Finding the Magic in Christmas Again

Christmas is supposed to be magical. When I was young, I spent hours dreaming about the wonderful gifts waiting for me under the tree on Christmas morning.

My wish list was long, and my hopes were high. I even convinced myself that an old man with a big, fat belly flew around the whole world in one night to give every good little boy and girl a present.

I couldn’t sleep the night before, and I was giddy with anticipation for the morning to come!

Somehow as I got older the magic in life slowly disappeared. I become so busy with “adulting” that I didn’t have the time or energy to feel the magic.

Magic to me was finding extra money to pay the bills.

When I had kids, I couldn’t wait to bring some magic back into my life! Then autism entered the picture, and my daughter, Lizzie, had no ability to understand all the things I loved about Christmas.

In fact, she flat-out refused to participate in every tradition that brought me joy.

She ate the Christmas cookies, but wouldn’t participate in the fun of preparing them.

We would share the story of Santa, but she still considered him a stranger. She played with his fuzzy white gloves instead of telling him what gifts she wanted to receive.

We read the Bible and explained how the birth of Jesus had changed our world.  I looked into her eyes, but there was no understanding.

On Christmas Eve, we all dressed up in our finest clothes for church. I hoped for a keepsake Christmas picture of my family, but she refused to look at or smile for the camera.

In our living room, we hung our stockings, left cookies and milk out for Santa, and carrots out for the reindeer. She preferred to play in her room all alone

When Christmas morning came, my boys went crazy with excitement!

They jumped on my bed to wake me, ripped opened the packages before the sun came up, and squealed with delight as they saw each of their new toys.

Sadly, my daughter’s toys were still sitting under the tree untouched, unwrapped, and uncared for.  I pulled her close and opened her presents for her, but she wouldn’t play with any of them.

I couldn’t do Christmas that way again. I couldn’t sit on the sidelines another year watching my children, pretending to be joyful, all the while my heart was breaking inside because I couldn’t share the season with my daughter.

There had to be another way.

I decided to take all the things Lizzie did enjoy and incorporate them into our “new and improved” Christmas!

If she couldn’t enjoy what we were doing, then we would enjoy what she was doing! Sure, I kept the old traditions for my boys, but we added in new ones too.

Instead of singing Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, we sang the theme song from the Dora the Explorer TV show. Her eyes lit up as the whole family joined in and showed excitement for her favorite song!

We decided to take a Christmas zoo trip.

As her favorite panther paced back and forth and back and forth, she squealed with delight as she pretended he was coming to get her!  Those squeals sounded familiar, and I was starting to feel the magic of this new kind of Christmas.

We visited a real live manger scene. She pet the animals and felt the straw on the ground.

We bought a hands-on set for her to bring home. She acted out the story of Jesus’s birth as we shared the real reason for the season.

She was only interested in a few toys. Predictability and sameness were comforting to her.

We began “operation opening presents.” We took her favorite toys, wrapped them up and then opened them right in front of her so she could understand that there was something wonderful inside.

We found that opening boxes was too confusing for her, so we threw out the boxes and put the wrapping paper directly around her toys.

She could now see their shape and get excited because she knew what she was opening before she opened it.

On Christmas day, we didn’t buy her anything new. Instead, we wrapped those same favorite toys, and when she opened her favorite musical octopus, she smiled happily and danced with him for hours!

I realized that the real joy in Christmas was not in the actual traditions, but in sharing any type of activities with my family during the season.

It didn’t matter that our Christmas didn’t mirror the Christmas of my youth.

The smile on my daughter’s face and the excitement for the things she loved was the true magic of the season.

Written by, Julie Hornok

Julie Hornok loves to write and speak about the real stuff of autism. Her first book, United in Autism: Finding Strength Inside the Spectrum (foreword written by Temple Grandin) was released in October 2018. When she is not driving her three kids in circles around town, she enjoys planning free pampering events for autism moms and doing video interviews with autism parents and professionals from around the world on her Facebook page. Connect with her at, Facebook @unitedinautism, Instagram @unitedinautism, and Twitter @unitedinautism.

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Finding Cooper’s Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you’re never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village….all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to our journey. You can also follow us on Facebook and subscribe to our newsletter.

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  • Josephine Curry

    December 21, 2018 at 4:42 am

    I love this! Good for you!

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Finding Cooper's Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you're never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village....all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to my page!


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