A Christmas Story

Granddaddy placed me on his knee, he fuzzed my hair and smoked his Bing Crosby pipe. The world smelled like Prince Albert in a can.

“The year was 1862,” Granddaddy began his story. “The day was Christmas. The place was eastern Virginia.”

East Virginia. God’s country. Where the Rappahannock River traverses the Blue Ridge Mountains, then dumps itself into the Chesapeake like a pitcher of ice tea. The War was on. The landscape was torn up from war.

“And it was so cold,” said Granddaddy.

Paralyzingly cold. The winter of 1862 was brutal. You could break a tooth eating a bowl of soup.

Eighteen-year-old privates were sleeping on barren earth, huddled together like puppies beneath woolen blankets. Grown men—military men—spooned together, just to survive.

But this cold snap was nothing compared to the hunger. Some soldiers were so hungry they were eating their tobacco. There are stories about soldiers eating their own shoe leather.

Christmas morning came with fresh misery. A wet snow had fallen overnight. Gaggles of army boys awoke with frostbitten noses and frozen earlobes. Others were coughing themselves to death.

The opposing armies were camped on opposite sides of the river. Gray coats on one side. Blues on the other. Before evening, these countrymen would probably be killing each other. “It was a hell of a time to be a soldier.”

I interrupted my Baptist grandfather. “Grandaddy, you can’t say ‘hell.’”

My grandfather, the grizzled veteran who spent his youth dodging shells in Anzio, Italy, said, “Son, there is no other word for war but hell.”

That morning, a few young soldiers were on patrol near the banks of the Rappahannock. They stopped patrolling when they saw the enemy on the other side of the river, also patrolling.

Both groups halted.

Soldiers on both sides of the river were skin and bones, with sunken eyes and the pallor of cadavers.

It was a stare down between adversaries. But nobody reached for their rifles.

Instead, in a moment of pure instinct, one patrol soldier waved at the enemy.

His partner punched his shoulder. “What are you doing?”

“What’s it look like I’m doing? I’m waving.”

“At THEM?”

“It’s Christmas,” said the man. At which point he cupped a hand to his mouth and shouted, “Hello, over there!”

“Hello, yourself!” came the reply from across the river.

“Merry Christmas to you!”

“Same to you!”

“Say, you got anything to trade over there?”

“Not much! We got parched corn and tobacco—that’s about the size of our Christmas!”

By now hundreds of privates from opposing armies had gathered on opposite shores. They were all eyeing each other. Grays and blues. Capulets and Montagues. Sharks and Jets.

“Let’s trade gifts!” someone shouted.

In a moment, the groups of men started gathering items to trade with the enemy.

The men grew suddenly cheerful. There was even laughter heard on the banks of the Rappahannock. It felt like Christmas.

The soldiers built makeshift toy sailboats, pieced together with sticks. They used handkerchiefs for sails, then placed the tiny boats into the river and sailed them to the opposite shore.

Each boat was filled with whatever gifts the soldiers could find. Trinkets, pocket change, carved figurines, folding jackknives. Parched corn. Roasted persimmons. You name it.

When the first fleet of boats arrived, the soldiers on the opposing side were thrilled with the gifts. They whooped and hollered. Then they refilled the boats and sent a return fleet to the opposite shore.

The enemy rafts drifted across the current toward the starving soldiers, who chased the little boats along the banks like schoolchildren.

Each boat was found packed with bags of coffee, sacks of sugar and salt pork.

“You sent us REAL coffee, Yank!” said one soldier. “Thanks!”

“We sent you sugar, too!”

“Thank you, Yank!”

“Thank you, Johnny!”

“Merry Christmas to you!”

“Same to you, fellas!”

They ate. They drank. They smoked their pipes. They offered thanks. They hollered jokes across the river. They sang songs of home.

And one of the soldiers from that fateful day wrote this:

“…We were brothers, not foes, waving salutations of goodwill in the name of the Babe of Bethlehem, on Christmas Day in ‘62. At the very front of the opposing armies, the Christ Child struck a truce of us, broke down the wall of partition, became our peace. We exchanged gifts. We shouted greetings back and forth. We kept Christmas and our hearts were lighter of it, and our shivering bodes were not quite so cold.”

My grandfather finished telling the tale. Tapped his empty pipe against his thigh.

And as he walked away, he said, “You can figure the moral of this story out for yourself, son.”

And I pray I never forget it.

Merry Christmas.


  1. Carol Miller - December 25, 2022 1:46 pm

    Beautiful and touching!
    I hope you and sweet Jamie have a wonderful and blessed Christmas!
    Carol Miller ( Scotty’s mama)❤️❤️❤️🎄🎄🎄

  2. Anne Arthur - December 25, 2022 1:52 pm

    I’m praying that we will find this peace in our torn world, too.
    Merry Christmas, everyone.

  3. Pat Deas - December 25, 2022 1:54 pm

    Oh if we could do that now with whats left of our country but I’m afraid it’s tipped too far the wrong way…Nevertheless a uplifting story…Happy Birthday Jesus!!!

  4. Karen B Flamand - December 25, 2022 1:59 pm

    I love this. If all foes could put down their anger and shout greetings of good tidings to someone they fear; they might discover there is really nothing to fear. Merry Christmas and thank you for your inspiring words.

    • Marilyn - December 25, 2022 9:04 pm

      I cried hard this time. Those boys could have been pals under different circumstances . Oh if government officers would wage their own little war with pen and ink and not get our loved ones involved! Such terrible heartache PTSD and bloodshed.

  5. Linda Dennis Phillips - December 25, 2022 2:02 pm

    May the Peace of the LORD be with us all. Thank you for years of joy, laughter and reflection. Merry Christmas to all!

  6. Steve McCaleb - December 25, 2022 2:23 pm

    Lord that the peace and humanity of that day could spread over mankind like an all consuming fire…..please

  7. Peggy M. Windham - December 25, 2022 2:35 pm

    Merry Christmas!🙏❤️🎁🎄

  8. Oliver Rhett Talbert - December 25, 2022 2:36 pm

    Great history! If only we could learn this lesson – and remember it. And act like we believe in the Truth behind it.

  9. Trudy - December 25, 2022 2:44 pm

    All wars are hell, but especially civil wars when you are killing your own countrymen. Praying for Peace on Earth. Merry Christmas to you, Jamie and your families.

  10. Nancy - December 25, 2022 2:50 pm

    And a very Merry Christmas to you and yours. God bless.

  11. Kelley Hunt - December 25, 2022 2:52 pm

    Such a beautiful sentiment on this Christmas Day. Thank you for always spreading joy and shining your light.

  12. JonDragonfly - December 25, 2022 2:55 pm

    And a very Happy Christmas to you and yours.

  13. JonDragonfly - December 25, 2022 2:56 pm

    And God bless us, every one.

  14. Suzanne - December 25, 2022 2:58 pm

    God Bless your Christmas, Sean, and Bless you for always reminding us of our innate humanity. You shine your light in some pretty dark corners for us, but then: The World is made brighter!

  15. Nancy Grinstead - December 25, 2022 3:05 pm

    Merry Christmas ❣️

  16. Donna - December 25, 2022 3:10 pm

    And just like today’s political war, if these common hardworking men could have sat down and reasoned thru their political opposing views and agreed on the basic beliefs and truths such as slavery is sinful, immoral, unchristian, and war destroys lives, economics, families, common sense would have out weighed the greed, pride, power of the political system. Will we be able to repair the damage that is happening to our country?

  17. George Hefley - December 25, 2022 3:13 pm

    A story for the ages!! Merry Christmas!

  18. David - December 25, 2022 3:23 pm

    Beautiful! Merry Christmas to all!!

  19. Becky Kaufman - December 25, 2022 3:26 pm


  20. Paul McCutchen - December 25, 2022 3:36 pm

    Amen Sean Amen

  21. Karen - December 25, 2022 3:56 pm

    Heart warming and heartbreaking at the same time. Thank you. Merry Christmas. 🎄

  22. Joey - December 25, 2022 4:02 pm

    Your best column ever. Thank you.

  23. LIN ARNOLD - December 25, 2022 4:58 pm

    MERRY CHRISTMAS! A hug to you and one for your wife. And 2 hugs for the dogs!

  24. Patricia Gibson - December 25, 2022 5:50 pm

    Merry Christmas 🎄

  25. Mim - December 25, 2022 6:11 pm

    Merry Christmas, Sean and Jamie. Thanks for keeping our hearts softened all year with your stories.

  26. Bobbie - December 25, 2022 6:30 pm

    Wonderful as always ! Blessings to all …the writer and the readers. In the words of Charles Dickens, “God bless us everyone!”
    Merry Christmas one and all! 💖

  27. Susan Kennedy - December 25, 2022 6:32 pm

    Merry Christmas!🎄

  28. Ann Chumley - December 25, 2022 7:13 pm

    Merry Christmas

  29. Gordon - December 25, 2022 7:32 pm

    Merry Christmas to you and Jaime, and your host of family canines.

  30. Linda Moon - December 25, 2022 7:39 pm

    A War Story at Christmas. What a moral. I’ll be remembering it for the remainder of this day and beyond. Merry Christmas and Peace to All!

  31. David Hill - December 25, 2022 8:46 pm

    Inspiring as always.
    Merry Christmas!

  32. Nancy Robertson - December 25, 2022 9:14 pm

    Merry Christmas, Sean Dietrich! Thank you so much for the stories you write – they always serve as a reminder to us to look more carefully at the people we encounter as we go about our days, and think about what they may be carrying inside, what their story is…

  33. MAM - December 25, 2022 11:08 pm

    Merry Christmas to Sean, Jamie, and everyone who reads these marvelous columns written by fabulous wordsmith, Sean Dietrich!

  34. Stacey Wallace - December 25, 2022 11:11 pm

    Christmas is a time of miracles. Thanks, Sean! Merry Christmas! Love to you, Jamie, Marigold, Otis Campbell, and Thelma Lou.

  35. R W - December 26, 2022 1:02 am

    Love this story and a Merry Christmas to all who rear these columns

  36. Dwayne Barker - December 26, 2022 1:05 am

    As a US Sailor that has seen “the enemy”, I truly love this story.
    Thank you for doing what you do. This gruff ole bet really has a soft heart and your stores touch it.

  37. Sheri K - December 26, 2022 2:01 am

    A very Merry Christmas to you and Jamie and your fur babies! You make my day! I pray our Lord blesses you just as you bless so many with your words of love and His peace.

  38. Judy - December 26, 2022 4:52 pm

    Oh that we could celebrate Christmas like that today.

  39. Marianna Ochs - December 26, 2022 6:21 pm

    What a beautiful story of compassion and comradely even with different ideals. I hope the next day both sides hiked away and called it even. Thank you for sharing it.
    Merry Christmas to you, Jamie, and Marigold!❤️🎄❤️🎄

  40. Tom Parks - December 26, 2022 11:57 pm

    Something similar to this happened in1914 at the beginning of WW I on the western front. Needless to say that it didn’t happen again. Who agrees with the evolutionists that people are getting better and better ?

  41. Diane Berry - December 27, 2022 1:25 am

    What a great Christmas story. I absolutely love this. I could picture the exact details of the moments. Thanks you for sharing!

  42. Jennie Stultz - December 27, 2022 8:46 pm

    My daddy landed on the beach of Anzio on his 21st birthday. He might have even known your granddaddy. My daddy was a wonderful story teller like your granddaddy and, like you, I inherited that talent. I particularly loved this story and wish the Russian Army could read it.
    Jennie from Gastonia

  43. Robert Chiles - December 28, 2022 3:16 am

    Go on Youtube and listen to “Christmas in the Trenches” about the similar Christmas truce in WW 1


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