the tree and reads the card out loud on Christmas Day so she can cry all over again.

I'm re-gifting it to you, my people on the Island of Misfit Toys. Hopefully it can help make your Yuletide gay. No matter how you do the holidays, including not at all, let’s say yes to our better, spiritual, giving and grateful sides all year.

The above was originally written in 2005, but it rings especially deep for me this year. Unlike her exuberant life and raging, heroic, years-long battle against cancer, my mom died quietly one afternoon in early July. In a box of stuff she set aside for my brother and I to receive, I found the Christmas canister, and at last it made me cry in the way it did her all those years ago.

Mike Fleming is a sap, and don’t let any of his refutations to the contrary tell you otherwise. [email protected]

A version of this article originally ran in Q magazine. Read the full issue below.



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