“Christmas All Year ‘Round, Dec. 21, 2021

This story takes place around Christmas, but it tells a truth that is true all year ‘round.
I’ve told it before in various versions. Some of you were kind enough, thank you, to ask me to reprint it from a column I wrote years ago. That would require finding it. And I have trouble finding my own shoes.
So I’m going to retell it from memory, which is always an adventure, because every good story has a mind of its own. You never know at the start where it will lead or how it might end.
This one starts at a picnic on the Fourth of July. I was big, 8 years old. My brothers were small, 4 and 3. Little did we know what lay ahead.
My stepfather, in my eyes, was strong and solid as the trunk of a hickory tree. He earned just enough to keep us sheltered and fed by standing eight hours a day on his big flat feet running a loom at a textile mill.
That summer at the company picnic—when he lost his footing in the Tug-of-War and slid downhill like a jack-knifed big-rig—he also lost his job.
I learned this from my mother, who said, as she watched him fall, “Lord help us! If he can’t walk, he can’t work! And if he can’t work, we can’t eat!”
He was on crutches and out of work for six months. Somehow we still managed to eat.
That December, my mother announced that Santa might be running a bit late.
“How late?” I asked.
“Maybe spring,” she said.
They had ordered a few gifts on credit from a catalog, she explained, but the shipment might not arrive in time.
“It will still be Christmas,” she said, “even without Santa.”
I tried to picture it, Christmas minus Santa. I couldn’t see it.
The next day, some good and caring people from our church came to our door with a ham, a tin of cookies and a tiny Douglas fir trimmed with paper birds.
My stepfather hid in the kitchen. My mother thanked them for their kindness, but forgot to offer them coffee.
After they left, she handed me a cookie. “Life,” she said, “is a bank. Sometimes you put in. Other times you take out. Either way, it’s all the same bank.”
Then she added: “You need to remember how hard it is to receive,” she said, “because someday you’ll do the giving.”
Every day that last week before Christmas, my stepfather would shove his crutches in his ’49 Ford and drive to the depot to wait for the train. I would wait on the porch steps praying.
And every day he’d come back shaking his head, looking grim.
Finally, on Christmas Eve, he limped into the living room holding a box under one arm.
“Merry Christmas,” he muttered, dropping the box on the floor by the little Douglas fir. It was a case of tangerines.
We ate them all. They were good. But that night, for the first time, they tasted like Christmas. And for me, they always will.
I’ve seen a lot of Christmases since then, and received far more than my share of gifts. I’ve also done a little giving and learned my mother was right. Giving is easy. Taking is hard.
In this season of giving, and through the coming year, I hope we’ll all know the joy giving to family and friends and strangers in need. But I also hope we’ll be willing to accept a little help, just to keep us humble.
When you find yourself in need, remember: Sometimes we give. Other times we take. And one day, you will do the giving.
You don’t need to send me a Christmas card or New Year’s greeting (P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924) unless, of course, you really want to.
May your stocking be filled, not just at Christmas, but every morning. And in the toe, may you always find a tangerine.


  1. Kate Sciacca says

    Always love that story. Today I was in line at the Savemart…. The older (older than me…) lady just ahead checked through her groceries… but when she attempted to pay her card was rejected. Quietly she asked the checker if she could run out to her car and get a different card… the checker obliged and I waited. I wasn’t in a hurry and I’d just returned from a visit with the grands where I continually reminded them of my favorite phrase, “I am patient I can wait.” The lady returned with another card… it too was rejected. Out of nowhere an older gentleman pulled out his card and said “I got this”— barely loud enough for the checker to hear. His card went through and the grateful customer walked out with $97.43 wort of groceries.
    But that’s not all…. He turned to me and said “I’ve got yours too” – of course I told him that it was very kind but he didn’t need to do that. “Too late!” he said with a big grin… and my $79.23 was covered.

    You’re so right, it is much easier to give than to receive. Merry Christmas and a blessed and Happy New Year to all of you 😊

  2. Dear Sharon,
    I’ve been reading you for some years via Daily Republic. Imagine my excitement when I discovered you are the Mom of one of my favorite actors, Josh Randall! Wow! (As one of my favorite writers states often “I wish you could have seen that!”) But I love you for the way you always touch my heart, if I may say, in the same down- to-earth way that Dolly Parton does. You each have a way of having me channel my better self and I am deeply thankful and wish you and yours the best. Now I’m going to get a card to mail! ha! (I’m a “cardy” person as we used to say!) Love, Jean in Chico, CA

  3. The older I get the more I realize the wisdom of this story. We have been blessed greatly this last year. My heart began failing in June & I had to have a pacemaker asap. During that time we received wonderful help from friends & family. A full recovery has been made & our blessings have continued. Thankfully we have been able to contribute to funding the recovery needs for the terrible tornado that completely destroyed so many communities. Yes, we eat tangarines every day of the year. Blessings & Merry Christmas to you and yours. It Is Well!!

  4. Mary K Dixson says

    You always speak straight to my heart. May God continue to shower you with blessings and a long life to share your insights. Merry Christmas 🎄 🌟

  5. This story brings a tear to my eye and a smile to my heart every time I read it. It is a beautiful Christmas gift to us all. Thank you. May you and your family have a blessed Christmas!

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