One December evening, 50 years ago, just three weeks before Christmas, my father told us that Santa would personally deliver a special gift to me on Christmas Eve.
I was then the youngest of the three siblings, just seven years old and my Papa’s pet.
I was surprised because my parents usually gave us gifts directly on Christmas Eve, all the while.
I told my Papa to ask Santa for a remote-controlled toy tanker. He said he would try but made no promises. I noticed that my brothers, standing before me, were giggling at each other for no apparent reason. Let them giggle! For me, getting a gift from Santa would really be the most stunning moment in my life.
When I went for church service on the Sunday, I asked the parish priest about Santa delivering gifts personally to children. He explained that Santa flew in in the wee hours of the day in a sledge pulled by reindeer and entered each house through the chimney. When I said that my house had a very narrow chimney, he kept quiet. He then whispered he would meet me later but was nowhere to be seen thereafter!
The last week of December arrived and final preparations were in full swing in every household. The Christmas spirit bathed the entire village in a jovial mood; there was a magical happiness everywhere.
The local church organised the annual carolling session and the group comprising 30 youths practised daily. They visited houses for three consecutive days.
On Christmas Eve, Santa danced into my house and waved at me. He wore white gloves and held both my hands firmly. A panicky me and Santa then danced in circles as villagers, carollers, my smiling brothers and parents sang along. After some time, he sat down to rest. My brothers served everyone with food and drinks.
I purposely stood beside Santa, waiting for the gift. He asked me what my name was and where I studied. My heart raced when Santa slowly stood up and put his hand into the sack – but he brought out only sweets!
I looked at my Mama, Papa and brothers in shock but they pretended not to see me. Tears welled up in my eyes. I angrily rushed into the room, threw myself onto the bed and cried in absolute disappointment.
Once the carollers had left, my Papa rushed in and lovingly carried me to the hall. I hugged him hard and said, in between sobs, that Santa was bad. I even accused Papa of lying to me.
He said we should wait. I quickly wiped off my tears and hugged him harder. My elder brother said that real Santas would normally visit children in the wee hours.
We then went for the Christmas Eve service. When we returned home, it was already 2am. I rushed into the house to see if Santa had left any presents for me. There was none.
My neighbours Edward, Jonas and David came over to show off the presents they got from their parents. They pestered me to show them the tanker I got. Hiding my embarrassment, I said a real Santa would only visit in the wee hours of the day, with gifts. My friends and I then sat in vigil but within 30 minutes, we were asleep.
My parents and brothers shook me out of the bed the following morning but I refused to wake up.
Then Dad pointed to the ceiling and whispered that Santa had visited me. Puzzled, I looked up. I could not believe my eyes. A big parcel, wrapped in shiny pink gift wrap, was hanging from the ceiling.
I jumped up and retrieved it at lightning speed. I excitedly tore the wrapper. And there it was: a huge, colourful, remote-controlled toy tanker with sweets and an angpow. My heart burst with happiness!
I screamed excitedly, “Tanker, tanker!” I smiled widely and thanked Santa and the Almighty. I would never forget, for the rest of my life, seeing tears in the eyes of my family members. They hugged and wished me “Merry X’mas”.
For the next few weeks, I showed off my gift at the playground, in church and at school. For the next seven years, I truly believed Santa delivered all the things I wished for exactly: A fishing rod, bicycle, remote-controlled toy military jeep, running shoes, track suit, haversack and racquet.
One day, when I was 14, my mother had a slip of the tongue: The presents were actually from my family members, secretly bought one week before Christmas and hidden in the storeroom.
Mama got a good tongue-lashing from an angry Papa that evening for spilling the beans. I wish Mama had not told me the truth at all.
I have made this practice of giving gifts a tradition in my own family for almost two decades now, since the birth of my first child, Tina. All our five children – Tina, Thad, Jude, Clod and Cathy – displayed their frustrations, anxieties and pure happiness in our full view, before and after they got their mystery presents. My wife and I truly enjoyed those moments.
They told us how they had heard Santa opening the door in the middle of the night, of deer dung on the roof, boot marks on the floor and even seeing Santa disappearing among the clouds after the delivery.
They are all grown up now and know the truth.
My wife and I have advised them to continue with the tradition when they have their own families.
Merry X’mas. Ho! Ho! Ho!