'What's your favorite Christmas memory?'

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This morning I heard myself singing, "Deep in December it's nice to remember."

That's from a song in "The Fantasticks," a musical I never saw and don't care to recall. It was stuck on replay in my head the way some songs seem to get stuck there. Don't ask me why.

I was just glad it wasn't "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" or "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." I get stuck on them sometimes, too.

Those songs aren't high on my Christmas play list. I'd prefer to get stuck on Handel's "Messiah" or "O Holy Night" or even "I'll Be Home for Christmas." But the older I get the more I find my mind has a mind of its own.

There I was, loading the dishwasher, singing "Deep in December" when suddenly I remembered: Christmas is a time for remembering.

One of my favorite holiday traditions is to ask friends or family or strangers in line at the post office, "What's your favorite Christmas memory?" The answers often tell me more about the person than I could learn in an hour-long interview.

See for yourself. Ask someone that question. But be prepared for them to ask you in return.

What's my favorite Christmas memory? Thanks for asking. For me, it's not one, but a lifetime collection. For example:

l Christmas Eve, when I was 3, my dad pointed to the sky and said, "Look. That's the Star of Bethlehem." I saw it that moment and every Christmas since, even if I can't see the sky.

l When I was 10, my family fell on hard times, harder than our usual, so Santa wouldn't make it to our house until spring. But some good people from church brought us a ham and cookies and a tree with colored lights. After they left, my mother said, "Life is a bank. Sometimes you give, sometimes you take. It's all the same bank. Just remember how it feels to take, because one day you will do the giving."

l When I was pregnant with my first child, I lay awake Christmas Eve, wanting to hold him, not in my belly, but in my arms. I couldn't imagine it any more than I could imagine riding a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. But I believed in the hope of it. And four weeks later, it came true.

l My youngest was 7 when we spent Christmas at a cabin in the mountains. He asked Santa for a chance to see snow fall, and he got it. He also managed to lock the keys in the car, forcing his dad to jog three miles in the snow back to the cabin for a spare set of keys.

l A few weeks before my first husband lost a long battle with cancer, we celebrated his 54th birthday on Christmas Eve with our three children. I remember their laughter, their faces, their eyes, how they shined. I wish you could've seen them. It was not our merriest Christmas, but I never knew one more holy.

l My final favorite Christmas memory is this: After years as a widow, I remarried and moved with my new husband to Las Vegas. Christmas in the desert was different from those I knew in the mountains of the Carolinas, or on the coast of California. But the kids came to visit and we made the best of it.

Then one night in January, it snowed. My husband and I put on every article of clothing we owned and sat out by a palm tree catching snowflakes on our tongues. It wasn't Christmas on the calendar. But it felt like it.

Christmas is a time for singing songs, good or bad, for seeing stars and tasting snowflakes and believing in hope. Sometimes you give, sometimes you take. But it's always a time to be thankful, whether you get what you want or have to jog three miles in the snow.

It doesn't have to be merry to be holy. It can happen any day, any time of year. Because more than a date on a calendar, Christmas is a feeling somewhere in the soul.

Here's wishing you and yours a Christmas to remember.

Sharon Randall is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service (www.sharonrandall.com).


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