December 6 is celebrated in many countries as Saint Nicholas Day. In our home, this was the day our version of Santa Claus (Nikolaus) came to visit our house to leave something in the stockings my brother and sisters and I had hung up. If we’d been good, there might be a few treats in the stocking. If we’d been bad, there might be a lump of coal or some twigs tied together as a switch (but of course we never saw those in our stockings in all the years we were at home).
We lived in northern BC where it was usually extremely cold in December but we never worried about how Nikolaus would fare out there in the cold. He must be used to it. After all, didn’t he live at the North Pole?
My mother told us we were not to watch our stockings constantly. Nikolaus was shy and wanted to leave the gifts secretly. He didn’t want to be seen. But not to spoil all our fun, she also told us that we would know when he came to our house because we would hear him jingling his bells. So we sat quietly, keeping our eyes averted from the living room where the stockings were hung, and listened for the jingle of Nikolaus’s bells. We passed the time playing with Jackie, our budgie, letting him sit on our shoulders and fingers.
But my mind was on the upcoming event. Being a bit older than my siblings, I wasn’t convinced of the fairy tale anymore, and made grumbling comments of doubt. Somebody had to be making those bells jingle each year. It had to be one of the adults in the house; an older brother, a cousin, or my parents. As the time came closer when Nikolaus would appear—usually conveniently after supper—I watched the adults carefully to see who might be slipping outside to run around the house jingling bells.
No one was missing, as far as I could tell, when we heard the jingling of bells and knew that Nikolaus had arrived. I rushed to the nearest window. Not wanting to let in the cold air, I opened it just far enough to stick my head out to look for the bell ringer. No one was in sight. I tried a window on the other side of the house. No one in sight.
I heard a shriek. My little sisters were crying. Jackie, our precious blue budgie, had flown out the window I had left open. Out into the bitter cold winter. My mother and I put on our boots and went out to look for him, but it was hopeless. The wind swirled the snow around and it was bitter cold. My only consolation was that Jackie could not have lasted long.
I suffered from guilt for days afterwards, imagining Jackie flying into the blizzard and being dashed into a snowbank by the howling north wind. I didn’t enjoy the goodies in my stocking that year. I felt I really only deserved a lump of coal.