The Christmas holiday has always been a special time for me. Growing up in a large, close-knit Italian family, Christmas was all about the traditional celebration of food and faith. Yes, we exchanged gifts, but the gift giving was never the centerpiece of our holiday. It was more focused on gathering the family to participate in old world customs and experiences.

Christmas Eve, in my child’s mind, was always the most special night of the year, and in retrospect, I now realize that it was little more than sharing a special meal steeped in the ancient customs of my ancestors. Nonetheless, for me, it was a time of happiness and family enjoyment.

The midnight mass followed by a family gathering where we exchanged gifts and enjoyed the special holiday treats that were prepared for that night were magical. My mother’s struffoli, drenched in citrus infused honey, were always in the center of the table. So simple, yet so special; gathering together to enjoy this experience was all we needed.

During all the years that Angela and I were married, and especially as parents of young children, we developed our own traditions, a blend of the old and the new, an Italian Christmas Eve meal and a visit from Santa in the morning. Certainly more elaborate than my childhood experiences, but still focused on family.

Growing older, and especially now as a widower, I find myself searching for some new meaning to the holiday.

Children, of course, need to have the joyful experiences of anticipation and just rewards on Christmas morning. The child’s view of Christmas should always be as simple as that. Or should it?

Perhaps we should be thinking more about how to balance the experience, something more like getting but giving as well.

Now, my holiday experiences are much simpler. Yes, I still enjoy my family gatherings, and, no, I don’t want to be alone on the holiday. But I do find myself feeling as though my priorities have changed and I try to seek some deeper meaning, something not necessarily wrapped in tinsel or blinking lights.

I read the comments on social media, which grow more expansive and sentimental as the holidays approaches, peace on earth, good will towards all. We all reach out to embrace the sentiments of the season, but with just the slightest bit of cynicism, as we understand that they are just sentiments, not usually heartfelt.

How do we change that, I wonder? Is there some mechanism through which we can actually mean what we say when we offer season’s greetings to one and all?

For me, I just want to think beyond the sentiment and try to figure out how to live with some of those gracious blessings in a more active way. Sure, my family and friends will always be at the center of my world. I will always want to look forward to coming home at night to a warm and cozy home, and I will continue to look forward to my phone conversations with my sons and Facetime with my grandchildren. So that begs the question; what can change in my life so that I can try to keep the Christmas vibe alive beyond December?

Perhaps begin with some simple things like being less judgmental about why others do what they do, or keep a positive attitude about how to settle a disagreement or even just smile more.

One of the unanticipated benefits of writing this column has been the little interactions that I have daily with a stranger who wants to reach out to me to encourage me to keep writing. Those little conversations are so precious to me because they represent a connection with a stranger, and they, even for just a few moments, make the world friendlier.

How nice it would be if we could all do just a little of that each and every day; keep the Christmas lights glowing for just a little longer.

Merry Christmas

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