by Lily Fong Endlich

In our Chinese household in North Beach in San Francisco during the mid-fifties, Christmas didn’t have much meaning until we children learned to sing Christmas carols at school and heard the stories of Baby Jesus born in a manger under the Star of Bethlehem, the three wise men visiting him and bringing gifts.

At the same time we heard of this fat dude dressed in red and white called Santa, who rode through the night skies in his sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, the lead reindeer with a red nose bright enough to light the way. Santa parked on the roof and entered the house by dropping down through the chimney.

Well, we didn’t have a chimney. I didn’t know what a chimney was. Dad would bring home a roll of corrugated cardboard with red bricks printed on it and we would create a make-believe fireplace. We would put up a string or two of those lights that had bubbles ascending inside the slender glass tubes. When the room lights were turned off, the Christmas lights cast a magical glow.

I remember one Christmas morning waking up to find wrapped presents by our make-believe fireplace. Wow! Santa Claus really exists! There were three wrapped gifts – one for each of us kids. There were no gift tags, so we unwrapped them and figured out which toy was intended for each child.There was a plastic machine gun, a toy truck, and I don’t remember the third toy, but it was also a boy toy. They were all boy toys. I was so disappointed. I wanted a doll or a girl toy. Even though I didn’t like any of the toys, I didn’t want to give up my claim to one of them. So I settled for the truck. I didn’t play with it much, and eventually my brother absorbed it into his collection of toys. Many Christmases passed with no presents, but we would put up our fake fireplace and Christmas bubble lights.

When I was nine years old, on Christmas Eve there was a knock on our door. When we asked who it was, we heard, “Ho, ho, ho, it’s Santa.” This must be a joke. We asked again. We heard, “Ho, ho, ho, it’s Santa.”

By this time, mom had joined us by the door. Generally, we didn’t open the door to strangers, especially at night, but if it was really Santa, I prayed that Mom would open the door.

I don’t know what prompted Mom to do it, but she opened the door. There was Santa, dressed in red and white, with a pillow under his jacket for a belly. I could hardly believe it! My silent longings had been heard. Santa had read the letter I had sent to the North Pole after all and had not forgotten me.

The husband of Mrs. Jackson, the school secretary, was dressed as Santa.

“Ho, ho, ho,” he said, smiling at us.

There really is a Santa Claus.