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Ah, Christmas!

Daughter Shelby, Jingle-dog Molly, and son-in-law TerryCelebrating Christmas with family ranks right up there with the best days of the year. I'm glad some of my family live near enough that I could enjoy a Christmas Eve finger-food feast (my daughter's home in Mullins) or traditional sit-down dinner (my brother's home in Florence). The weather cooperated, traveling was easy, and all the traditional tunes on the radio kept me company while I drove.

Some folks couldn't get "home" for Christmas this year because of finances, or distance, or weather. The weather simply didn't cooperate in many parts of the country and many people got stuck in airports or train stations, some even in snow drifts. They had to get in touch by email, phone call or text message. Or maybe on the evening news! It was a white Christmas, but it certainly wasn't what they had in mind, and I felt so sorry for them. I hope they eventually made it to their destinations.

For me, it was good to see relatives and in-laws I hadn't seen in a while, meet some folks I didn't already know, and watch the younger crowd having a blast with new technological toys (cell phones and cameras, for instance). And forget about dieting for a day or two!

With the uncertain economy this year, imagination was employed more than usual. Instead of a dress-up, sit-down Christmas dinner, my daughter's company had a cookout and I bet everybody enjoyed it just as much than previous catered occasions. It's always fun when you can come in casual clothes and don't have to mind your manners so much, or watch the clock. Not so stressful.

I remember one stressful Christmas afternoon growing up. We were scheduled to leave the house soon to drive over to my aunt's house in Sumter, and since everybody gave everybody else a gift in that family, mama had double-checked her list. To her dismay, she was one present short. She was panic-stricken. Nobody could be left out, that would be a disaster!

She searched the kitchen cupboards, looked in the clothes closets and even examined the contents of her jewel box, but everything was obviously used, not new. Finally she settled on the gift she had opened that morning from me, a pale pink candy dish with the lid affixed by a broad satin ribbon, also pale pink.

Now, I had spent considerable time shopping for mama's Christmas present, something just right for her that she could proudly display on the floor-to-ceiling shelves in the living room. It was just right for serving pastel mints when entertaining her church friends, instead of one of the old glass bowls she usually used. It came from the China Shoppe and it was perfect - exquisite and expensive, probably the most expensive present I'd ever given her.

As she picked it up and said over her shoulder, "This will do, you don't mind, do you?" she was already wrapping it up again, pulling out the little card I had included and scribbling somebody else's name on a scrap of paper.

But I did mind. I was recalling all the time I'd spent browsing the gift shops, thinking about what she had and didn't have, so I could get her something that would be both lovely and useful.

But mama was so desperate and time was so short that I said, "No, I guess not," and enjoyed watching somebody else open it up again later, at my aunt's house. Oh well, it just showed that mama wasn't immune from the Christmas frenzy that strikes all of us sometimes. The family soon went to exchanging names so that problem didn't arise again.

During Christmas seasons when money was tight - something like this present year - we might exchange recipes instead of bought presents. It might be a loaf of pecan bread or a dozen home-baked oatmeal cookies, hand-printed recipes carefully attached and wrapped up in colorful paper like any other present.

It might be something personally embroidered or crocheted. Or it could be an IOU for yard work, house work or other practical chore. Those are still excellent gifts, by the way, especially for folks who are no longer "young'uns." And some of those kinds of presents were given this year, still thoughtful and still appreciated.

Getting in touch with friends and family makes Christmas special, whether in person or not, catching up on news and plans, chatting and laughing, sharing and listening. Touching each other's lives. I'm glad I could do that again this year.

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