In elementary school, I dragged my parents to my Christmas concerts at school. My class performed an annual holiday concert and I sang "Jingle Bell Rock", "Have A Holly Jolly Christmas" and other numbers.
Every year, I begged my parents for a Christmas tree. Instead, my mom redeemed us by decorating our fake palm tree with Christmas lights. It was no real Christmas tree. At least she tried...
I even put out cookies for Santa hoping that he'd come to my house. I truly believed in the "Miracle on 34th Street". I went as far as dialing a 976 Santa North Pole dial a message hotline ten times a day. I left many messages with my gift wish list. Like this one:
"Hello Santa, can you please get me a Cabbage Patch doll and a stroller?"
Repeat this message 10x a day with some toy variation from a commercial I had seen earlier.
I never did receive my cabbage patch doll, stroller and all of the other toys from my wish list.
Unbeknownst to me, I was getting charged a hefty price tag for each call. By the end of the month, my parents got a $800 bill from the phone company. So many parents were slapped with the same bill that the phone company had no choice but to waive the charges.
"Santa" was naughty to so many of us. We all got duped.
But what I really wanted was a full blown Christmas experience, from going to church to celebrating evening Christmas mass to singing "Silent Night" to opening gifts around the tree.
One Christmas Eve, God answered my prayers. On that day, my poor sister had a terrible accident where she fell off the swings and broke several teeth. I never wished it on her, it just happened. She had to be rushed to the emergency room and I needed an emergency caretaker.
My Filipino Catholic neighbors- Bob, Flora and their two sons, Arti and Jamshed, were getting ready to head out for Christmas Eve mass. I knocked on their door and I became their adopted brown Muslim daughter for the night.
I sat with Bob and Flora on the pews in a massive dimly lit church. It was my first time being in a church and I was awestruck by the life size Jesus on the cross and the vastness of the room. I happily sang "Silent Night" and other Christmas carols with the other worshipers. I felt like I was in a Christmas movie special.
Bob and Flora were repeatedly asked questions about me like- "who was I, what was I doing there?" I stuck out like a sore thumb in the crowd. They rehashed the story to their friends.
We left mass and I went to Bob and Flora's house to continue the Christmas festivities. I was relieved that my parents and little sister weren't back from the ER yet.
At the house, I sat with the others around a real Christmas tree, ate Filipino food, sang songs and exchanged gifts. I even scored a Polly Pocket toy. One item off my Christmas wish list. I was the happiest kid in the room. Bob and Flora did better than the 976 hotline Santa.
I still remember that day like it was yesterday. My gracious neighbors made me feel so welcome and included. They answered my never ending questions throughout the night. I truly felt like I was a part of their family.
That night my wish was granted and I got my full Christmas experience. But on that unforgettable night, I got even more. I learned the meaning behind "Love thy neighbor as love thyself". I felt the spirit of Christmas.
Thank you Flora and Bob for teaching this Muslim girl the real essence of Christmas.
And to all you, I wish you a happy and peaceful holiday season.