I have a very special post today! The following is an article written by my mother, recounting the Christmases of our childhood. The article was written in Chinese, and I (polishing up my rusty Mandarin) slowly read it character by character. By the time I finished, I had a headache from concentrating so hard, but also a smile on my lips and a warm glow of nostalgia for those magical childhood moments.
My memories of my childhood Christmases have always been some of my most cherished memories. I had forgotten about a lot of these, and it was also fun to see it from my mom’s point of view too. So, I have translated it from Chinese, and am posting it here so I can always remember.
Two red stockings hung on the door. The year was 1993 and our family had just moved to Pennsylvania. Our twin daughters, Anna and Lena, were seven years old and were celebrating their first Christmas in the States. They were curious and excited.
Two weeks before Christmas, our friends, Huang & Shen, had given us two red stockings along with a few other little gifts, telling us, “Children in America get presents from Santa on Christmas morning. First, you give them the stockings and have them hang them up. Then you wait until Christmas Eve night and put these little gifts inside. When they see them on Christmas morning, they’ll be very happy.” We followed our friends’ instructions, hid the gifts, and waited until Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, after dinner, we told the girls to go to bed early, saying that if they’re good, maybe they’ll get gifts from Santa! After they’ve gone to sleep, I quietly filled the stockings and set out the other gifts. This was my first Christmas playing Santa too, and I was scared that one of them would suddenly wake up!
On Christmas morning, the girls woke up bright and early. They saw that the stockings had disappeared from their door and ran out to the living room. When they saw their stockings stuffed full, they were so ecstatic and cried out “Santa really came and brought us presents! So many presents!” The girls’ laughter filled the entire apartment.
[Anna says: I don’t remember all the gifts we got that first year, but I do remember Teddy. These days, he is worn and tattered, has had his face chewed off and sewn back on, and is more grey than white. But he’s my little stuffed travel companion and my most prized (and oldest) possession. :)]
One year passed in the blink of an eye. The second year, as soon as December arrived, the girls hung their stockings up on their own. They even wrote their names on it. After last year’s success, they couldn’t wait to get more presents from Santa.
One day, I walked into their room, and noticed something off about Lena’s stocking. I patted it, and felt something inside. Curious, I pulled it out. Out came a letter written to Santa, going something like this: “Dear Santa, Thank you for the presents last year. I liked them a lot! This year, I would like (xxxxx). Thank you very much!” Ah ha! So it was a wishlist! Luckily, it was all very simple things needed for school or daily use.
With wishlist on hand, this made my shopping easier. Everything on the list, I bought two, one for each girl. This plus some gifts from our friends Huang & Shen, and some given by other friends, it was an impressive pile. Like the previous year, I hid them all.
This year on Christmas Eve, I didn’t have to say anything. They went to bed super early on their own. The next morning, from the living room came the joyful screams of the two girls. Anna shouted, “Look! Santa came again!” Lena echoed, “He read my list. He knew what I want!” Husband and I quietly laughed. Who knew that this Santa bought kids so much joy! At the same time, I breathed a sigh of relief. What if I didn’t stumble across the wishlist? Would they have been a bit disappointed?
Their third Christmas in America was the most fun. After coming back from church on Christmas Eve, the girls were in no hurry to go to bed. Instead, they poured a glass of milk and set out a plate of cookies. I asked what’s going on? Turns out, they learned from school that they should prepare some milk and cookies for Santa, since he works so hard. The girls set them out on the table and even wrote a note to Santa: “Dear Santa, Thank you for the presents! Here are some milk and cookies. Please eat!”
After they finished the note, they went to their room but still wouldn’t go to sleep. I can hear them giggling, plotting to catch Santa in the act. I got so tired of waiting that I finally went to them, “If you don’t go to sleep, Santa will see the lights and go on to the next house. And then you won’t get any gifts.” Hearing this, they reluctantly went to sleep.
That night, I waited for a long, long time. After I was sure that they had really fallen asleep, I quickly stuffed their stockings with candy and chocolate. Then, I felt a little hungry, so I drank some milk and ate a couple of cookies. When I saw the note, I thought… what would Santa do? “Should we write back?” I asked my husband. Before he could reply, I snatched up a pen and messily wrote “Dear Anna and Lena, Thank you for the milk and cookies. I wish you a merry Christmas!” I figured that Santa has a lot of houses to go to, so he has to write quickly (mainly so they can’t recognize my handwriting!). Also, Santa didn’t eat all the cookies because a lot of houses prepare snacks for him.
The next morning, we were awoken by laughter from the living room. “Look! Santa came again, and he ate two cookies!” “He replied to our note too!” Almost the entire morning, they talked about Santa, imagining him eating cookies and writing a letter.
[Anna says: Actually, I remember thinking “Santa’s handwriting looks a lot like mom’s!”]
The girls were ten years old when they celebrated their fourth Christmas. Sometimes, the kids would talk about Santa at school, debating whether he really exists. Of course, the girls always were on the “yes” side, but they believed that Santa would only come if you hang a stocking (and if you’ve behaved well). This year passed like the previous years, they received a lot of presents and had a very happy Christmas.
After winter break, they returned to school, and came back home very angry. “Poor Judy! She didn’t get any presents for Christmas!” “It’s her mom’s fault! She only hung a stocking for her little brother and not for her.” (Judy was a Taiwanese girl from school.)
We already knew that Judy’s mother favored boys, spoiling her 6-year old brother rotten while ignoring her most of the time. For Christmas, she only bought one stocking for her son. Judy wanted gifts too, so all she could do was choose one of her longest white socks and hung it up next to her brother’s red stocking.
On Christmas morning, Judy woke up and excitedly ran to the stockings. But her sock remained empty while her little brother’s stocking was stuffed with all sorts of candies and goodies. She was extremely sad and disappointed.
The girls were furious at this unfair treatment. At the same time, they were even more convinced that you only receive gifts if you hang a red stocking. They felt so sad for Judy, and the next day, they took some of their own candies and chocolates to give to Judy.
[Anna says: Wahhh, poor Judy! I know we didn’t have much back then, and this makes me so appreciative that you tried so hard to make Christmas magical for us!!]
The fifth Christmas was not the same. This was the year we moved to California. The girls also started middle school.
The few weeks before Christmas, their school received many letters written to Santa from the elementary school kids. The teachers passed them out to the sixth grade students and had them reply to the letters on Santa’s behalf. In class, they would read aloud the letters and also read their replies.
The children’s letters to Santa were very varied. Some asked for gifts, some wrote out their feelings, and some shared their secrets. The replies from Santa were very funny too, making the entire classroom howl in laughter. But there was one letter that silenced everyone. The letter read (paraphrased): “Dear Santa, I don’t want any presents. My father left home and has been gone for a very long time. I miss him very much. I wish you could bring him back for Christmas.” None of the kids knew how to respond to this, so finally the teacher helped and replied, “No matter if your dad come home for Christmas or not, he loves you very much. Make some more friends and remember that everyone loves you!”
After this class, the girls all of a sudden grew up. This day, they themselves became Santa. From this day on, there would be no more presents from Santa.
That year, we celebrated Christmas in Las Vegas (Circus Circus). We watched a lot of performances, played a lot of games, and won a lot of stuffed animals. I know they were very happy, but there was also a bit of sadness for something lost, for they know that they will never again experience the joy of Santa’s visits.
[Anna says: In this world, there is nothing like a child’s innocence and the surprise and joy of finding that Santa has visited and brought presents. These were years when I believed with all my heart, and I know that I had a very, very happy childhood because of this!]
Now, twenty something years later, our daughters have grown up into independent women. But every Christmas, I still dust off those two red stockings and hang them up. We no longer fill them with goodies, but they will always carry many warm memories of happy times, and were witness to the joyous childhood of two little girls.
Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you have your own stockings to hang and to bring magical memories for years to come!