gingerbread houses and Christmas cookie traysIt’s December, and my husband, Paul, has already lashed himself to the chimney in a special harness and climbed all over the roof, putting up Christmas lights that we turned on for the first time at Thanksgiving in front of a crowd of family and friends. (Think Chevy Chase and you get the idea). Autumn crispness always gets me excited about the holiday season, but this snow has its own charming contribution to my enthusiasm for what’s upcoming.

As a kid, I spent Christmastime traveling back to Baltimore and Philadelphia to see my grandparents. As my mother wasn’t keen on flying, we often took Amtrak trains, usually on the northern route, through icy winter landscapes.

Those trips were full of fond memories: playing Memory and learning how to crochet while sipping hot chocolate in the dome car; looking out at the twinkling Christmas lights on houses zipping by in the night; and sleeping spoon-style with my mom in the cramped bunks of the old trains.

When I was seven years old, the unspeakable happened — a blizzard delayed our train, and we were forced to spend Christmas Eve on the train instead of cozied up at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I cried about Santa not being able to get into a train, and was astounded to find that he made it anyway when the sun rose the next morning.

To this day, this is my favorite time of year, and I look forward to it in joyous anticipation of the succession of decorating, cooking and happy times with family and friends. I love when my kids join me in the kitchen to make elaborate gingerbread houses and Christmas cookie trays.

Our tree is always a noble fir, and we cover it with glass ornaments we’ve collected over the past 20 years and all the little handmade ornaments the kids created at school. Until I was a parent, I never understood why my parents always hung those ornaments from my art classes in school in the front of the tree when they were always so ugly. Now I understand perfectly, and continue the tradition: Holidays aren’t about having the perfectly shaped tree or best pecan pie; they are about the love and happiness shared with people you care most about in the world.

So, let’s all pledge to let go of some of the craziness and focus on the best part of the holidays: special time spent with our kids.