Inspiring story about a boy who rises above his circumstances and learns to give the greatest gift of all ...
It’s Christmas day. For Antony, this is another day spent in a white-walled hospital. His family celebrates Christmas five kilometers away. Perhaps they are feasting on steaming stuffed cabbage rolls or slurping avgolemono - hot chicken and rice soup mixed with eggs and lemon juice. Sip a spoon of avgolemono, it will slip down the back of your throat; warm creamy chicken with a sour lemon kick that smacks the roof of the mouth as you swallow. A Greek specialty. Delicious.
Antony's family will drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, they’ll laugh and share stories while enjoying melomakarona cookies spiced with cinnamon and orange. In the corner of the family dining room is an evergreen tree with ribbons and flashing fairy lights. The family Christmas tree was set up especially for Antony, at his request. But for Antony, just like last Christmas, he watches the lights, not from the family Christmas tree, but the lights that flash from arriving ambulances or those that seem to flash to the beep of hospital bed-side monitors.
Two weeks ago, when his family were preparing for Christmas, Antony revealed that he hated Santa Claus. I can relate to him. As a child, Santa Claus scared me. That big fat man wearing the faded red suit. I knew he was a fake and I thought him to be a liar.
My mother had told me so.
She'd told me that Santa was a regular man, all dressed up to trick us kids into believing his lies. His beard wasn’t real, and he didn’t bring presents to the children who sat on his lap and whispered in his ear. I imagined myself climbing upon his knee and yanking down his silver beard for all to see his fakery.
From the time I could speak, my parents taught me that Santa wasn’t real. Maybe Antony's mother and father had also told him Santa was a big fat liar? Why did he hate Santa so much?
Antony was born in a little village in Macedonia. A village, where old stone buildings, if they could talk, would tell stories of a thousand years past. The kind of place where ancient trees keep secrets; the stories of wars won and lost, stories of love and laughter and the lives of the people that have dwelled there for centuries. Antony's village is a place where you take a casual stroll and stumble upon fields with looted graves, dug-out holes pillaged and left gaping open for you to gawk upon their loss and emptiness. A place where tradition stays strong and I imagine religious festivities are upheld with the highest honour.
I queried Antony about his hatred for Santa Claus. He looked at me, “Yes, of course. I hated Santa”. Antony frowns in disdain. He raises his arms, true Macedonian style, he waves his hands, palms heavenward, and jerks them back suddenly in a gesture that says, “Be off with him” or perhaps something worse that I couldn’t understand.
“But, why did you hate Santa? Was it because you knew he was fake?” I asked Antony. “No!” Antony laughs out loud. “It’s because Santa never brought me Christmas presents”. His laugh turns into a contagious bellow and he continues. “All the other children in the village got Christmas presents. But me, nothing. Never. Nothing”. Antony speaks even louder and laughs harder. He throws his head back and I can’t help but join the hysteria of the boy that hated Santa Claus.
Antony's parents couldn’t afford to buy him gifts. Antony was left to think Santa was an awful magical man who always forgot him. Santa brought the other children gifts, but nothing for him. I felt sad for Antony as I imagined what it was like for him on Christmas morning.
At the same time, I thought how wise it had been for my own parents to tell me the truth about Santa. If only Antony had known, he wouldn’t have felt so bad.
But now, Antony's all grown up. it’s Christmas again and his laughter indicates Antony is over his hatred for Santa. Antony is a senior Cardiologist. He works tirelessly at the hospital, close to the village where he grew up. When the other children were playing with their new toys, Antony poured over his older brother’s medical textbooks. His older brother inspired him to become a doctor and help others in need.
Antony was a boy who grew up without gifts at Christmas. He knows what it means to go without, to sometimes go to bed hungry. Over the holiday season, hospitals see a spike in heart related emergencies. Doctors are especially needed and Antony is not relying on Santa to deliver. He is at the hospital faithfully giving out the greatest gift of all.
He is saving lives.
Antony teaches us that we can rise from humble beginnings. His story shows us that though we may not grow-up having what others do, with the right motive and mentors, we can do something special with our gift of life and give back to others…
because something’s for certain. Santa Claus isn’t going to do it.