An Ugly Duckling’s First Christmas

Ugly duckling
Picture from The Ugly Duckling’s Christmas Wish

I have a confession. Something happened to me when I was a pre-schooler about 4 or 5.

There was a grand-aunt, an antique woman who lived in a monumental house with so many rooms that some were sealed off. We were told as kids, that these rooms were filled with lunatics and savage beasts and never ever try to enter them.

There were two dogs chained all day, let out only at dusk to prowl the estate when everyone was having dinner inside the house. At 9pm sharp, all guests must leave and the rest of the family would retired into their rooms.

Except of the matriarch who would be served bottles of whiskey as she sat glass-eyed smoking something, starring at everything and nothing.

If looks could kill, hers will. I’ve seen them, once when I sneaked to her room for a peep. When I unfroze, it was a silent dash to the safety of my parents. I feared her from that moment but not as much as one Christmas day.

We were invited to a big celebration in the old mansion. My first Christmas party. You can imagine how exciting that could be.

The adults were busy with whatever they were doing and the children were left to entertain ourselves.

I was playing hide-and-seek, hiding behind a door. The seeker was getting closer. I had to change my hiding place. To another room perhaps. I ran out without looking around. There was a blind corner. I collided into someone and landed on the floor face down.

There was a big commotion. I heard the seeker shouting, so were the servants forming a chain of cries and before I knew anything, a circle of women formed above me and the person I crashed into – my little toddler cousin in her pretty Christmas frock, on the floor lifeless and pale. I literally knocked her cold.

Can’t remember what happened after but I was brought to the dreaded grand-aunt for a most unforgiving scolding a child could possibly receive on Christmas day. I was so sad, went into self-exile for the rest of the day to the furthest corner of the garden.

I wasn’t sad because of what happened. My cousin didn’t die that day. I was sad because my grand-aunt said I was a clumsy ugly duckling.

Kids believe everything and I believed what she said…that I was ugly. I believed that for many years. I have never told anyone about this, not even my mother.

Girls grow up into women, but the ugly duckling in me stayed. I struggled with it for a long time.

How did the story go?

One spring morning when the lake thawed, the ugly duckling got out of its cave after a long lonely winter and was welcomed by a flock of swans. Only then did it see its reflection in the water and realized it has changed.

Happy endings. That’s what we want. Try not to make any child feel like an ugly duckling, no matter what he or she did.

Merry Christmas People.

Joan Yap


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