• Kathy Chin Leong

Celebrating Christmas as an ABC

Updated: Apr 6


Growing up in San Francisco as a second generation Chinese American, I made sure we celebrated every holiday in the most traditional way as possible. As the eldest in the family, I wanted to make sure we blended in, and that the Chin clan would not face any shame when it came to honoring special dates on the calendar. Fortunately, my parents supported my ideas. At Easter, they let me throw a spring party where I hid Easter eggs in our backyard and sent my brother and little friends on an annual hunt. At Halloween, Dad spray painted my princess costume black so I go trick or treating as a little witch.

Now, at Christmas, Mom agreed to take my brother and I to San Francisco’s Emporium at Stonestown shopping center. Up in the higher floors, I recall we stood in a very long line to take pictures with Santa, The Man.

Funny thing though… I thought he was going to give us a boatload of gifts when we saw him. In my mind’s eye, there would be so many that my little arms would not be able to hold them all. Once we managed to shuffle to the head of the line and were instructed to step up to this larger-than-life figure, the lady elf helper hoisted my younger brother, Harvey, and I on his lap. Mr. Claus whispered to each of us, “What would you like for Christmas?”


My six-year-old self told him very clearly and succinctly that I required a Barbie. My brother probably requested an army man. Well, the guy didn’t come through. The next thing I knew, a flash bulb went off and Lady Elf had taken a photo of us. All of a sudden we popped off his lap. We were hurriedly told to go back to my mom who ushered us towards her. Both of us complied. No gifts were dispensed. Did the others in line know this? That the Great Santa, Supreme Giver of Presents, was a stingy fraud?

Taking the street car to return home, Harvey and I unwrapped the cellophane from our tiny candy canes that he had handed to us. We sucked them to their very deaths. We walked in the door and pretended like nothing had ever happened. And we never went to see Santa again.

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