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Is there anyone who doesn’t get sad when Christmas is over? Like my parents have always done, I leave my tree lit up for several days after December 25, but it’s getting to be time to pack away the ornaments and haul the tree to recycling and I’m dreading it.

Fortunately, I’m left with memories of a very special – albeit different – Christmas and the older I get, the more valuable memories become. I had the best time having friends over for a holiday night in, sharing Christmas cocktails with Chris while watching the ice skaters at the Hotel Del Coronado, and enjoying my family’s tradition of going out to dinner on Christmas Eve (we went to Casa Guadalajara in Old Town this year and it was great – a quesadilla on Christmas Eve totally hit the spot). This Christmas was different, though. I suppose I should have known it would be, just like everything else has been this year. I thought I would sail through this year that I’m turning 30 and getting married like every other year, but there have been other plans for me and lessons to be learned.

Back to Christmas. I have to preface this post with an admission: I’m extremely spoiled. I was born to two of the most generous, loving people on the planet who have always moved heaven and earth to make sure my sister and I had everything, from expensive dollhouse accessories my mom struggled to afford (I wanted all of them – I was the worst), to my mom turning around after a long workday and dreadful commute and driving back to where she had just come from so I could go to my favorite store, to my dad driving to Palm Springs to work on Monday mornings and back home to San Diego on Friday evenings so his girls didn’t go without financially but still had their dad around on weekends. Somehow I found and am marrying a man who is also a selfless giver. Combined, Christmas has always been a spectacular show of gifts.

This year I struggled to come up with a list of material Christmas wishes, likely due to guilt about the expenses associated with my wedding, so I picked some things and got some of them. I’m extremely grateful for everything I received, but receiving them didn’t feel the same. In fact, I found myself a little blue on Christmas, then I became even more blue when I thought about how selfish I was being. When I came out of it, I realized what was happening: I – and Christmas as I knew it – was changing. I took some time to mourn and then accept the change, then I basked in the huge, satisfying joy that is Christmas when it’s about giving more than receiving.

When I returned home on Christmas after spending the day with my family and the night with Chris’s, I put my opened gifts under the tree and looked at them. I received some great things, but “What good are they?” I asked myself.

What good is the beautiful saucepan from my sweet future mother-in-law without the joy of sharing recipes with her and my mom?

What good are the boxing classes Chris gave me without the ability to laugh together as I show him my moves (as if I’m any good)?

What good is the Kindle I received from my parents without the ability to talk to them about the last great book they read?

What good are the fantastic face products I received from my sister without her vast knowledge about what’s best for my skin?

What good are any of the gifts under the Christmas tree without the people sitting around it?

I guess this is growing up – when I would give back every gift I’ve ever received just to see my dad’s face when he opened the box that held the watch he wasn’t expecting. To see him speechless that this Christmas was about him after so, so many Christmases of him making it about everyone else.

I was challenged recently to recall the gifts I’ve received over the years. Can you? I can remember a few – a Red Ryder BB gun my dad hid behind the couch like in A Christmas Story; the beautiful Le Creuset pot I was blown away to receive and will have and use for years to come; the heart rate monitor from which my love of fitness was born. There are others; these are just a few.

I can easily tell you the gifts that won’t be hard to remember. My dad and Chris testing out my dad’s new indoor golf putting mat. The smell of my mom’s stovetop potpourri – hers is always more fragrant than mine, despite using the exact same recipe (mom magic). The great time I had talking to Chris’s brothers and getting to know them better.

I met some people this holiday season who I believe I was meant to meet for a reason. There was the woman and her adult sister, disabled by multiple sclerosis, for whom she cares full-time. The three of us chatted while they waited for their wheelchair-equipped bus after an event at my work. As we waited, I learned the woman has cared for her younger sister her entire life. The older sister told me their mom didn’t have a car, so they had to take the bus, and she remembers being in charge of packing her baby sister’s diaper bag and getting it onto the bus. There she was all this time later, no longer a big sister to a baby, but a stretched-thin caregiver to her wheelchair-bound sister, still in charge of getting her things onto the bus. When they were little girls riding around with their mom, I doubt they expected life to look the way it did the night I met them. I don’t know the details of their lives, but they both seemed to have joy in them. After all, they have each other. They thanked me for waiting with them, but I wish I would have thanked them. I had felt overwhelmed, challenged and afraid that day. They opened my eyes that night to what’s actually hard in life and what’s not, and for that I’ll never forget them.

This year has been full of gifts. I got engaged to a wonderful man. I met my cousin, Kristen, for the first time, who I always knew existed but doubted I would ever meet. My sister didn’t move to Portland – at least not yet – which meant more time with her in the flesh, although I sincerely want her to live wherever makes her the happiest, even if that means I miss her every day.

Friends, family, lessons, laughter, love and so much joy. I am totally and completely spoiled.

I wanted to write this post in place of my usual Four Thing Friday yesterday. Rest assured I have lots of recipes (hello, chocolate peanut butter bark I made today!) and other fun things to share here, but tonight, I hope someone somewhere enjoys reading this post. Now for photos!

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Christmas with my guy at his aunt’s house. That is his best smile – I promise he’s happy (it has taken me a long time to learn!).

My dad and Chris practicing their golf game. My heart explodes looking at this picture.

My dad and Chris practicing their golf game. My heart explodes over their friendship.

Mama Bear and me. I love her. Also, dear Santa, next year please bring me a smaller booty.

Mama and me. I love her. Also, dear Santa, next year please bring me a smaller booty.

Big smiles, great friends.

Big smiles and beautiful friends.

All Gracie wanted for Christmas was an uninterrupted, all day-long sleep.

All Gracie wanted for Christmas was an uninterrupted, all day-long sleep. Simple wishes.

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