“A Christmas Story, Old and New,” column for Dec. 16, 2014

This is a Christmas story. I’ve told it before, but Christmas stories beg to be retold time and again, lest their truth be lost to anyone, especially the teller.

Besides, Christmas stories are woven with a thread of magic that makes each new telling a bit different from the past, both in how it’s told and how it’s heard.

This is my story. But I hope in some way, it will be yours, too.

The Christmas I was 10 years old, my brothers and I didn’t get presents from Santa, and my stepfather didn’t drink. It was a sober season for us all.

It started at a textile mill picnic on a firecracker hot Fourth of July. When the millhands faced off for a Tug of War (weavers on the right, fixers on the left, with a rope stretched between them) everybody gathered to watch.

My stepfather, the strongest man I ever knew, took the lead for the weavers, wrapping his big calloused hands around that rope, refusing to give an inch.

He and his buddies should have won. Everybody said so. But just when it seemed the fixers were finished, his foot buckled beneath him and, one by one, the weavers fell.

When they got up to shake hands, my stepfather stayed down. And for the next six months, while his ankle slowly healed, he was out of work.

If you live week to week, paycheck to paycheck, it doesn’t take much to make hard times harder. That December, my mother said Santa would be late.

“How late?” I asked.

“Maybe spring,” she said.

Just before Christmas, some good people from church brought us a tree decorated with colored lights and paper birds, along with a big canned ham and a tin of sugar cookies.

My mother thanked them kindly, but forgot to offer them coffee. My stepfather hid in the bedroom. My brother, Joe, who was 6 years old and blind all his life, said the tree was by far the finest he’d ever seen.

After the church folks left, my mother baked biscuits, sliced the ham and served it with a jar of applesauce she’d preserved in better times. My stepfather claimed he wasn’t hungry. But we ate it all. It was good.

“Life is a bank,” my mother told us. “Sometimes you give, other times you take. Either way, it’s all the same bank.”

Then she added this.

“It’s hard having to take,” she said, staring at her raw, over-worked hands. “But you don’t need to be ashamed of it.”

She locked her eyes on mine.

“Just remember how it feels,” she said. “Because one day, you will do the giving.”

Christmas Eve, my stepfather came limping home with a crate of tangerines under his arm.

“Merry Christmas,” he said, dropping the crate by the tree.

We ate them for dessert that night after a supper of fried ham and grits. Joe said they were the finest tangerines he’d ever seen.

Then we sat by the stove, warm and content, telling Christmas stories old and new.

Every year at Christmas, and some days in between, I’ll eat a tangerine and smile, recalling my mother’s words.

Giving is easy. It makes us feel good. Taking is hard. It makes us feel helpless. But we all need a little help sometimes, a little kindness, a little compliment or maybe a big canned ham.

Either way, giving or taking, it’s all the same bank.

My Christmas story is not about a lack of gifts. It’s about an abundance of the heart. I wish that same wealth for you.

May all your hopes and dreams come true, and may your fears never come to pass.

May you know the joys of both giving and receiving.

May you give with grace and receive with gratitude, knowing either way, you are blessed.

May all your Christmases _ especially this one _ be happy, healthy, merry and bright.

And from me and mine to you and yours: May all your Christmas stories be retold.


  1. We did know what is Christmas but we did not give any gifts ,did not get any gifts long time living in India but when we saw the importance of this festival 14 years ago and got so many gifts first time we started giving gifts too as a tradition followed in many countries including US . This year Christmas was not that interesting as I was all alone at home far away from close family but I made a Christmas tree and put two gifts under it one for my grand baby and one for myself. I sent some gifts to my family by mail , donated a few just for my satisfaction. The tree had two cards which my family sent for us and waited for some more not a gift but a precious phone call from my kids and husband who was in India that day . The day was quite like somebody is there to talk but had no voice to speak . I could hear few whispers from somewhere . I made some cookies and went to see our neighbor ,two sisters live there with one dog . I knocked at the door ,they came out and the cutest dog greeted me first waving his tail like he knew me . I gave them hand painted card which I made same day ,some cookies and said happy Christmas !! , the day which I was spending all alone at home turned bright with different colors of different colorful lights inside our house and I thought that tree which I put in one corner is brighter than before.

  2. cynthia giel says

    I am always so elated when I see your column in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. It isn’t there often enough, though. I am so glad I found this site. Your messages always brighten my day and sometimes I feel like we must be kindred spirits! I have had minor occasions when I had to be a receiver but most of my life I have been fortunate enough to be a giver. Living now with very elderly in-laws and a son-in-law recovering from cancer, I am acutely aware of how sometimes we must let them “repay” the favors.
    Sending you wishes for a blessed New Year.

  3. Sharon,
    I read your this Christmas column a week late on your site because our paper seems to be a week behind running them. You do not disappoint with this wonderful story. Merry Christmas to you and your family and may you have a wonderful New Year!

  4. Thank you for sharing your story. As the oldest of six and a military brat, I can really relate. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  5. Shannon Collins says

    Sharon, there is nothing that I have read written by you that doesn’t always make me cry, smile, think, etc. You are amazing and since I was 12 years old have looked forward to reading your column, first in The Herald and then anywhere I could find it! When my oldest daughter was small there were several Christmases that we would not have had much of anything under our tree if it wasn’t for the Salvation Army. When she was teenager and I told her how her favorite Candyland game or other gift she had received wouldn’t have been possible without the Salvation Army, we started a tradition of buying and donating toys to our local toy drives. It is hard to take but sometimes you have to do it and when you get a chance to give, it is amazing! Thank you for sharing all your stories! Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  6. It brought tears in my eyes . My husband is away in India and I shall be all alone at home . I am trying to give gifts to all my family and friends at least a card hand made and hand written . Finished few . May God and Santa give something to every child at least an extra hug from grand mom and grand father if they did not go to heaven . I am so thankful that I can give one to them . Sometime is good and sometime we do not have enough but God cares for all people and a job is so important to earn a good living and at least to make both ends meet . Lot of love Sharon these pieces of stories are heart melting and give inspiration to all . Have a wonderful Christmas !!

  7. Beautiful story, I can relate to giving and receiving.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  8. Kate Sciacca says

    Thanks for painting another beautiful picture with your words :-). This year I plan to be receiving…. Another handsome grandson who should show his adorable face any day now… Last year on this day his mom (my daughter) and her husband said goodbye to the grandpa this little one will never meet…..Christmas last year was a sadness for them… But this year there will be much rejoicing!
    May you and your ever growing family have a happy and holy Christmas.

  9. Merry Christmas, Sharon- read you next year.

    • Sharon Randall says

      Thanks, Weldom, I’ll have two more columns this year, Lord willing, so I’ll hope you’ll read them, as well!
      Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  10. Sharon, this made me cry for a couple of reasons. I’ve spent a lot of time this year copying my father’s memoirs from his typewritten pages into the computer for publishing. I’ve learned so much not just about him, but about my grandmother. She had 11 children, and buried 3 of them. Trying to raise a family that size in the midst of the Great Depression took a toll on her, and she died in 1948, not even 60 years old. I wish I’d had a chance to meet her because she sounded like an amazing woman.

    This year, I probably will be the one receiving, and it’s hard. I wasn’t raised to take, I was raised to give. But either way, I know I’m blessed. Thank you for reminding me.

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