The Daily Susan will resume on Jan. 1, 2017.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


It was back in the 1930s, when people were reeling from the Great Depression. Everything was a lot simpler and cost a lot less then, including, most of all, Christmas.

My grandmother’s family just loved the Christmas season. They were very close, and they had a lot of fun. There were six children, lots of aunts and uncles, and various cousins once or twice removed. The family home in Council Bluffs, Iowa, was warm and boisterous, mixing the generations in happiness and harmony.

My grandparents were young marrieds then, with two children. They both worked hard: she was in the index department at Mutual of Omaha, and he was a salesman. They owned their own home and a car. Life was good.

Nobody had much money. But to their family, Christmas was a big deal. Everybody looked forward to the family gift exchange. Everybody tried to come up with gifts for each other that were really, really special.

They would buy out the tie department at the old Nebraska Clothing Co., knit one and purl two on beautiful homemade sweaters, and hustle and bustle everywhere to find just the right gifts for each other to pile under the tree.

But that year, my grandfather announced that he and my grandmother would NOT be participating in the gift exchange.

The relatives were stunned. They tried to hide their pity. Money that scarce? Times that bad? How terrible, to neither give nor receive gifts.

But my grandparents had a secret:
They were giving Harry for Christmas.
Uncle Harry was the one family member who lived far away.

He was a violinist in a small orchestra on the West Coast. He hadn’t been home for years. He simply couldn’t afford it.

Everybody missed him. There was a great, big hole in the family.

Well, my grandparents decided they wanted to fill that hole. They sent Harry their Christmas money, every dime. And Harry bought a train ticket home.

He arrived at the old Union Station in downtown Omaha on Christmas Eve.

My grandparents hid Harry in the trunk of their old Overland to get across the river. They couldn’t let the toll-bridge operator see Harry, because he was a friend of the family. He would blab it all over town.

Their secret was too delicious to let out a minute too soon.

Harry spent the night with them and their children. On Christmas morning, they made Harry get back into the trunk to ride over in secret to my great-grandparents’ house.

They were the last to arrive. They popped the trunk, and went in.

Everybody was already downstairs in the party room with the Christmas tree, eagerly awaiting the start of the gift exchange. They looked with curiosity and a little sadness at my grandparents, coming in empty-handed.

Suddenly, Grandpa asked for the floor. Grammie stood next to him, rubbing a tiny Aladdin’s lamp. Everyone was puzzled.

Grandpa talked about the joy of Christmas, and how they’d wondered what the family would really like to have that year.

What would be the best?
 What would mean the most?

Then Harry walked slowly down the stairs, playing the sweet notes of “Silent Night” on his violin.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Everybody mobbed him, crying, laughing, hugging and chattering.


How’d you get here?


It’s so good to see you!

Oh, Harry! You came home!

Finally, they understood that a great gift had been given after all. It was a strong sacrifice, a loving statement about what was really important.

“It was a happy and a teary Christmas,” Grammie recalled. She still got misty-eyed over it decades later, mainly because it was all Grandpa’s idea, that sweet rascal. He sure earned his stripes with his in-laws that year.

His gift was good tidings. Great joy.

And a reminder that everything we need for Christmas, we can’t buy, and we already have.

We have each other. We have ways to bring joy. The best gifts we can give, that mean the most, don’t cost much, if anything at all.

Most of all, we all have a song of love that we can sing to those around us, and play in our own hearts, ‘til we join the greatest family reunion of all time.

Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.

— Luke 2:10

Excerpted from the new book, Radiant Beams, available on

By Susan Darst Williams Ÿ Ÿ Radiant Beams Ÿ © 2016