I was almost 6 when I had one of my most delightful Christmas memories. My parents had recently emigrated from Korea with 3 children under the age of 3. We lived in a small one bedroom apartment in Olney, right next to the Fern Rock train station, a little north of Center City Philadelphia.
Although they were both college educated, with degrees from the most prestigious university in Seoul, it was still a struggle for them as young 20 something year olds with a bunch of kids, no jobs, and barely any English language skills! At the time, my father was still a student of sorts as a classical clarinetist. He took odd jobs and freelanced here and there while my mom stayed home and took care of us. They somehow made ends meet without public assistance. We never went hungry and always had memorable birthdays and Christmases even if they weren’t the fanciest.
We had a small plastic tree with a few ornaments and pretty colored lights that year. I already had doubts about Santa being “real”, so when we woke that morning to open our presents, I was intrigued by envelopes on the tree with our names on them. I didn’t recognize the handwriting. I asked my dad excitedly, “What are these?” He replied, “I don’t know! Open it!” I remember being so enthralled with the mystery.
Inside was a five dollar bill. There was a short note scribbled with Christmas greetings but not signed by anyone.
I kept grilling my dad mostly. “Who is this from?!” “Is this from you?” “Who could’ve left this for us?”
My dad had this funny, quiet smile which he still gets at times and said, “Maybe it was Santa!” It was years before he finally fessed up and told me it was one of his close friends, an oboeist, who would visit us on occasion. I know, I can never let shit go. I have that awful Sherlock Holmes disorder where I just cannot leave unsolved mysteries alone, much to the dismay of my future boyfriends and husbands. Hahaha.
It was no coincidence that around this age, my dad would share with me the story of Thomas, you know the doubting dude from the Bible. He’d end with, “You just have to believe!” Oftentimes, it was followed by the faith of the mustard seed moving mountains tale. I guess I was always a skeptic.
I’ve struggled most of my life to believe in things I couldn’t see and touch. I always craved concrete explanations with no loose ends and no mystery left. I am a master at leaving no stone unturned. It’s a miracle I didn’t end up becoming an investigator or prosecutor…again, much to the dismay of the men who’ve been trapped by my charms over the years. Because honestly, they were never allowed to make mistakes. If they fucked up even a tiny bit, there was hell to pay. All those relationship disappointments I experienced were directly linked with my outrageous expectations of Santa/God-like men. My hurtful message was clear, “Sorry, you’ve failed. You’re not good enough. Next, please.”
But honestly, I desperately wanted Santa to be real. Not only when I was a young girl, but also as I began searching for my life partner, my soulmate. I wanted to believe in something imaginary and greater than human. I was heartbroken when it seemed no one could live up to that. I took it as me not being worthy of the ideal love I sought. I had this nagging feeling that I just didn’t deserve to be loved.
It really wasn’t until I had to start playing Santa to my own children that I began to understand the horrible pressure that I’d been subjecting myself to my entire life practically, you know, that ill feeling of never being able to live up to your own impossibly high standards (or those of my parents), of never being enough! Most people meet my children and comment how lovely and smart and well behaved they are, and yet, I still feel like I’m a horrible mom.
I have kept playing the same game over and over, year after year. Unable to accept and believe that I was/am enough, that my parents were enough, that my lovers were enough and sometimes that even my children were enough!
But I’m done with that.
I’ve come to this conclusion, just now, just this Christmas Eve morning: Santa is not real! LOL. No, seriously! All this time I’ve believed in some super human, imaginary being who will come along and save us from our woes with shiny presents and super cool gadgets and promises of everlasting love or even redemption from our sins by getting nailed to a cross! WTF, that sounds horrible, Jesus. I mean, that’s an awesome gesture and all but…*no offense to my Christian friends…I am a recovering Catholic and have a ways to go with that*
Well, it turns out I’ve been waiting for someone who will tell me I’m enough just as I am, someone who will love and accept me just as I am. Don’t we all? But then light bulb moment, “Um duh, that person is you.” Trite but true, gotta love yourself first before you can love others and be loved.
Santa may not be real, and some argue that Jesus may not be real either, but what I know for sure is real is who we are and what we are capable of, just by BEING and believing. There is nothing more precious than our best efforts. I must believe that we are all doing our best under the circumstances. When we see others around us faltering, castigating and blaming them is not the answer. We forgive ourselves and our “trespassers”. We show ourselves love by picking them up and showing them love. That, to me, is the true Christmas spirit. Tap into your inner Jesus, your inner Santa, your inner God, whatever you call Him/Her. May the holiday spirit be with you always!
And when all else fails, there’s always cookies!