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Do what you need to to make holiday special
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It's interesting to hear the different answers you get when you ask folks what the best things about Christmas are.The large majority of answers revolve around family and friends and sharing the holidays with them. This was certainly true in a recent worldwide Internet poll. Family was the No. 1 answer for almost half of all participants, with enjoyment of the time off for the holidays the next favorite, following closely behind were the joy of giving and opportunity for the expression of faith. While some would rearrange those priorities, most would agree that these are high on their list.

Comedians may offer other thoughts such as really loving those "three months of turkey and ham sandwiches," of catching "tinsel-itis," or dealing with the after-effects of Rudolph's nose job, but we all recognize that there are certain things we each feel we need to make our Christmas "special." For some people, it's playing in the snow with family, and for others it's eating certain things made by certain people or singing a particular Christmas carol.

It's equally fascinating to hear of the different Christmas traditions that families have. Most include doing something together such as taking a walk, doing a jigsaw puzzle, watching a favorite Christmas movie, or making cookies with Christmas music in the background that often ends with a sing-along. None of these have a dollar signs attached.

I have watched our family evolve, with some traditions remaining basically the same, and others replaced. We may have moved the gathering place from Hinesville to Atlanta, but there are still certain things we want to eat, everyone likes to sing Christmas carols, and we all go to church Christmas Eve, with everyone watching over the younger children - who have been reminded multiple times of how "grammie" used to pinch their parents when they misbehaved in church.

In some ways, my husband and I have lost control of Christmas. I no longer cook the turkey, ham or roast beef. I'm not stirring the dressing or making the sweet potato soufflé (although they are usually my recipes, and I'm the "taster"). And while it's true that I had a form of withdrawal the second year when I was nicely told by my daughters that they had grocery stores in Atlanta and they would handle everything (after we toted several ice chests full of food the first year), I've come to enjoy the extra time with my grandchildren. It's a time of great laughter, and the kids think its hilarious when my son gets on to me for being too loud, for making forts out of sofa pillows or ships out of beds.

Like you, we have memories of Christmases in the past that we treasure, and we know how important it is that we make wonderful memories for our children and grandchildren. That doesn't mean that everything has to be perfect or costly. I can't remember any particular toy or present that I ever received as a child but I am "me" because of the very obvious love I received. I remember being hugged by my grandmother, being told I was special, and of eating huge pieces of chocolate cake covered with mountains of whipping cream that she made just for me. I have fond memories of bending across the knees of one of my paternal uncles and receiving never-ending back rubs, of gifts of blue pajamas and matching doll clothes (made from flour sacks) that my grandmother made and of one-on-one time with many of my relatives and especially my parents.

I so want my grandchildren to have similar memories and to know that sense of acceptance and feeling of belonging. Everyday we see examples of children who grow into adults never feeling that they belong to anyone or that they are loved. Being healthy is not just taking care of physical needs, it involves nurturing and the recognition and development of emotional needs, as well as each person's individual potential.

I get a lot of flack from my kids (born and adopted by marriage); they often shake their heads and roll their eyes when I try to interject a new tradition or create humorous mutiny among their kids. While I agree they are sometimes right - the Thanksgiving dog was a flop - their kids and I are making some fun memories that will hopefully outlast the memory of some of these very expensive toys! And it doesn't hurt that all that laughter cleans out internal cobwebs in the adults also. Laughter may indeed be the best medicine at any time of the year!

A month ago, I found this quote on the Church of England Web site and thought how prefect it is, and so I'm sharing it with you:

"We recognize that many parents feel under pressure to buy expensive presents at Christmas but the message we want to convey is that the best thing you can give your friends and family at Christmas is yourself - your presence and the knowledge of your love for them. A small gift given with love and hugs is a million times better than an expensive gift given in an atmosphere of worry and concern about debt, which can lead to arguments and great unhappiness. The best things in life — like love — are free and Christmas is the ideal time to reflect on that."

So Merry Christmas ...make some special memories for the kids (of all ages) in your family and among your friends.

Linda Ratcliffe is the public information officer for the Liberty County Health Department.

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