45: Christmas Coals

45: Christmas Coals

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Christmas Coals

The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.

~Jon Kabat-Zinn

Growing up in China, the Christmas holiday seemed to me to be less meaningful than the extravagance of our Chinese New Year celebrations. I was only six when our family of five emigrated to Canada and my whole perception of Christmas changed.

Sitting in the back seat of our minivan with my two brothers I would stare out the windows to peer at the beautiful Christmas lights that adorned most of the houses in our neighbourhood. Occasionally I would catch a glimpse of a lighted Christmas tree dressed in lace and baubles, standing proudly in front of the windows we passed. I made my first gingerbread house at school, and smelled, for the first time in my life, the rich aromas of cinnamon and spice and gingerbread.

For our first Christmas Eve in Canada our family sat around the formal dining room table. We understood this Canadian tradition to be reserved only for the most special of occasions. While we ate, we admired the snow that fell silently outside our window and gathered thick and white on the fence around our home. I experienced for the first time a warm and golden feeling of family-togetherness that was not quite like any other. I would have felt full even if I never took a bite of dinner. I knew too, from my teacher, that later that night Santa would come and bring presents for the children. My friends had told me about him, but admitted that no one had ever actually seen him in action on Christmas Eve.

That night, as I went to bed, I swore to myself that I would catch this “Santa” whom none of my friends had ever caught. I put out some cookies and some baby carrots, hoping that Santa, or at least his reindeer, would be hungry enough to stay and eat. I knew I was going to be successful, and I dreamed of the flash of surprise that would light up Santa’s face.

After what seemed like hours while I waited for the soft footsteps of my parents to recede to their bedroom, I crept out of my room, careful not to let the hinges of my door squeak. I sat in the hallway overlooking the fireplace and watched through the railing of the staircase, relishing the fact that I would be able to boast to everyone if I caught Santa. As I waited and waited my eyelids grew heavy and my eyes felt sore. I told myself I would only close them for a few seconds. But as soon as my eyes shut, I couldn’t open them. I fell asleep.

When I woke up the sun was already shining through the skylights and warming up my body. I sat up groggily, my back aching from sleeping on the hardwood floor. I was disappointed and very angry at myself for falling asleep. It was a once-in-a-year chance, and I had blown it.

But there — under the tree — was something glinting and shining in the morning light… presents! Could it be? Did Santa actually come? I stared for a moment, and with the traces of disappointment vanishing with each passing second, I charged down the stairs and crashed into the presents resting under the tree. It was true, my teacher was right! You did receive presents in Canada! The din of pots and pans coming from the kitchen became silent, and my parents walked out. Laughing and screaming I cried, “Santa has brought us presents!”

My brothers soon ran downstairs as well. They dove in, arguing about whose present was whose. Once they had torn open the wrapping paper on their new toys, they went into the kitchen with my parents.

But I had this odd feeling that something was missing. The cookies! That’s right! I quickly turned around and looked for the plate that held the snacks. Had Santa noticed them? Sure enough the plate was empty, except for a few crumbs. I grabbled the plate and raced toward the kitchen. And that’s when something rough and sharp jabbed into my foot.

I looked toward the fireplace to see what I had stepped on, and that’s when I saw them. Scattered on the floor were three little chunks of coal. I slowly picked one up and examined it. Had Santa perhaps hurried out in such a rush that he left behind a small mess? Without a second thought I raced into the kitchen, holding the coal above my head, screaming and yelling. My whole family then took turns examining the coal and theorizing how it had ended up on the floor outside the fireplace. But in my own mind I was too happy to argue with them. You see it didn’t matter to me just how Santa had kicked out the coals. I only knew that on my first Christmas in Canada Santa had left me the most special gift of all — three oddly shaped coals proving he had been there.

Nine years later, I still have them sitting on my shelf. There is a certain spirit woven into each one. They remind me that miracles exist, and that Santa never forgot how much I wanted to catch him that Christmas Eve. He was far too busy, so instead, he left an autograph for me in three lumps of coal on the floor. Every Christmas Eve since then I’ve left out a plate of cookies and baby carrots for Santa just to say thanks.

I’m always the first person to wake up in my house every Christmas morning, and the first to find the small brass doors of the fireplace slightly ajar.

~Encina Roh

Surrey, British Columbia

More stories from our partners