Belfast Telegraph

My most magical Christmas memory

By Frances Burscough

The season of gifts is upon us and as I was wrapping mine this week I took some time to reflect on what makes the perfect present and why. It also allowed me to indulge in one of my favourite year-round pastimes, which as you know by now is reflecting on lessons I’ve learnt from the distant past.

It was in the good old days when Christmas was still as magical as any fairytale. I passionately believed in Father Christmas, the elves, the reindeer and a flying jingling sleigh that defied the laws of gravity and common sense, but then I was only about five or six at the time. Although that was 45 years ago I will never forget one particular present that was waiting for me under the tree. It was a giant book called the Pop-up Wizard of Oz and, still to this day, it was the most incredible book I’ve ever seen. (with the sole exception of the Book of Kells)

As you opened the first page it was just like a normal story book, with text to the left and pictures to the right, telling the story of a day in the life of Dorothy, her dog Toto, Aunt Em and their farm in Kansas. In the background a dark storm could be seen brewing ominously on the horizon. The illustrations were absolutely beautiful, but a huge surprise was waiting as I turned the first page. What had been lying flat suddenly popped up from nowhere into a dynamic, three dimensional scene. A twisty tornado intricately crafted out of card and wire spiralled and quivered from the centefold about ten inches high, with the cut-out farm house suspended in the middle, while a cow, a car and an uprooted tree dangled on threads from its periphery.

I’d never seen anything so clever or exciting before and I actually gasped in sheer amazement, like I was seeing something genuinely magic happening before my eyes. As I turned each page, the story unfolded – literally- in front of me. Characters and scenes rose up from the book in incredible intricate detail. There was a little cardboard tag that said “pull here” and when you did the Munchkins popped up from behind a flowerbed.  Then the cowardly lion, the tin man and the scarecrow arose from the pages to become real characters in the story as they followed the cardboard yellow brick road lined with printed paper poppies.

But the absolute piece de resistance was of course the Emerald City which was quite breathtaking to behold. What must have been about twenty layers of card lifted majestically and architecturally out of the book to form an amazing cityscape complete with turrets, towers, domes, doorways, columns and courtyards. Everything was coloured emerald green and here were even sparkly emerald-coloured gem stones inlaid into the buildings, doors that opened and closed and tiny windows you could look through made from green cellophane.

Yes, that was by far the most fantastic book I’ve ever owned. But what made it all the more special – in retrospect – is that I found out later that it was dad who had chosen it and dad rarely did any shopping of any sort. When mum eventually spilled the beans about “where Christmas presents come from”, I learnt that dad had spotted it in the window of a bookshop during a trip to London. The Wizard of Oz was his favourite film at the time (it still is, for that matter!) and he had spent the whole 3 hour return journey on the train reading it and marvelling at the craftsmanship. Mum said that it was probably a wrench to give it away, but he had chosen me out of eight children, which made it all the more special.

Sadly, it eventually fell apart from years of use and ended up being unceremoniously tossed into a bin with torn bits and pieces missing and wires and threads all hanging out from the broken spine. But it is and always will remain perfect in my memory and every time I think about it, I’m reminded of how thoughtful my parents were and how exciting the season of Christmas can be. Not just for a child on the receiving end of gifts, but as a parent too, creating so many magical memories that will last long into another generation’s lifetime.

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