My first Christmas was in the U.S.
I was a new immigrant and Christmas wasn’t a big holiday in Korea back them.
But, because I was in kindergarten, and my parents didn’t want me to feel left out — like when my classmates grilled me on why the Easter Bunny didn’t leave me a gift, and I had no idea what they were even talking about — my parents made sure that Santa left a present for me.
It was very exciting. As I pretended to sleep, my father went outside our apartment and rattled a few things to make it sound like Santa had landed. When I opened my gift, my parents told me it was a reindeer. I thought it was beautiful and couldn’t wait to show it off at school.
But when I showed my classmates, they said it wasn’t a reindeer. They said it was a horse. To prove that Santa had indeed left me a reindeer, I asked my teacher. And she agreed with them.
I remember my cheeks flushing red when the other kids laughed at me for not knowing the difference between a reindeer and a horse.
I suppose I could fault my parents for tricking me. But my guess is they did the best they could do at the time.
And, in retrospect, it seems hypocritical that the teacher couldn’t play along a bit. She had no problem going along with the charade that Santa Claus actually existed, but she couldn’t imagine that this toy might be an antler-less female reindeer. They’re not common, but they do exist.
By the time I was in first grade, I had already figured out that Santa Claus was a lie. As my friends talked about what they asked Santa for, I kept quiet, knowing without being told, that they, too, needed to figure it out for themselves.
My son is in first grade now. I had predicted a few years ago that he’d stop believing in Santa by now.
When he was 3, he pointed out that every Santa had a different face.
But he wants to believe, enough that he had an answer for all the multiple Santas.
“You know, this year’s Santa is the same as the one last year,” he said the other day. “But the ones I saw when I was a baby? They were older and must be dead now. So that’s why there’s always a new Santa. They die just like the rest of us.”
We have had a very low-key past seven days. Kyle came down with the flu, and then shared it with me. (It’s Daddy’s turn now.) He missed all his school parties and family get togethers. But he wanted to make sure that Santa was well taken care of when he stopped by later tonight. We baked thumbprint cookies and he set out a small bowl of M&M’s for Santa.
I have a soft spot in my heart for M&M’s.
When I was a new immigrant and couldn’t speak any English, I was “different.” Because I couldn’t communicate well, I had a difficult time making friends. Knowing that all children love sweets, my mother sent me off to school with bags of M&M’s to share with the children.
She told me later that she used to watch from a distance as I passed out the treats at recess, hoping somebody would play with me.
It must’ve broken her heart to see them accept the candy, but not me.
By the end of kindergarten, I was fluent in English and had made friends.
To this day, when I see a bag of M&M’s in Kyle’s Halloween basket or he picks it out at the store as a special treat, I have a difficult time turning him down. They remind me of a time when it was difficult being the new kid who couldn’t speak English, who had no idea what was going on and who desperately wanted to go back home to Seoul.
I hope that Santa enjoys his cookies and M&M’s.
And I hope that you all have a very happy holiday season.
Merry Christmas. 메리 크리스마스. Feliz Navidad.
© 2014 JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved
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