Christmas makes me sentimental. I think it has something to do with getting older, wiser (what? It could happen) and more humble.

Maybe it has something to do with having realistic expectations about the whole holiday hoopla. It has everything to do with starting a family and realizing it’s not about me anymore. There is peace in that.

Recently, my daughter and I were driving when we heard the Christmas song, Where are you Christmas? The song is about a little girl who feels the spirit of Christmas is missing. That song breaks my heart every time but my daughter interrupted my thoughts by saying, “Mom, how can Christmas be missing if it is something inside of us, that we feel? Christmas isn’t what we do; it’s what we feel.”

There it was, the wisdom of a pure heart on the cusp of adolescence. She clearly understands that Christmas isn’t about the stuff under the tree, but the love of the people around it.

I used to be frustrated when it came to Christmas shopping for my parents who would say, “We have everything we need.” What I didn’t recognize was the gift of unconditional love that statement held. Instead, I would spend countless hours trying to find them the perfect gift, uncovering the secret wish I believed they wouldn’t admit to, so I could surprise them. I didn’t appreciate that, as dysfunctional as our extended family was, my parents were happy to be surrounded by the tradition of weirdness that was our family. It was about creating memories, not collecting stuff.

The years moved on and, as in all families, there were divorces and family feuds, new babies and new relationships, long distances and obligations. The ghosts of Christmases past linger in our memories with the faces and laughter of times gone by, leaving us with the unanswered promise of what was to be. Yet no matter how far ahead we go, there is always a space left for those whose spirit lingers, but whose table setting sits empty this year. I know it is okay to move on. They’re with us.

Our family is smaller now. The relics of my ancestry are long gone, replaced by a new cast of characters. But I know in my heart I have everything I need. Christmas gives me time to pause and look back, but also look forward, guided by what matters most to me.

Last week’s horrific events in the United States makes it hard to think about Christmas, but Christmas day will come and we will feel it, because we need too. Christmas is about keeping faith that compassion and love triumphs over all. At the core of our holiday celebrations we are united in the faith that where there is darkness, there is always light. Where there is sadness, there is healing. Where there is love, there is always hope. No matter what religion or spiritual belief you hold, even if none at all, I hope you feel it.

One day a year, we are humbled enough to realize how lucky we are, no matter our circumstances, and we honour our ghosts and our journey yet to come. We wrap ourselves in the imperfection of our lives; the biggest gift of all. May the spirit of the season fill your heart as it does mine. May you have all that you need and appreciate it. Merry Christmas.