I have celebrated only one Christmas, and an 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?

Years ago, my two young sons and I spent a few days skiing at Greek Peak, a small mountain in New York State. I was newly divorced, and the boys were due at their father's home, so we planned to return to Philadelphia on Dec. 24. Since we are Jewish, Christmas means time out from work and school, not a religious celebration.

The skiing was fun, the condo had TV and Scrabble, and we laughed. Late on the 22nd, snow fell — lots of snow. On the 23rd, with slippery highways keeping skiers and employees away, we walked to the mountain, where the chairlifts were free for the day. Santa's reindeer and holly abounded. It was 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 learned the highways were clear. We packed, left the condo key on the kitchen table, as instructed, then cleaned the windshield and started the engine. But we were stuck in the parking lot of the mountain-owned condo community.

Whatever the state of the interstate, no one had shoveled our lot. Our situation: 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 set in, a condo neighbor offered help. By the time I phoned home, this man has discussed our plight with his wife, who has whispered to their three kids, who began to teach us the spirit of Christmas. They insisted we take a room at their already-full inn.

The five combined kids headed to the slopes, and I became acquainted with a pair of the finest Good Samaritans in snow country. By close of chairlift, the adults had 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 paid rapt attention to their retelling of the Christmas story. As we sang carols together, these folks celebrated their own ability and willingness to give, and we learned a fine lesson in receiving.

We drove home safely on Dec. 25 and, after I sent a small thank-you gift — 5 matching ski hats — we never heard 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.

Susan Perloff is a Philadelphia writer. Find her online her at writerphiladelphia.com.