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Santa on a Surfboard

Angela Kim

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Christmas 1969
(Chela Wallace)
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I lived in Panama from 1970 to 1973. My dad was an army doctor and we were stationed in Ancon in the Canal Zone on the Pacific Side.

How our parents explained to us how Santa got to us because there wasn't snow, and the rooftops of our houses were very very steep--What they told us was that Santa came down to us on a surfboard!

We kept up the American traditions of putting the lights on our houses. And we would go caroling every year even though we weren't freezing and walking from door to door and getting hot chocolate. I do remember getting cookies. I think people offered us sodas or ice water.

One of our neighbors had a pickup truck and we would all pile in the back. And there were probably 10 or 12 of us, all packed in, all these skinny little kids in our shorts, in our t-shirts, and sitting knee to knee. And someone would print out sheets of lyrics and we would all huddle together and drive slowly through the neighborhood, stopping at the different houses when people came out or came to the window. And we would sing Christmas carols.

I remember somebody had some sleigh bells. The part that everybody would belt out on would be, "Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh. Hey! Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells." That part, the "Hey" part.

Riding around in the back of a pickup truck, singing at the top of our lungs, even though it was very casual and we certainly weren't terribly concerned about how well we sang. We still felt like it was a performance because we were doing something for our neighbors and sharing with our neighbors something that we didn't do especially a whole group of us together. We got giddy, we got silly when people would miss words, we'd all start laughing. But at the same time, we wanted to do well and share our enthusiasm and joy and happiness with our neighbors.

Living in Panama was, those were the best three years of my childhood. It was just so much fun. I ended up with my name, "Chela," from having lived there. I picked it up as a nickname from having lived there, and that's one way that I, today, still honor my experience there.

  • Music Bridge:
    You Set My Face on Fire
    Artist: Global Goon
    CD: Family Glue (Audio Dregs)

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