For Christmas, I gave my host family a story. A pick-your-own-path type story. It was hard to write, but seeing my host family’s faces, especially my host mom’s face, when they realized what it was made it all worth it. I share it with you now, but unfortunately, this version does not feature the doodles that a fellow YAGM in my cohort drew. (The formatting had gone wonky when printing at the paper store.) Nonetheless, I hope you all enjoy!
A Merry Christmas, Blessed Holidays, Joyous Kwanza, and Happy Celebration to you all!
The snow falls gently onto the ground, covering everything in white. The trees, the houses, the garden. You love it all so much; it’s your favorite time of the year! However, this Christmas is different from the last ones you’ve had. This time, you’re in America, visiting your uncle! Christmas is not the same here.
Almost all the houses have colorful lights decorating them. Your uncle has a giant Santa Clause with reindeer and snowmen in his yard. Here, Santa comes tonight, December 24, to bring all the good boys and girls presents—and you’ve been very, very good! You watch your uncle set out a plate of cookies that you helped bake and decorate, as well as a glass of cold milk.
“It’s for Santa,” he says with a wink. “Now off to bed! Santa won’t come if you’re awake.”
You and your cousins whine and complain, but you climb up the stairs and into your beds nonetheless. You sneak one last look at the Christmas tree, which was decorated with big, colorful ornaments, dazzling lights, and a bright star at the top. There are precisely 17 presents under the tree. You counted. Three times.
When you and your cousins settle down, they ask if you’re going to stay up and wait for Santa.
If you want to stay up and wait for Santa, go to SECTION E.
If you want to sleep so that Santa will come, go to SECTION C.
With a sigh, you turn around to walk back up the steps. While the giant present makes you excited, you’re sad you missed Santa. You spot the milk and cookies that had been left out for him.
Well, you spot what’s left of the milk and cookies. Two are missing while half of the milk is gone.
I can’t believe I missed Santa, you think. Maybe a cookie will help me feel better.
Just as you grab one of the cookies, you spot something. A note!
Thanks for the milk and cookies! It read. Enjoy the gifts and have a Merry Christmas!
Perhaps it was better that you missed Santa. After all, he wouldn’t have come if he knew you were awake. Eating your cookie, you walk up the stairs and climb into your bed. It doesn’t take you long to fall asleep.
In the morning, you and your cousins run downstairs.
“Santa was here!” they cry out when they saw the extra presents.
“It seems he was,” their parents say, making coffee.
You smile and hold up the note. “Look here!”
After reading it aloud and settling down on the couch, it’s finally your turn to open a present. You choose the big one Santa left you first.
When you pull the wrapping paper off it, you gasp as you see the picture on the box.
“A new scooter!” you shout, pumping your fist in the air. “Boldog Karácsonyt!”
You’re glad you didn’t open the present last night. Watching your parents smile at the gift was great and this was definitely the best Christmas ever. You got a new scooter and you got to spend time with your family, laughing and telling stories and swapping candy and opening presents. You’ll remember this Christmas for years!
Slowly, you sneak downstairs. With each step, the floor softly creaks, but it sounds like fireworks to your ears. Every time you step, you pause and listen for your parents to come out of their bedroom.
Finally, you make it downstairs. The moon is your only light and it gives the hallway an eerie glow. You keep your eyes trained on the colorful lights just beyond the hallway. The Christmas tree lights.
When you turn the corner, you gasp. There, in the living room, under the big, glowing tree, are the presents. More presents. Santa had already come! You spot one with your name on it.
After taking a moment to listen to the silence again, to make sure no one was coming to stop you, you take a deep breath and walk to the present. You touch it, wondering what it could possibly be. There’s a part of you screaming to open it right now! But the other part of you knows you should wait until the morning.
If you want to open the present right now, go to SECTION F.
If you want to wait until the morning to open the present, go to SECTION A.
“No,” you say, firmly shaking your head. “Your dad said that Santa won’t come if we’re awake.”
“Aw, come on!” your cousins whisper. “Don’t you want to see Santa?”
You think about it for a minute, but ultimately decide to shake your head again because, “I want the presents.”
“You’re no fun!” they complain.
“I’m tired,” you say. “Besides, Santa already came for me in Hungary! On December 6. I got tons of chocolate!”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” your cousins say.
Pouting, you grumble, “It does in my country.”
You snuggle down into your sleeping bag, hold your teddy bear close to your chest, and count sugar plums until you fall asleep. In the morning, you rush downstairs to see even more presents than last night! There’s one with your name on it. That’s the one you’ll open first.
“Did you see Santa?” you whisper to your cousins while your parents make their coffee.
They shook their head, blushing.
“No, we fell asleep.”
“Maybe you’ll see him next year,” you say, settling down on the couch. They shrug.
Finally, it’s your turn to open a present. When you pull the wrapping paper off your big present, you gasp as you see the picture on the box.
“A new scooter!” you shout, pumping your fist in the air. “Boldog Karácsonyt!”
This was definitely the best Christmas ever, but not just because of the scooter. It’s also because you got to spend time with family, laughing and telling stories and swapping candy. You’ll remember this Christmas for years!
“Hey.” You poke your cousin’s side. “Wake up.”
“Don’t you want to see Santa?”
The only response you get is a snore. Rolling your eyes, you poke your other cousin’s side.
“Come on, let’s go downstairs.”
“But I’m tired,” is the moaned reply.
You sigh. Of course, your cousins would fall asleep. They got you all excited to go downstairs to see Santa and now they don’t want to leave their beds.
“Guess I’m going to do this myself,” you mutter. “Santa, here I come!”
Go to SECTION B.
You’re tired from playing all day, but you become more excited the more you think about it.
“Yeah!” you whisper. “Let’s do it!”
“We just have to wait for our parents to go to sleep,” they say.
It ends up taking a lot longer than you expected. But you pass the time telling more stories about the differences between America and Hungary. You can’t believe that they have to change classrooms for each class instead of the teachers coming to them. They can’t believe you don’t put eggs in the fridge.
You all talk and talk until you can’t talk anymore. After a while, you look at the clock. It read 02:26. You must’ve fallen asleep! You were sure it hadn’t even been midnight when you last looked. But you were awake now, and that meant that it was finally time to go downstairs.
“Are you guys ready?” you whisper. “It’s time!”
When you don’t get a response, you crawl over to where they are and kneel beside them. You frown. Your cousins fell asleep too!
If you want to wake up your cousins, go to SECTION D.
If you want to go downstairs by yourself, go to SECTION B.
Just a peak, you tell yourself, reaching for the present. Carefully, you pull the wrapping paper at one of the ends. You look inside, but see nothing so, you peel the wrapping paper back a little more. More… A little…
Your mouth goes dry as you stare at the detached piece of paper in your hand. Frantically, you try to reattach it to the rest of the wrapping paper still on the box. That’s when you see what the present is.
You wish you could be excited, but all you feel is dread. The perfectly wrapped present is now ruined! And you have no idea how to reattach it. Maybe there’s some tape in the kitchen?
Miraculously, you find some. With shaking hands, you try to tape it back together. It looks awful, but it’s reattached. Kind of.
You sneak back into the bedroom and crawl into the bed, nervously. If Santa knows that you opened a present too soon, will he be mad and take the gift away? Will your parents be mad at you for sneaking downstairs and not allow you to ride your new scooter? Will your aunt and uncle be upset that you used their tape without permission?
You don’t sleep well that night.
When it’s morning, your cousins shout with glee and race downstairs. You trail behind them, dragging your feet.
“Something happened to your present!” they wail when you turn the corner.
“Maybe Santa dropped it?” you suggest.
“Do you really think that’s what happened?” your dad asks, crossing his arms.
You bite your lip. “No…”
“So, what happened?” your mom asks.
For a moment, you consider saying you don’t know, but you can’t lie to your parents. You tell them the truth.
“I’m sorry,” you finish. “I understand if take away my scooter.”
Your mom kneels beside you. “Sweetie, sneaking downstairs and opening a present wasn’t very smart. But not because we’re going to punish you. It wasn’t smart because now you won’t feel the joy of opening something you really wanted in front of your family.”
“We’re not angry at you,” your dad adds, also kneeling down. “But we’re disappointed you thought you couldn’t wait a few more hours to open presents with us.”
“I’m so sorry.”
They hug you.
“It’s okay. You still have more presents,” you dad reminds you.
In the end, it wasn’t the best Christmas ever, but it wasn’t awful either. You still got to spend time with family and open your other presents. Next time, you’ll definitely wait to open anything until the morning, but you’ll remember this Christmas for years.