A true Christmas story

I remember the day when I found out Santa was a fraud. It’s frightening that parents all over America, who are charged with the education and training of their offspring, agree to deceive their own flesh and blood so that they can bribe good behavior. They’re already physically bigger and can use brute force to get their way. Do they have to resort to psychological manipulation as well? But my Dad is a North Korean refugee, and he didn’t have a lifetime to learn how to deceive well.

When I was six, I wanted this contraption called the 150-in-One Electronics Kit for Christmas. Only Radio Shack sold it, and that alone should’ve warned me about the nerd I was becoming. It was a wooden box, and instead of a lid, it had a piece of cardboard with metal springs sticking out, each with its own number. Imagine a geeked-out panel that you might see Sulu handling on the Enterprise. All I had to do was fasten wires to metal springs in a preordained fashion, and voila ⎯ a bulb lit up. You could do anything with it: light up the number “7” on the LED screen, tune into static that’s supposed to resemble some radio station, have a buzzer sound irritatingly. I suppose if I wired it well enough, it could also solve world hunger and bring world peace. Yes, it was every six-year-old’s dream, every nerdy six-year-old’s dream, that is.

I had bugged my Dad to get me one of these for a month before Christmas. Or more accurately, barraged my Dad like mortar fire. It was really unfair. He really couldn’t have any idea what hit him. Every night, right before going to bed, I’d look up at him with round, swimming pool eyes and ask him:

“Have I been a good boy this year?”

“Of course you have.”

And then I’d turn mercenary. “Then, do you think Santa would get me the 150-in-One Electronics Kit?”

He’d give that reassuring smile given by parents when their children are acting less like offspring, and more like, say, illegitimate pirates with eye patches and wooden legs. It’s the smile to cover up any desire to take the plush down pillow and keep it over the child’s head. It says, “I can’t believe this one has my genetic code,” and then sends God Almighty a little curse.

“We’ll see,” Dad says, smiling.

After the month-long propaganda campaign was finally over, the polls were still undecided. I went to bed Christmas Eve without having the assurance that Santa, through my dad as proxy, would really get the message. I mean, something could’ve gone very wrong. After all, my father didn’t have a strong command of the language. What if the elves didn’t understand broken English? I tried to drift to sleep, but my mind kept wandering back to the possible need for UN Peacekeeping between my family and the large one that lived at the North Pole. But good children stayed in bed, so even with my heart pounding hard and my breathing a bit clipped, I stayed right under the covers.

When the Christmas morning had just the tiniest shade of gray, I leapt out of my bed, and raced to the tree. But I stopped suddenly, because there was a wrapped package on my desk. On my desk? That should have been the first tip off. Doesn’t Santa leave gifts under the tree? Perhaps he didn’t like our artificial one? Then I saw the note, written on a 8½” by 11” white piece of paper that was torn in half. Any elf would’ve been quite ashamed of himself: who wouldn’t use scissors for the perfect cut? Plus, the North Pole must’ve really lost its class by using plain copier paper instead of a Christmas card. This paper had the rough edges of a fold-and-tear deal, and the whole scheme stunk to high heaven.

But I kept reading, still wanting to believe that this precious gift came from the sleigh. So I read about how I’d been a good boy this year, and that I’d deserved this present. As I was reading the note, I wish I could tell you that it sent warm fuzzies all across my shoulders, but this was the hors-d’oevres, and I was ready for the main course. And as I was ready to tear into the package, I noticed something odd. The note was signed: “Senta.” That’s right: S-E-N-T-A.

The truth sank in, and slowly my mind put the pieces together. Dad wasn’t the proxy, he was the provider. Jolly Old Saint Nick had been my father all along. How did my Dad gain 100 pounds, grow a white beard, get enough make-up to look Norwegian, and then drive a sleigh pulled by twelve flying reindeers to deliver presents to all the good children in the world in one night? Or, perhaps there really was no Santa. Does that mean I still have to be good? My short childhood was lived in a bubbled farce. I had to trade in the big, red furry outfit and the patent leather belt for my dad’s polo shirt and a pair of worn jeans. Santa didn’t exist.

Dad blurted out, “No, that’s how he spells it. S-E-N-T-A.” He was determined that we would live like Americans, even if it meant he would lie like a con artist. He loved me too much to admit the truth.

I guess I had a right to confront my dad right then, to ask him why he pursued this charade over all of these years. Perhaps I’d show him the psychological damage that he put me through, stammering out the words while twitching at the neck, and how I’d need decades of therapy to get over my trust issues. Instead, with great glee, I opened the box and started sticking wires into metal springs ⎯ c’mon lucky number “7.” Santa may not have been real, but Radio Shack surely is. And so is my Dad.

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21 Comments

  1. A 150-in-one electronics kit? Is that what kids played with before the Nintendo was invented?

    Fascinating.

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  2. I’m pretty sure Mark asked for (and received) that exact same kit, with the springs and the light and the buzzer. No wonder you nerds are friends.

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  3. That kit ruled.

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  4. I loved that kit. Radio shack is a nerd kid’s best friend.

    I spent the longest time trying to figure out how to make the little “solar cell” actually generate electricity instead of just turning lights on and off with battery power (ie, I couldn’t figure out why all the suggested circuits that used it required batteries at all). Wasn’t til years later that I found out it was just a phototransistor, not a solar cell.

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  5. I loved that kit too! Although i think i borrowed mine from a friend…
    great story.

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  6. wow. 150 in one. sounds like a crazy card reader.

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  7. Oh, my! You MIT people are so nerdy! Hilarious! =)

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  8. Matt: Exactly. And I didn’t know they had an upgrade! Very cool — perhaps my son will want one of those.

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  9. if my son/daughter somehow ended up wanting one of these geeky things when they are six, will that be a good indication they are MIT material? dang, what a bargain.

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  10. Dude… I’m seeing a theme…
    I totally had that kit too! Ha ha ha…
    In 5th grade, we did a whole unit on inventors and then had an “invention convention”, science-fair type thing. I used the kit to make a desk alarm. Ha.

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  11. great links!!!!

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  12. And the whole “SENTA” thing, isn’t that just so funny!! Oh, our immigrant parents, they are wonderful, aren’t they?! Wait a minute, Isaiah has a FOB-y immigrant parent too! Oh poor thing. =)

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  13. i remember wanting one of those too, but I never got one. I did get a build-it-yourself radio though.

    Merry Christmas!

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  14. Ok, so at least you weren’t the obnoxious kid at school that went around telling everybody that Santa didn’t really exist. Well, I wasn’t successful anyway. Everyone told me that didn’t believe in him because I never got any presents. Bah hum bug!!!

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  15. Senta … I love it! Laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe!

    I also wanted that kit … good to know that I’m in good company. Also good to know that I’m not that much of a nerd … still don’t know what the difference is between a phototransistor, not a solar cell. ;)

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  16. My brother got one of those kits:) I remember playing with it:) but unlike you my parents never deceived me about Santa;) but we still got excited about him. lol

    One Christmaas Eve we heard a knock on our back door. We opened it and there stood Santa. We knew that Santa was not real but seeing him there at OUR door!!! hahaha He asked us why we weren’t in bed. That was all it took:) We slammed the door in his face and ran for bed. haha

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  17. MERRY CHRISTMAS:)

    Reply

  18. […] I wish I grew up with these rhythms. I’d want to feel these spiritual seasons from somewhere deep within, like the way geese know to fly south in the winter. Seattle is my hometown and I now live in L.A.: neither are known for their seasons, so I don’t have any external cues. And having grown up in a Korean-immigrant, Presbyterian church, we didn’t know American nor Christian culture all that well. Remember, my dad couldn’t spell the name, “Santa.” […]

    Reply

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