My first memory of Christmas is back in South Korea. I must have been five or six when I found a green-beaded necklace under my pillow. I remember that the first thing I did was look at it under the blanket to see if it glowed. It didn’t. Still, it was the most precious gift I had ever received. When I asked my mother where it had come from, she told that Santa-harabahji (Grandpa Santa) had left it for me.
Although we dutifully gave presents to all of our elementary school teachers for Christmas once we immigrated to Toronto, we didn’t have a tree. My mother made all the gifts we took to school – knitted hats and scarves.
By 1991, I was working part-time and had money for the first time. I decided that year I would give my family our first ever Christmas tree. I spent over a thousand dollars, spread over three different credit cards, on a tree and gold music-themed decorations. My parents didn’t object and even seemed to admire the seven-foot evergreen that I plopped in the living room by the TV. My brothers referred to it as the “Buddha Tree.” I didn’t tell any of them how much I had spent.
The beauty of growing up in a Canadian Buddhist household was that we were open to celebrating and acknowledging other faiths. As children, we decorated and looked for Easter eggs, learned the rules to play the dreidel game during Hanukkah, and ate rice-cake and dumpling soup on lunar New Year’s Day. Being in Canada, surrounded by people of so many different ethnicities and cultures, it wasn’t about religion. It was about having a reason to celebrate and have fun; a reason to be together and be happy.