Christmas is a time to put past, present and future in perspective

This column was originally published as part of my “From Where I Sit” series at in Towson Times.

‘Tis the season.

We’ve survived Black Friday and Cyber Monday, squeezing our way through jammed parking lots and Internet connections for our sprint to year end.

But beyond shopping, it’s also a time for family, friends, traditions and reflecting on what matters most to us.

What are our treasures this year? Our traditions snapshot our lives in this season, giving us the chance to review both who we are and where we are as we address our holiday cards, review our gift lists and plan for the year’s final celebrations.

But when do our holidays really happen?

Is it the stories we tell — those disasters that are now finally funny (such as my nephew shattering his exuberantly raised glass over my maple glazed turkey)?

Is it the people we are with — the dinners and outings we share with those we rarely see?

Is it a feeling we get — when a special song opens our hearts? Or when the scent of fresh greenery or baking reawakens our senses?

Or is it the day itself, and its comfortable routine — ushering in warm memories and the promise of more to come?

For some, those memories are painful. Relationships have changed. People have come into our lives, others have left. Some planned, some not. And empty chairs at our dinner table remind us of our loss.

I remember a girlfriend’s wise advice during my first year of marital separation.

As the holidays approached, I felt I was entering a fog of unknowns unlike any Christmas I had ever had before or would have ever imagined.

I was scared, sad and even angry that somehow my life had gotten so far off track. That looming holiday, the one I loved and cherished above all others, was now a haunting reminder of the life I no longer had.

I dreaded it.

“It’s just a day,” my friend said. “Only 24 hours. Just look at it as one day.”

It’s been 15 years since my friend offered this advice, and I have used it ever since for any emotionally charged holiday, anniversary or milestone.

“It’s only a day.”

Yet, I’ve discovered it is our day, too — a blank page waiting for us to craft as we choose.

Granted, our expectations are often rooted in what we have experienced. But the future is still there, waiting for us to take it and shape it by clinging to what matters most to us.

It’s as if we need to pick through those paragraphs of our lives and find the theme, figuring our ways to restate it at this point in time of our lives.

Sometimes, we have to edit.

Do our traditions bring us joy? Is the result worth the effort? If we are not careful, our memories can be so vivid and our dreams so overwhelming that the gift we have now — the present — is lost.

Life-changing experiences often clarify what matters most. And now, we have the chance to nurture those things that matter, and say good-bye to those things taking up space in our lives that we no longer need.

We adapt and press on with what matters most.

‘Tis the season for that, too.