I think I had just entered the first grade when this boy I didn’t know came up to me nearing the end of recess; “you know there’s no Santa Claus” he proclaimed. How could he say such a thing? Of course I didn’t believe him. Then, tauntingly, he told me parents buy all those gifts for their kids. Laughing at my stunned face, making fun of my clear disappointment, I felt betrayed by him, mostly, for stealing the enchantment. I remember thinking couldn’t he have waited a few years??? I wanted to hold on to the magic.
My parents each had rich family cultural traditions and sharing them during the Christmas holidays took much effort on their part. I, appreciating all the coordinating now as an adult, more than ever.
Every year my sister and I had three Christmas traditions to enjoy. Christmas Eve with my Dad’s Mexican side of the family. Homemade tamales, and, the best part, staying up late past our bedtime. After all, Saint Nick had to bless the gifts first before we could open them. To this day, no presents are opened until after mid-night on December 24th, after the Blessing of course.
Before all us sleepy kids were allowed to open gifts, it was a festive party. Sometimes we’d even roll up the carpet and dance on the hard wood floor. Around 1960, the year the Twist became the rage, we were all learning it and doing this new dance craze. I had to Twist the best, hardest & fastest. I hadn’t realized I had gotten out of control until my Aunt Queta said “look! you can’t even see Karen’s face”. Then as we settled down to watch each gift revealed, the anticipation at it’s height, my Father would insists my sister & I sing Silent Night for my Grandma Frances, her favorite Christmas carol. Now, a tender memory.
Christmas morning was just our family of four, in our jammies, and our dog or dogs. The best, or most anticipated gifts were reserved just for our morning family tradition.
My Mother’s Italian side of the family would gather Christmas afternoon where along with the holiday turkey, ham and side dishes, the meal included the mandatory pasta dish, usually lasagna. With six siblings, this gathering was much bigger, louder, and on occasion a verbal fight would ensue, where our Grandma Ann would cry. At the time I didn’t understand. However, now, with the wisdom of motherhood, I understand just wanting for your children, and their spouses, to just value one another, and get along. Treasure the short time we have together. After our elaborate dinner, always served on the Asian themed green bamboo leaves with gold edged china my Father had shipped to my Mother from Korea when he was in the service, there would be card playing and adult conversation. Once the meal finished with desert, us cousins were free to move from the kids table and join in a hand of poker and the latest family gossip.
I can’t be certain, but it must have been that same year that mean boy came up to me on the playground. We were at my Aunt Christina’s house and my father had been drinking. Which at that time was typical. It happened in slow motion, right at my eye level, seeing my Mother trying to put the bell in my Father’s fumbling hand, not stealth in receiving it at all. Both giggling, she trying to get him to behave, and cueing him “it’s time”. I then remember waiting in line as each of us kids were brought to the window by our aunties, one by one, as I had every Christmas Eve before, waiting eagerly to talk to Santa; This time clearly recognizing my Father’s voice. I continued for many years after that playing along, never letting on, keeping the tradition for my younger sister, and cousins, as well as my parents, aunts and uncles, and especially my Grandma Francis. Appreciating the treasure that it was my Dad, our Father, and my cousin’s uncle, who was our special Santa.
Turns out my cousin Denise has kept that bell all these 60 years.