First, I want to say “Happy Holidays!” to all of you! Hope you have a wonderful Christmas, New Year and a great 2015!
Now, I would like to tell you the story of my first Christmas. When I was preparing to post this story, I could still feel all the emotions I had gone through at that night. It was a magical night that I would never forget.
* * *
Christmas came to me unexpectedly in 1962, when I was 11.
My family was poor. We seldom went any place. Biking was my favorite activity. On December 24, I left home after lunch. Like any other day, I didn’t have a destination, simply following the traffic lights: red light meant turn to the right, green light meant go straight ahead. Thirty minutes later I was getting tired and decided to turn around. That was when I saw my classmate Lin’s house. I had never visited her before, but I stopped at her house that afternoon as if an unseen force beckoned me.
Lin’s father was a medical doctor. They lived in a beautiful two-story building. When Lin saw me, she froze for a moment. “What brings you here?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. I felt a little embarrassed. Quickly, I added, “I won’t stay long.”
She had a big smile on her face. “Can you come to the church with me tonight? My whole family is going, and I want you to be my guest.”
“I’m not sure. I’ve never been to a church before.”
“Nothing to worry about. We’re having a Christmas program tonight. Just come. It will be fine,” she assured me.
I leaned forward whispering, “What is Christmas?”
“The birth of Jesus Christ.” She looked at me, frowning. “Don’t you know?”
“Oh.” I decided not to ask another question. “Sure I’ll come.”
“Come back at seven.”
* * *
After dinner, I went back to Lin’s house, wearing my hand-me-down coat. Lin wore a red sweater over a white shirt with a pair of gray wool pants. She looked pretty.
When we arrived at the church, I learned that Lin was a member of the youth choir group and her group was going to perform Christmas songs that night. While I was busy watching some girls fixing their hair, Lin went to talk to the minister. I saw him nodding his head. When they were done talking, Lin introduced me to Mr. Chu.
“Would you like to sing with the choir?” he asked.
“I can’t. I don’t know any of these songs.” I wanted so much to join them. I was disappointed that I couldn’t.
“That’s okay. You can still be part of the group.” He smiled.
Ten minutes later, I stood on the stage next to Lin, shaking hands holding the music notes. I tried to sing by listening carefully on the sounds coming out of Lin’s mouth, and at the same time swinging my body side to side like the rest of group. At the end of the performance, choir members held hands. I extended mine too. I was one of them. I felt a deep sense of belonging.
Afterwards, we crammed into a small room behind the stage, excitedly talking and laughing. A lady who worked for Mr. Chu started handing out individual bags of candy to everyone in the choir. When she reached me, her hands were empty.
She turned to the minister. “We’re short one bag of candy. I don’t know what happened.” She turned to me and said, “I am sorry, dear.”
“That’s okay. I’m not a member,” I said quietly.
“Sure we have enough,” the minister said. He hurriedly grabbed an empty bag and asked each member drop some candies into the bag. Lin put a handful of her candies into it. One boy nearly emptied his.
“Merry Christmas.” Mr. Chu put the bag into my cold hands and insisted that I keep it.
I accepted the gift, the very first gift I had ever received from anyone other than my parents. After thanking them, I hurried home. I’d never been able to give my mother a gift, and was eager to give her this bag of candy.
In the dark, I pedaled the rusted bike hard.