New York City had been made for Decembers. Go ahead. Name a city that feels as magical as the big apple on a dry Christmas afternoon, when the sun glinting off the windows of skyscrapers warms your cheeks but the cold air bites at your nose. Where the reflections of Christmas lights dance upon those same windows long after the sun has gone down and families are cozy in front of the fire in their twentieth-story loft. Where department store windows tease young children with displays of all their dream toys and then some. Where strangers yell Merry Christmas at each other across subway station platforms, and where for one month, it feels like everyone is in it together.
Okay, chances are there are hundreds of places in the world that feel just as magical as my home during the Christmas holidays, but to me, there has never been anything quite as special as New York after a fresh snow while carolers sing hymns and Salvation Army Santas ring bells.
I grew up here. I’ve lived and breathed twenty-seven New York Christmases, and today was the start of my twenty-eighth.
I stepped off the subway a block down from Bamford Office Towers. The platform buzzed with energy. A trio of musicians played an acoustic version of I’ll Be Home for Christmas. On my way past them, I dropped a five-dollar bill into their open guitar case, and the young man on the electric keyboard flashed me a white smile. With a spring in my step, I followed the crowd up the stairs to street level, where I emerged sucking in a breath of crisp cold air that smelled like concrete, pine trees, and the cold. The sky loomed heavy overhead with huge white clouds.
I grinned up at the sky.
Looks like it will be a snowy first of December, I thought.
A group of businessmen brushed past me with their chins tucked into their coats. I dashed after them, using their much larger frames as shields to get to the Bamford’s building. When I arrived, our doorman, Andrew, tipped his hat to me and pulled the giant glass door open.
“Good morning, Ms. Miller. May I be the first to wish you a Merry Christmas?”
“Good morning, Andrew. You’re the first every year. Merry Christmas.”
The lobby of the Bamford’s building had one of the most beautiful Christmas displays in the city, in my humble opinion. I was biased, of course. I was the one who’d designed it, right from the star-topped tips of the eight evergreen trees to the sparkling silver skirts around their bases. Fake gifts wrapped in traditional colors with sparkly bows caught the light of the crystal chandeliers overhead. My boss, Alastair Bamford, owned the office tower, but he rented out a dozen floors to other businesses. Our offices were on the very top floor with a beautiful view of Sixth Avenue below, and it wasn’t uncommon for pedestrians to stop, press their faces to the glass of the lobby, and peer at the winter wonderland inside.
“Happy December first, Ms. Miller!” Josh Davies, Bamford’s dayshift security guard, waved at me from behind the security desk as I made my way to the elevators.
“Good morning, Josh,” I chimed as I unwrapped my poinsettia-patterned scarf from around my neck. “Have you started your Christmas shopping?”
He gave me a bashful shrug and waved his hand. “I’ll get to it. I have all month.”
“That’s what you said last year,” I said as I punched the button to call the elevator. Josh’s desk was a mere ten feet away, and he stood up to lean on the desk and rest his whiskery chin in his hand. “And I seem to recall you begging yours truly for a Christmas favor when you missed the chance to buy your little girl that doll she wanted.”
Josh winked. “Ah, but I’ve learned my lesson.”
I arched an eyebrow. “Is that so?”
He nodded earnestly. “Yep, ask you for your help before Christmas Eve.”
I laughed as the elevator doors opened. I stepped on and held the door open to call to him, “You’re on your own this year, Josh! No handouts. I’m not a Christmas elf.”
He protested, but the doors closed with a chime, and the elevator carried me up to the top floor and spat me out into the lavish, open-concept office of Bamford Office Towers. I crammed my scarf in the pocket of my red peacoat and stepped off the elevator. My high-heeled ankle boots clicked across the marble floors of reception before the floors gave way to thin office carpet. Fellow coworkers looked up from their desks and wished me good morning while my team of event coordinators and decorators took up space on ladders all over the place, hanging icicle lights from the ceiling in neat rows. They were almost done, and the whole office ceiling glowed with magic.
It was exactly what I’d pictured in my head.
At my desk, I shed my coat and cardigan, leaving both draped over the back of my chair. I hadn’t settled for more than a minute and was still waiting for my computer to finish starting up when my closest friend in the office and the lead on my event team, Aleena, showed up with a piping-hot cup of coffee. She set it on the corner of my desk, sat down across from me, and leaned back in her chair with a contented sigh.
“How long have you been here?” I asked.
She nodded up at the icicle lights over our heads. Later this afternoon the team would be adding festive greenery to the overhead décor. “We started as soon as the cleaners were finished. So… three o’clock this morning?”
I winced. “Sorry, babe. I know it’s kind of a pain, but you get tomorrow off still, yeah?”
“Yep, and I intend to make the most of it. I’m going to take my sister out to a craft fair in the afternoon, and then I’m going to take her kid off her hands for the evening. She and her husband haven’t had a night to themselves in months. Can you imagine?”
“Aleena, I can’t imagine having a night to myself with a dude in general. Too busy.”
She chuckled. “Yes, but you haven’t seen my sister’s husband. He’s a stud. Like, top notch stud. You know, I’d wager he’s almost on the same level as Chadwick.”
“As in he’s a total player?” I asked dryly. My computer had finally powered on, so I signed in and immediately opened my email inbox.
Sixty-seven new messages.
“My sister’s husband is definitely not a player.” Aleena snickered. “He’s one of those guys who grew into his looks. He was such a dorky-looking guy when they first met. But now he’s filled out. Chadwick on the other hand? He’s always been hot.”
I looked around the office, searching for the owner’s son, Chadwick. “Will you lower your voice? The last thing we need is him overhearing us talking about him like this. His ego is already the size of Manhattan.”
“With a face and a body like his? I can’t blame him.”
I eyed her over the top of my computer. “You know, I was going to buy you a little something I saw in Macy’s store window for Christmas this year, but maybe I should just ask Chadwick to show up at your front door with a bow on his head.”
“I’d ruin him for all other women,” she said dreamily.
“Apparently he’s not the only one with an ego the size of Manhattan,” I mumbled as I half-scanned an email from one of my décor vendors who’d run out of gold tinsel. I’d need to get my hands on some later this week somewhere else.
Aleena sipped her coffee. “The only person here who should have an inflated ego right now is you. Everyone knows about your promotion, you know.”
“Who let it out of the bag?”
Aleena shrugged. “Beats me, but everyone is talking about it.”
I looked around the office. Nobody met my eye, and it didn’t feel like I was the subject of any rumors, but this was a professional office, and there was no telling what whispers were being muttered behind closed doors.
“Don’t sweat it,” Aleena said. “Nobody is saying anything bad. They all think you deserve it. You’re the hardest worker here, Tinsely. Well, aside from Alastair of course. But let’s be real, you work more hours than anyone else, and you rule the Christmas season with a candy cane fist.”
I arched an eyebrow. “That sounds rather tyrannical.”
Okay, maybe it was true. I had a reputation for being a bit of a Christmas freak in this office because my career started at Bamford’s at this time of year exactly ten years ago. I’d only been eighteen at the time, and I didn’t work in this glamorous office. I worked on the retail floor at the original Bamford’s store in Manhattan. I covered shifts between departments during the regular season, but that year the store had been short on salespeople, so I was brought on to work an overtime closing in the Christmas department.
The funny part?
I got locked in overnight because, me being me, I’d gone into Santa’s village with the bright idea of trying to make the scene more “authentic” by putting fake snow around the base of his sleigh and adding real toys that were for sale into it. When I realized my own work ethic had literally sabotaged me and got me locked in a giant department store completely by myself over night, I started to panic.
In the middle of a near-breakdown, I decided to do what I did best.
I made sure the whole store was organized to perfection and decorated the way I saw it in my mind’s eye. When the manager came in and opened the next day, she found me wrapping gifts behind the sales counter that had been ordered by customers who would come to pick them up that afternoon.
I’d been given a raise on the spot.
After that, I worked my way out of the retail sector, into the head office, and now I ran the events team at Bamford’s.
Was it my dream job?
Well yes. Yes, it was. Especially during Christmas time.
Aleena stood up and leaned over my computer to peer at my screen as I clicked open an email from one of my other leads on the event team. Attached to the email were pictures of the new Bamford’s in Times Square. The grand opening of the store was just days away, and I’d been spearheading the operation to get the store fully decorated for the holidays.
Aleena gasped when she saw the photos. “Oh my gosh, Tinsely, you’ve outdone yourself!”
I tried to hide my smile as I clicked through the photos. They were stunning and everything I’d hoped they’d be. Personally, I’d always believed that there was a fine line between too much and not enough when it came to Christmas. Everything had to be just right to capture that magical feeling that, for the young of heart, could suspend reality for the month of December. I loved magazine-worthy décor that catered to adults. However, Christmas wasn’t about that.
It was about magic, wonder, curiosity, generosity, and spirit. My décor strived to capture those feelings.
“You have to show these pictures to Alastair,” Aleena gushed. “This is definitely the right foot to start out on. Earn that salary, girl.”
One of the décor team members called Aleena’s name and she excused herself to go help. I told her I’d be right there before sighing dreamily and leaning back in my chair. The twinkling icicle lights over my head made me smile and I was filled with a rush of gratitude. There was nothing quite like the first day of December. A little knot of excitement slowly began to tighten in my belly that would be there all month long.
The days would be long and busy, and the nights would be snowy and cold, but I would be at peace embracing the cheer of the season.