A Lost Christmas in the Magic Garden

Maybe that's why we hold onto the Magic Garden so ferociously -- not to wax nostalgic about the magic of childhood, but tothe magic of childhood with us through adulthood.
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I don't make a habit of being connected to social media during the holidays, but there is something lovely about seeing friends from all over the country -- and world -- wishing one another "Happy Thanksgiving," "Happy Hanukkah" or, this past week, "Merry Christmas" in joyful unison. At its best, social media serves as the vast community that the Internet once sought to create so many years ago. So, on Christmas night, I casually glanced at Facebook expecting to see my newsfeed filled with warm holiday wishes from across the globe. But, there was bigger news that evening. More than half of the posts involved a nostalgic holiday wish that tied a perfect red bow on Christmas for 30-45 year-olds: the Magic Garden was back on the air on WPIX in New York.

For those of us lucky enough to be children in the New York City area between 1972-1984, we often spent our afternoons transported to the colorful world of the Magic Garden -- a fictional land of innocence, music, storytelling and laughter with Carole, Paula, Sherlock, Flapper, giggling flowers in the Chuckle Patch, mushroom stools, a story box, and a magical tree that grew lollipops and delivered presents. At its core, the Magic Garden was a children's show created by best friends, Carole Demas and Paula Janis, former New York City schoolteachers with backgrounds in childhood education, music, and theater. It was the perfect recipe for an early 1970s quirky, vibrant, post-psychedelic children's television show. But the cult-like following that the Magic Garden has garnered -- and maintained -- over 40 years after it first aired is what has made the show a timeless cultural institution.

More than any other television show from my childhood, the Magic Garden has appeared in my adult life in the most unexpected and surprisingly endearing ways. On Thanksgiving 2002, my then-90-year-old grandma called to tell me that there was a Magic Garden special on television; neither she nor I had seen the show in 18 years, but we had watched it together when I was barely in kindergarten, and 18 years later, it was time to hum along to the songs again over the phone. Once I began working in the corporate world, one of my colleagues at a major telecommunications company and I spent an entire business meeting discussing our memories of the Magic Garden. In 2008, when my boss at the time was leaving her job (incidentally, to go run an early childhood education non-profit organization), she left a beautiful departure note on my desk, which culminated with the lyrics to "See Ya," the final farewell song on the Magic Garden.

I've often thought about what has contributed to this enduring quality of the Magic Garden -- what it is that still engages so many adults in this public access show from our childhood. Sure, it's nostalgia, but nostalgia is often just a flash embrace of our past. Passion for the Magic Garden runs deeper than that. Finding a fellow Magic Garden viewer is like meeting someone who shares in your favorite book; there's an immediate recognition that you've encountered a kindred spirit and, on some level, you simply understand each other.

It was only when my mom and I went to see Carole and Paula play a live concert in Westchester, New York five years ago, that I could understand the reasons why this show has lived on so indefinitely. The theater was filled with adults -- some with their children -- but most were groups of women and men in their 30s and 40s with their mothers, fathers or friends. And, on stage, were Carole and Paula, chuckling with each other, sitting on their mushroom stools against the backdrop of the Magic Garden set, playing their guitars and singing their same songs -- and we all sang along. As much as it was revisiting the Magic Garden, it was also a highly entertaining two hours of music and storytelling.

So, maybe I was wrong. Maybe at its core, the Magic Garden wasn't pointedly a children's show. After all, you never even saw children on it -- there were no explicit lessons being taught, as there were on other shows. Life lessons were always imparted subtly in jokes from the Chuckle Patch or from mysterious packages left by the magic tree. Maybe the Magic Garden was really just two friends having a great time, making each other laugh, playing music, and enjoying the simple joys of life that too often get obscured as we get older. Maybe that's why we hold onto the Magic Garden so ferociously -- not to wax nostalgic about the magic of childhood, but to keep the magic of childhood with us through adulthood.

And what better time to embrace the magic and joys of childhood than Christmas night? Facebook was buzzing with posts: word had gotten out that a "lost" Magic Garden Christmas Special had been unearthed in a forgotten basement vault at one of the WPIX buildings in Manhattan. The reel was preserved surprisingly well and in the holiday spirit of WPIX's Yule Log tradition, the network was rebroadcasting the Magic Garden special for only the second time in history (the first being in 1981, when a football game running into overtime nearly knocked it off the evening schedule altogether). Posts on my newsfeed read:

"Guys! Stop whatever it is you're doing and turn on WPIX. Lost Magic Garden Christmas Special is on."

"Just got home from the family gathering and turned on WPIX (Ch. 11) only to find the tail end of The Lost Magic Garden Christmas Special. Happy Holidays!"

"Rumor has it there is an airing of the Lost Magic Garden Christmas Special on tonight on WPIX in New York. Merry Carole and Paula Christmas to all!"

I was celebrating Christmas in Dallas and had moved away from the New York tri-state area nearly two years earlier, leaving me without much local New York City news. By the time I had read these posts, the broadcast and live stream was over. Except for a Youtube clip here and there, I missed the special, along with too many other fans across the country. My family took the opportunity to have our own general screening and introduced my two-year-old niece to the Magic Garden on Youtube. Just as I did nearly 30 years ago, she sat gazing at the screen as the opening song began and a pair of extra large windows opened and welcomed her into a "magical garden of make believe."

Since the "lost" special was aired, I've heard whispering that WPIX may be open to rebroadcasting the Magic Garden. If this is true, or even under consideration, I can only hope that there is a programming executive sitting in his or her office who recognizes that three -- possibly four -- generations of viewers will tune into these reruns and will introduce our daughters, sons, granddaughters, grandsons, nieces and nephews to the Magic Garden family. And, to Carole and Paula, wherever you are: thank you for the magic, the laughter, the songs and the friendship -- I hope we get to see you again.

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