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For generations, our loved ones have gathered together at Christmas to exchange gifts, catch up on the year gone by, and to secretly compare ourselves to our distant cousins.

What makes it so special is that this holiday occurs in the darkest parts of the winter, just days after the longest night of the year. Our families are generally forced to stay inside together, and perhaps huddle around a fireplace or stay around a table in a room made warm by the food, companionship, and the bodies gathered there.

Almost everyone has a special Christmas memory from their childhood.

Perhaps it was a treasured gift from a relative, one that showed planning and forethought and a sensitivity to your needs and wants that was surprisingly accurate.

Perhaps it was the unstructured time with same-age cousins, exploring the house or the yard around a shared relative’s farm. A new mysterious place you could explore together.

Perhaps as a child you were aware enough to know that it was the time together itself that was precious. Perhaps you knew that our days together are numbered, and you had the sense to listen to their stories, share their memories, and capture those fleeting moments before they passed.

Most of us learned that lesson too late.

Our memories of Christmas are joyful, but we strain to remember even the slightest details of aunts and uncles, grandparents, or even great-grandparents who have now passed. We would pay a dear price to see them again, and hearing stories about them from other relatives are a sort of medicine for our soul.

Even for those of us who grew up in households where there was not plenty of everything, Christmas was a joyful time. We relished the love and affection of our family, and we knew that they did their best to make the day joyful by providing one or more special gifts we had wanted for weeks.

Whether it was a coveted pair of shoes or an item of designer clothing, or just a version of the latest popular toy, it was hard to miss the effort our family put into making Christmas special for us.

For this is the nature of Christmas. In this time we try to give each other what we need. Togetherness. A simple gift. A memory. Time to explore. That is the magic of Christmas.

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