Originally published as a column in NewsKamloops on December 25, 2015.

20151202_134554_001It is Christmas Eve and the four of us are tucked deep into the heart of Transylvania celebrating the winter holidays with family. Whether we travel or stay at home, this time a year is when we journey to a place that is always different no matter how much we repeat the rituals from year to year in an effort to make it just like the last one.

The thing is, try as we might, it is never the same. It could never be… With each year, I realize that it is not about the gifts but the presence we offer as we approach the day. Presence in more than one way.

It is about giving ourselves to serve others as much as we can, to be kind beyond expectations or at least to match them, to think of those who do not come close to joy because life throws them one too many curve balls, to be grateful not because we have what we want but to be grateful as we say ‘I have what I need’ because, in truth, many of us do.

It is never about material gifts.

The increased need for kindness in our immediate surroundings and beyond is evident. Times are rushed and pressing us into individual corners where we feel isolated and unhappy for it. Fighting back by reaching out seems counterintuitive yet it is not.

This is the time when we should evaluate our presence. In our family with those still present (as much as we believe in happy ever after, eternity is simply not a built-in feature of humans or anything alive for that matter), in our community in how we give time and help financially and otherwise, in what we leave behind as we move into tomorrow.

Since the boys have been born, we have spent many a Christmas time with my family whether in Europe or Canada. My Mom and Dad were there for some but not anymore. One could say that we are poorer with each Christmas as we leave behind slices of life that will never return as such and people who smile back from photos only. The gift that matters is that we once spent time together.

But then again, it is not about what we do not have any more but about what stays with; it is about how we grow from there. Christmas is, in truth, albeit not exclusively, a time of evaluating. In doing so we should go beyond the personal sphere and go far enough to see the bigger picture of our common ground.

This year, more than ever before, it became clear that we need to do so. As a country, we are fortunate to be on the side of those who can help (we can choose to while withholding judgment), just like we are also fortunate to have the kind of leadership that allows us to rewrite the story of our global presence. Gifts of social conscience to be precise.

As individuals we can make choices: to care more, to care enough to make a difference in someone’s life, to show our human side more often even if that means simply smiling to those we meet on our daily path.

During a recent beach stroll in Vancouver, I came across a bench carrying words that reminded me of my parents, my husband, my sons, and the rest of my family, including my close friends. It was about presence, about time, about realizing that we are shaped by what touches our heart.

‘Sometimes love is for a moment, sometimes love is for a lifetime. Sometimes a moment is a lifetime. May this place reminds us how precious life is.’ I would add; ‘may this day and all that follow remind us of the same. May that we not forget between now and the time we need to show it or remember it ourselves.’

Meaningful gifts are those that last long after the wrappings are crumpled up and the thrill of yet another object is lost from memory. It is perhaps the absence of material gifts that make us most aware of what’s really important.

It is when we make room for presence without any material strings attached that we can understand the ephemeral nature of today, Christmas day included. It is when we make room to remember that presence is where we show up many sunrises and sunsets past Christmas, no fancy duds, just as we are, hearts full as they are on the day defined by giving. In truth, every day should be shaped that way.

May your Christmas be an opportunity for gifts that will keep on growing and giving, and for presence that you can find and offer kind and warm each day from now until the next Christmas comes along. By then we will be wiser and even more mindful of life’s fragility and our immense responsibility to make our gifts, given and received, last. Merry Christmas!