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It’s 3 a.m. Christmas morning. The house is eerily silent, everyone soundly asleep, including the dog. After several hours lying in bed in a dark, silent room, kept awake by thoughts of Christmas racing through my head, I finally decide to put a few of those thoughts into words.

At this time of year there is so much conversation and antagonism over the religious significance of Christmas, or how commercialism is destroying it; yet every year I find that it’s thoughts of family that fill me to near over-flowing with emotion.

I think of Christmas past and those who are now only a part of Christmas via my memories—and yet, they are still a part of every Christmas. My wife’s parents have both passed on. My grandparents as well. Remembering my grandfather laughing until I thought he would pass out over a game of dominoes. Grandma making her “famous” pecan pie, while a small army of kids raced through the house with new toys they had just opened.

I also remember Christmas past—but not so far past—when my kids were little. They were always the first to wake and make sure we didn’t sleep past sun up. While I would try to make coffee in my half-awake state of mind, they would gather around the tree nearly bursting with excitement. We always read the Christmas story from the Bible together before opening gifts. I always got to help them assemble, get batteries into, or learn how to use their new toys while mom fixed breakfast.

I haven’t seen most of those kids for over 6 years. Now they celebrate Christmas with their own families thousands of miles away with grandchildren whom I’ve never met—and yet, they too, are still a part of my Christmas every year.

So this Christmas eve, there was no huge gathering of family and friends. It was my wife and I, two sons, a daughter-in-law and a future daughter-in-law. We watched a really bad movie, played card games and laughed at each other. We ate tacos and cheese balls and buffalo dip—and it was magical. It was, for me, the very essence of what Christmas has always been about for as long as I can remember.

So while I share a wonderful intimate evening with a few of the people I care most about in this world, and who I feel so blessed and grateful to have been allowed to share life with, I am at the same time emotionally connected through my memories to all the people who are an vital part of what Christmas means to me—those who have passed on and those who are far away.

And so as this Christmas day dawns in a few hours, we will gather in the living room and partake in the annual tradition of exchanging gifts. Parents, siblings, and children will gather in our home for the traditional Christmas dinner. But when all the dishes are done, the wrappings are taken to the trash, the tree and decorations are taken down, it will be the memories of time well-spent with the ones I love that I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life.  Not a separate set of memories, but adding to and building upon a collective set of memories and experiences that grows deeper, broader, and richer each year—past, present and future all merging into one collective emotional experience.

Family is the greatest gift I’ve ever been given, and those bonds are forged anew during the Christmas season like no other time of the year. So while others around me carry on with their petty Christmas arguments, I’d like to go on record as stating that Christmas is a most special time of year for me. No one—neither Christian nor atheist—will ever be able to rob me of the joy of Christmas.

So here’s wishing everyone who reads this a most wonderful and “magical” Christmas season, and may both the family present with you and the family remembered, enrich your lives in a most remarkable way.

Merry Christmas to one and all.