I know this time of year means a lot of different things to different people. I think many might associate it with family, whether that’s in the form of gifts, cards, calls, or visiting in person, family is usually a strong element to the holidays. As much as I enjoy family, my favorite Christmases were the ones were I worked most of the day.
That sounds strange, right? Choosing work over presents, food and loved ones? Is it even weirder if I admit I wasn’t even paid for this work? Well, the experience more than made up for all of that! You see, for years I used to volunteer at a local aquarium that only closed to the public one day a year, and that was Christmas day. While preparing diets for seals, sea lions, sea otters, penguins and many other animals in the aquarium’s collection was as laborious as ever, what made it worthwhile was having an entire empty aquarium to enjoy in ways that couldn’t be experienced when it was full of guests. The penguins could waddle from exhibit to exhibit, staring at tropical fish they would never have seen from their own exhibit, sea otters were given brand new toys to play with, and volunteers could have their pictures taken with the sea lions (who would give them a little kiss if they’d been good that year!). I’ll always remember it as a magical experience, almost akin to visiting a sparkling theme park without any of the lines or crowds.
The one experience I know I will never forget was when the staff allowed the two arctic fox pups to run through the underwater sea lion tunnel. They chased each other back and forth, play-fighting over a single stickleback (a tiny fish about the size of a minnow, used to feed the puffins). They didn’t like the taste of the stickleback, so neither of them actually wanted to eat it, they each just wanted the “toy” for themselves, so they stole it back and forth, running up and down the sea lion tunnel. The sea lions, noticing the activity, joined in the fun, swimming alongside the pups and watching their skirmishes with interest. The most amazing moment came when one of the pups noticed the sea lions and stopped to stare through the window at them. The sea lion stared back, equally entranced by the strange creature staring in at him. It was simply magic, watching two species discover and acknowledge each other. I don’t know where else one finds that sort of experience and I feel privileged to have witnessed it.
I’ve since moved away from that aquarium and it’s been years since I’ve visited, but this time of year always has me thinking back to it, remembering those times and all the fun I had working on Christmas day. Everyone talks about “magic” this time of year and while some don’t believe in it, I do. There is magic everywhere if you’re looking for it. To all my wonderful readers, I hope some form of magic finds you and greets you this holiday season, giving you an experience that you remember for years to come.