Finding Christmas

Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

I woke up at six that morning. My mom had left an hour earlier to work her two full-time jobs. It was a routine weekend; surrounding me was our ramshackle apartment decorated with sparse furniture, a Hindu temple in the corner, and a telephone I used to call my mom with when I was afraid. This day, however, was different. This was the day: Christmas.

My mom and I arrived in the United States as refugees from Nepal. We moved across the country until we finally found a home in Colorado. It was amidst the frigid air and festive decorations that Christmas became an enchanted time for me.

I didn’t know what Christmas entailed; I listened only to the parts I wanted to hear, and those parts were dominated by the word “presents.” While my elementary school peers brought homemade cuisine to lunch, wore luxurious light-up shoes, and engaged in an assortment of lavish activities, I led a life of free cafeteria meals, hand-me-downs, and the company of mundane apartment walls. To me, “presents” signified more than gifts. Santa’s presents offered me a way to leave my rigid, unstable home life behind for one day and finally feel like a carefree child.

Three months before celebrating my first real Christmas, I found a magnificent three foot tall, worn, plastic tree by our apartment trash bins. I carried it home, washed it off, and showed my skeptical mother. It was our tree, my tree. My incredibly unsanitary, bona fide Christmas miracle. On December 24th, 2004 I plugged in my Christmas tree, laid out dollar-store cookies, and went to sleep filled with anticipation.

6:00am, December 25th, 2004. I ran out of bed and raced to the tree. The cookies were still intact . . . maybe Santa was on a diet? I turned the corner and stared underneath my tree. Empty.

Confused, I looked around. As the tears gathered in my eyes, I called my mom.“Nanu?” she said.I broke down. Through sobs I explained the events of the morning. Silence ensued.“Mamu?”Her voice cracked. Speaking through tears, she explained what no seven-year-old wants to hear: Santa is not real. “Nanu, it’s different for us…”My mom started apologizing to me. Our conversation stretched beyond the nonexistence of Santa; it was an unspoken talk about the struggle we faced to simply survive, about all that we didn’t have, and never would. My mom’s voice radiated hurt, for she knew she could not give me my dreamed storybook childhood. I had no choice but to face the truth and learn to cope, for Santa did not exist.

That night, my mom came home with a cake decorated with a Santa figurine and frosted holiday decorations. It wasn’t my illusioned fantasy, but it was enough.

While my childhood lacked immediate gratification or childish magic, it was supplied with the notion that working hard would eventually payoff. My background is my backbone; it molded who I am today. I learned to find ways around barriers; I grew up knowing that wasting opportunities would render my struggles insignificant. I coped with my harsh surroundings by developing a sarcastic, humorous personality. I valued every moment I experienced. My successes arose from the failures I combat, for my failures have shaped my identity to adapt to any obstacle I may face in the future.

When I think of what lies ahead, I get the same butterflies I got when I thought about Christmas. My childhood was filled with uncertainty and disappointment, but it was also marked by resilience, hope, and an unequivocal excitement about the future. One day, I will create my own Christmas, and keep the idea of Santa alive for as long as I can. As I cross the threshold to adulthood, I know that while Santa may not exist, my real life North Pole is out there, waiting to be discovered.

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