By Shirley N Lew
When I was young, I lived in Chinatown, in a turn of the century walk-up tenement. I had no chimney for Santa Claus to climb down from which meant he’d have to possess Spider-Man like powers to climb onto the building and probably come through my window. It would not be an easy access for him, the poor soul,…if he was real. I didn’t even have a Christmas tree for him to put the gifts under. My family’s Chinatown apartment did not fit the criteria of those grand homes I saw in all those Christmas cartoons and holiday shows.
“How could this be Christmas?” I said to myself. I even watched Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer on a black and white television. His nose was dark gray!
I’m not here to spoil any child’s Christmas, but I never believed in Santa Claus. My immigrant parents did not celebrate it so Santa Claus held no special place in my heart. When I was a kid, I knew he was a sham.
When I was about 10 years old, I stayed awake on Christmas Eve at my aunt’s apartment. I wanted to prove that Santa Claus was a phony. After midnight, nothing happened just as I thought. With sleepy eyes, I knew Santa was not coming at all. A sham!
That’s how I remembered one of my many Christmas experiences as an ABC, American Born Chinese. Did you ever try to prove Santa Claus was not real either?
I can only recall two photos that I was in that had any hint of Christmas in it. I’m not sure if they are long gone or my mother still has them. Sad, but I guess it’s expected since we didn’t celebrate it.
Here are some other Asian American experiences during Christmas.
“I loved Christmas as a kid. My parents didn’t have a lot of money when we first came to this country. I remember my folks gave one plastic shaped candy cane filled with candy for me and my three siblings to share. My oldest brother would get the most because he’s was the strongest one. I’m grateful how my aunt was always generous. We’d look forward to her Holiday Life Saver packs for each of us. Probably the reason why we have such bad teeth when we were little.” – Fee M. grew up in Chinatown.
‘One year at Christmas time, I visited the fire department on Canal Street with my day care class. The firemen wore Santa hats and we got to slide down the poles at the fire station. We each received a box of Santa chocolates and a gift. Mine was a stuffed gray baby elephant. These days I think of it as festivities, beautiful decorations, parties, family, and love. I think of it as a holiday season for all to be happy and spend time together.” – Nori C. grew up in Chinatown.
“Since most of my friends were Chinese Buddhist, we didn’t know the real meaning of Christmas, which is the birth of Jesus Christ. Back then, it was an excuse to plan parties, invite our friends over and to make sure they brought along their gal pals so we could meet girls. I remember walking home from Seward Park High School and going through Ludlow and Hester streets and stores were lined with sales. So, that’s what I thought Christmas was all about, spend your money buying stuff for friends. Who cares if Santa isn’t real. ” – Yogi T. grew up in Chinatown.
“My parents didn’t know what Christmas meant except that it was celebrated by a lot of people and they just went along with it. I knew Christmas as a school break, presents and what I learned from holiday cartoons. We had a real Christmas tree every year because I don’t think plastic trees weren’t invented yet. I don’t remember having any special dinners, just our Chinese dinner and dumplings. We never even went away for Christmas because my parents owned a Chinese restaurant and it was opened most of the year.” – Jerry L. grew up in Chinatown.
“I never had an experience of sitting by a fireplace, drinking hot chocolate and waiting till midnight hoping that Santa would come down my chimney or better yet, through my fire escape. Although, growing up as an ABC (American Born Chinese) during Christmas was different. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I had presents to open on Christmas morning and a nice breakfast with my family, which was a blessing on its own. It was also typical that my immigrant parents would have to work on Christmas day. We now have a big family gatherings at night with a hot pot, a few drinks and open presents. I think one tradition that we all share growing up as an ABC or not, is that we value family and it’s a great time of the year to have everyone around to celebrate together.” – Raymond C. grew up in Brooklyn and Staten Island.
Are you an Asian American that celebrates Christmas, Kwanzaa or Hanukkah or a combination of holidays? Share your story with us.