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What do the winter holidays mean to you?

What do the winter holidays mean to you?

For me, they mean saying “yes” to being in touch with people I love who are far away and who I might contact only once a year.

It means saying “no” to gross consumerism. It means remembering those who are less fortunate, those who are cold or hungry, and those who are in need.

It means reflection: looking back on a year almost gone, and looking forward to a new year beckoning with fresh experiences, choices and opportunities. It means sitting before fireplaces remembering those no longer with us. It means a time of going inward; just as the bare trees, now shed of their leaves, remind us that this is a time of letting things rest, of letting things settle. Garlands of tiny white lights strung on the mantelpiece, logs burning in the open hearth, candles flickering during mealtime — all of these help us keep faith that the sun will reappear to give us light and warmth and that the dark days of winter bleak will gradually lengthen to bring us a new season come spring.

Winter, for me, is an enchanting time of drawing closer to those whom we love and hold dear and of finding warmth and comfort in the things we cherish most. Of pulling out cozy sweaters and flannel shirts tucked away for months and crawling under downy comforters to snuggle up and watch sentimental movies starring der Bingle, Danny Kaye and Jimmy Stewart. Of planning parties just for the fun of it and hanging up mistletoe because there’s someone in the room we might like to kiss. Of bustling through beautifully decorated stores and finding just the right gift, of holiday meals prepared with care. For me, it is the joy of opening a card from someone I haven’t heard from in a long time knowing they have thought of me, and of remembering them with a smile and wishing they were near so I could give them a bear hug — the kind of hug that makes you both want to hold on forever.

But distances do divide, as does time. As does, sometimes, life itself and, alas, death. It is then that we can raise a glass to those who have gone before us and exclaim, “Here’s to a good fellow” or “a fine woman” and hope that we may meet again in heaven or in the next cycle of life. In the meantime, may we remember them in love and in all that we do, and may we honor them.

I believe in the magic of a bell chiming that another angel has earned their wings, of seeing things through a child’s eyes. One December a few years ago, my son and I were out shopping for a Christmas tree. It was a very difficult time for us — my husband was in hospice care and a hospital bed had been set up in our family room. Our son, not yet a teen, came running up to me in the parking lot. “Come look, Mommy. I’ve found the most beautiful tree on the whole lot!”

I stood before the tree he had chosen. “It’s too big,” I said, thinking to myself, where on earth am I going to put it with the hospital bed in there? “But,” he pleaded, “I want it big so that Daddy can see it from wherever he is.” Well, we got “his” tree, and it was the most beautiful tree we’d ever had. In the wisdom of a child, he was right and I, in my practical voice of an adult, was wrong. In spite of the harsh circumstances of our lives at that moment, we all agreed that it was the best Christmas ever.

For me, the holidays are a time of reaching out and grabbing a snowflake in a mittened hand as if for the first time; of marveling that, yes, it is true what they say, they are all unique. As are we — unique in how we think, look and in who we are. May we honor and respect such differences, and may this season of cold weather outside bring warmth to us inside and open our hearts just a bit wider. May we remain deeply grateful for all that we have as we enjoy the beauty of this holiday season, and the charm of this town we call Ashland.

Award-winning author, TV presenter and world traveler Susanne Severeid is an Ashland resident who enjoys making time for the important things in life — including mocha. Read more of her columns at www.dailytidings.com/mocha-musings. For more, go to www.susannesevereid.com. Email her at susannewebsite@olypen.com.