Our only Christmas

Only once did I celebrate Christmas, and a memorable and excelsior phenomenon it was. The phrase “My only Christmas” sounds like the second line of “You are my sunshine,” a warm and wonderful place to be. Want to hear?

Forty years ago, my two young sons and I spend a few days skiing at Greek Peak, a small mountain in New York State near Cornell University. I am newly divorced, and the boys are due at their father’s home, so we plan to return to Philadelphia December 24. Since we are Jewish, Christmas means time out from work and school, not a religious holiday.

The skiing is fun, the condo has TV and Scrabble and we laugh. Late on the 22nd, snow falls. Lots of snow. On the 23rd, with slippery highways keeping skiers and employees away, we walk to the mountain, where the chairlifts are free for the day. Santa’s reindeer and holly abound. It is the best ski day of the trip, knee-deep snow, no crowds, white stuff falling on our nose and eyelashes. Even falling down is soft.

Early on the 24th, we learn that the highways are clear. We pack, clean the windshield, start the engine and leave the condo key on the kitchen table, as instructed. 

Whatever the state of the Interstate, no one has shoveled the parking lot of the mountain-owned condo community, and we are stuck. Brilliant, blinding sun, and we’re hip-deep in white stuff. Locked out of condo, car in snow bank, not clever enough to invent cell phones. We don’t care about Christmas but we hate the idea of spending a day in the car with a single package of Oreos.

Two minutes before panic sets in, a condo neighbor – who lives in Lancaster, Pa., and owns vacation property at Greek Peak – offers help. By the time I phone home, this man has discussed our plight with his wife, who has whispered to their three kids, who begin teaching us the spirit of Christmas. They insist we take a room at their already-full inn (apartment). 

The five combined kids head to the slopes, and I become acquainted with a pair of the finest Good Samaritans the country has to offer. By close of chairlift, the adults have expanded Christmas dinner to feed three more mouths, devised under-the-tree gifts for Joel and David and rearranged the loft and living room to accommodate our sleeping. 

We pay rapt attention to their retelling of the Christmas story, and the incongruity of the situation is lost on all of us. As we sing carols together, these folks celebrate their own ability and willingness to give, and we learn a fine lesson in receiving. 

We drive home safely December 25, and after I send a small thank-you gift, we never hear from them again. No matter. We learned that the Christmas spirit transcends religion. In the chill of December, we discovered they were our sunshine, our only sunshine.