The saddest Christmas story in my family

When I was a kid I was pretty sensitive. That was before real life decided it was time to keep kicking me like it does everybody else. When we’re children we see the world through a rosy lens. There’s good and bad and we don’t think about the grey areas where most of our adult lives tend to reside. I’m not saying I’m a hardened cynic now but I’m certainly not as sensitive as I was when I was of single digit age.

When it came time for Christmas I knew that there would be presents. I knew that Santa Claus would bring most of them with a few provided by my parents. This was a belief I held onto until I was about 12 years old. I’m not sure what triggered the switch from believing in Santa to not believing. Maybe I just decided that the idea of a fat man flying through the air on a sleigh pulled by magical reindeer and squeezing down the chimney of every house in the world (excluding those who don’t celebrate Christmas of course) just didn’t make sense to me anymore. I do remember I found the electric guitar my parents bought for me one year as I was rummaging through their closet looking for presents, and when I got it on Christmas morning it said from Santa. But I feel like I would have figured it out by then.

But when I was between the age of 2 and 8 the idea that someone wouldn’t get gifts and a full stocking was completely foreign to me. Of course St. Nick brought presents to every boy and girl on Christmas morning (excluding those who don’t celebrate Christmas of course). I suppose the concept of families who couldn’t afford to buy presents was introduced to me, but how would that affect Santa? Did he not give them presents because they were less fortunate? Were they automatically on the naughty list? I never had answers to these questions, and it remains the biggest loophole in the Santa mythos. If 2 kids go to the same school and one of them has wealthy parents and receives an Xbox from Santa and the other has parents who are struggling and gets a significantly less expensive gift, like socks or something, what does that say about Santa? Does he prefer wealthy families? Are less wealthy children less deserving in his eyes? If we harbour the idea of Santa in children’s minds then we need to think of other kids besides our own. Let’s make big expensive gifts from us and the less expensive ones from Santa. Kids talk to each other and there’s no reason for a kid to feel even worse about himself at Christmas.

This brings me back to the saddest story in our family. As I said I was a very sensitive kid. Much like my son is today, he really is like me in every respect. As a such a sensitive and empathetic kid I got upset easily, even over things that didn’t affect me. So when my dad told his Christmas story from his youth I lost it. Like full on waterworks and bawling.

I may get some of the details wrong but the story goes like this. When my dad was growing up they really had next to nothing, they were poor. As such they had learned to never really expect much for Christmas. They were on of those families Santa didn’t give much to. But one Christmas, one Christmas they got lots. My grandfather (whom I never met and by all accounts was a bit of a deadbeat) tried to do something good for his kids. He went and bought gifts for everyone to open Christmas morning. My father received a wooden zoo or circus, something to that effect. He loved it. It was the biggest and coolest, and quite possibly only, toy he had ever gotten. He played with it whenever he could. It was the best Christmas in the Radu household.

That is until the debt collectors came. In my memory of the telling of this story it was on December 26, but I could either be mistaken or my dad taking poetic license with his own life for dramatic effect. He often says “I’m a storyteller” so the veracity of the details may be a little fuzzy. Needless to say the collectors came, and they took every single present the family had gotten that Christmas. They pried the zoo away from my dad and left him with nothing. The best day in the family had led to the worst. The good deed my grandfather had tried to do for the kids had turned him from hero to villain in the blink of an eye. It’s the thought that counts. Right? That doesn’t always hold true when the thought is being ripped from a child’s loving grasp.

As my father told me this story Christmas eve I wept. I didn’t cry because I thought this is what was going to happen to us (though I’m sure that was a distinct fear), I cried because it happened to him. I cried because if it happened to him it could happen to other kids, and probably does. My dad didn’t tell me this story because he wanted to upset me, he told it to share a moment from his childhood with me. The next day we opened presents, his story far from my mind as I played with my new toys. The debt collectors never came to take what I had gotten. I would never have a heart wrenching story like that to tell my kids. Thankfully. I have told my son the story, though he did not have the same reaction as I did.

But what this story taught me at a young age was be happy with whatever you have. It could be gone at any moment. I would rather my kids get smaller, less expensive gifts than something I can’t afford. Sometimes the best intentions can lead to worst consequences.

Do you have any Christmas stories to share? Let me know in the comments.

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