Let me tell you about the time I met Santa Claus. Not one of his helpers that work in the mall — the real one. Let me tell you what he did for me and how he forever changed the way I saw Christmas. But first, let me tell you how it all began.
I had only been married for a few months when my new husband had a complete mental breakdown. He stopped going to work and spent his days huddled underneath a blanket with only his eyes peeking out, afraid to answer the door or the phone. He refused to see anyone. He refused to even leave the house.
I was at a loss. I was 27 years old with no idea how to help him. Even though I worked two jobs, my income wasn’t enough to keep us going.
It is said that sometimes a change is better than a rest. We needed a change — a drastic one.
My husband and I met, fell in love, and were married on Vancouver Island, but both of us were native Albertans.
I had grown up in Red Deer, and he in Calgary, 85 miles away. I asked him how he felt about returning to Calgary. We’d be closer to our families and a city the size of Calgary was full of possibilities. I thought of it like a huge bookstore, where everything you ever wanted was right there on the shelf; you just had to find it.
His eyes brightened as we talked about all the things we could do, the restaurants, the football games, concerts, and even the university where I might be able to take some classes. His enthusiasm grew.
Of course, we were barely getting by as it was. Coming up with the money to make such a move would be a challenge. But seeing the difference in him just from talking about it convinced me it needed to be done.
We settled on a date — right between Christmas and the New Year. I began putting money away, cutting corners where I could, selling things, taking on extra shifts.
“What about Christmas?” my husband asked. He’d grown up in a family that celebrated Christmas in a big way with lots of decorations, indoor and out, tons of gifts, and an extravagant meal. My family’s Christmases were a little more modest but since we’d been together, I’d fallen into his traditions.
“We can’t have a Christmas this year. There isn’t enough money. We’ll need every penny when we get to Calgary.”
The idea of not having Christmas caused him to go into a tailspin, but within a week or two, he was back to talking about Calgary and everything he missed about it.
I phoned his sister in Calgary and asked her to send me a copy of the newspaper. The world-wide web was just being developed, so having a copy of the classified ads was essential. I rented us an apartment — sight unseen — over the phone and began mailing out my resume. I received no replies.
I was a nervous wreck, terrified at the idea of not having a job waiting for me when I arrived. What was I thinking? The stress was overwhelming, but I couldn’t let it show. I had to be the strong one.
Two days before Christmas I was on my way to work when a little red truck pulled into the parking lot, coming to a stop right in front of me. A little old man jumped out with a smile that lit up the day. I couldn’t help but smile back.
“Good morning, miss,” he said.
“Can I interest you in a Christmas tree?” He waved one hand toward the back of his truck, filled to overflowing with trees. I assumed he’d been out cutting trees to make some extra money for the holidays.
“No, thank you,” I said.
“Oh. Have you already got a tree, then?”
“I’m afraid I’m not celebrating Christmas this year.”
“What?” His eyes grew wide. “You can’t cancel Christmas!”
I was feeling bad about not being able to help this sweet old man.
“Well,” I said, “maybe just a little one. How much are they?”
He threw his head back and gave out a belly laugh bigger than he was.
“That’s just it,” he said. “They’re free!”
I burst into tears.
“Hey, now,” he said, patting my arm. “Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad.”
The next thing I knew, I was telling this complete stranger my whole story. How hard I’d been struggling to keep it together, how I was relocating to a city where I knew no one and had no job. How I’d blindly rented an apartment without even knowing if it was on the wrong side of town.
He hugged me then and taking me by the hand led me to the truck.
“Go on, then,” he said. “Pick out a tree. You’ll have yourself a nice little Christmas and everything will work out. You’ll see.”
I already felt a lot better just from the release of telling someone my story. Wiping the tears from my cheeks, I smiled and pointed at a lovely tree.
“I’ll take that one,” I said.
That night I decorated my little tree. All my decorations were already packed away in a box somewhere, so I made a string of popcorn and cut paper snowflakes. It was perfect. I’d already decided it wouldn’t hurt to cook a small turkey. We could use the rest in sandwiches to take on the road.
I had found a second-hand video game for less than $10, so my husband would have something to open on Christmas morning. There was going to be a Christmas after all.
The next day I went in to work my final shift. No sooner had I unlocked the doors than my friend in the little red truck walked in, holding a small potted plant.
“I knew this would be your last day, and I just wanted to stop by to wish you the best.” He handed me the plant. “And to give you this. Every new home needs a bit of green.”
“You are so kind. I’m beginning to think you are Santa Claus.”
He winked at me then and as he turned around to walk out, he called back over his shoulder, “You take care of that plant now and every so often, when you look at it, you’ll know I’m thinking about you.”
Christmas morning dawned bright and clear. My husband was excited to find his simple gift beneath the tree and once he opened it, we spent the next few hours playing and laughing. I cooked my turkey and even without all the Christmas extras, it was a fine meal.
Later that day we were surprised when some friends dropped by with a platter of baked goods and even more surprised when a few minutes after that, some other friends joined us with a bottle of home-made Baileys.
It was, and still is, the best Christmas I ever had. We didn’t need all that excess, all the ribbons and shiny paper. All we needed was family, friends, gifts from the heart, and a little green tree. Santa taught me that. I’ve been trying to get back to that simplicity ever since. He also taught me that everything will work out. “You’ll see.” I’ve believed that ever since.
I carried that potted plant on my lap all the way from Vancouver Island to Calgary. There was only one spot in our dim apartment that got any sunlight. I put it there. On New Year’s Day, I woke up and found it had bloomed overnight. I smiled and knew he was thinking about me.
Looking for more holiday joy? You’ll find plenty at the MockingOwl Roost!
- Christmas Waltz – Poem
- My Favorite Things: A Christmas Carol
- Gingerbread House for a Mouse – Poem
- My Favorite Things: Gingerbreading
- Christmas Traditions – Nonfiction
- The Dragons of Io – Science Fantasy Fiction – Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3
- Man in the Shadows – Fiction
Sally Quon is a dirt-road diva and teller of tales, living in British Columbia, Canada. She has been shortlisted for Vallum Magazine’s Chapbook Prize two consecutive years and is an associate member of the League of Canadian Poets. Her personal blog is where she posts her back-country adventures and photos. She has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Big-Stories About Life in a Plus Size Body and Writing For Life. Her first collection of poetry, Beauty, Born of Pain, was released in 2023.