I love the holidays. In my house, as in many, December is a month of joyful anticipation. Everyone is scrambling around, trying to figure out the perfect gift for one another, crafting, shopping and wrapping in a flurry. The house is filled with the smell of baking cookies, pine needles and crackling logs. There are festive gatherings to host or attend, and holiday greetings to write and send.
The only problem with the holiday season is when it’s over. Some of us get the blues when it all winds down. The day after Christmas is a dreaded one for me, and that feeling repeats itself on New Year’s Day. Year after year, January 1 means it’s time to stop thinking about giving and sharing, fun and festivities. It’s time to put my nose back to the grindstone, get serious, and figure out how to be more productive than ever.
Somehow, though, this year is different. When I look back on this holiday season, what strikes me most are memories of the people who crossed my path and left a lasting impression. More than once this early January, I find myself looking back over the past few weeks, and realize I am grinning from ear to ear. Sure, the holidays are centered around gifts and festivities, but what I’m realizing this year is that the greatest gifts are the people we come into contact with. The festivities are the way they make us feel.
Some of the most uplifting people are those we encounter just going through our day. Our interaction may only be on a surface level, lasting just moments. There are the people at the post office who greet you by name. There is the owner of your favorite restaurant who sends your table (full of extended family from out-of-town) complimentary appetizers and then sits down with you to say chat.
There is the manager of the best ice cream shop around who inquiries about your family and fills you in on new developments with her grandchildren. There is the singer in the band on New Year’s Eve who remembers your name from two years ago and asks how your friends are doing. There are the neighbors who give unexpected gifts of homemade treats and wine.
Then there are the people close to you who touch your heart. The friend who, once again, invites your family to spend Christmas Eve with hers, knowing that you won’t see your extended family until the next day. There are the sisters who show up for the holidays, laden with board games that lead to nights of uproarious laughter.
There is the brother who spends time playing guitar with your young, aspiring musician, harmonizing while encouraging, building a bond. There are the unexpected gifts sent to your children by relatives far away (those more generous than you could have expected, others unique and personal), that stop said child in their tracks with surprise. There is the day at the movies, where the extended family splits up, half of you going for the laughter and the other half going for the heart-wrencher, all coming out happy and fulfilled.
The gifts that last aren’t items from a list, but moments and shared experiences. The most meaningful memories of this holiday season are the people, all those who brought a glimmer to my eye. Having watched my children open gifts, play, sing and laugh, my sense is that they feel the same, whether they choose to acknowledge it or not.