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Perhaps it's because the end of the year is coming? Or maybe it's to do with the shorter days forcing one inside and leading to solitude and contemplation? Regardless of the precise reasons, I find myself reflecting on times past around Christmas. This year is no different. Thoughts drift back to holidays that have come before, of locations that used to be filled with loving friends and families, of those who are no longer with us.

Decades ago, my dad's side of the family would gather close to Christmas, first at my aunt Charlease's place, in later years at uncle Paul and aunt Vilda's abode. Charlease lived in a grey-walled residence at Country Fair apartments. It was small and humble, but it was also warm and cozy.  I quite enjoyed the Christmas gatherings there. Paul & Vilda's house on Kirby Ave. was a spacious ranch. It made for better breathing space for our large family.

There were lovely holiday gatherings on my mom's side. We would often go to aunt Betty and uncle Robert's home in the small town of Weldon. The food was good, and after eating we kids would play while the adults would sit and talk or watch a football game and yell at the TV. I always enjoyed those times. There was a similar gathering this Thanksgiving that mom and I attended, at our cousins' home in Farmer City. Many of the family members from years past were there, along with some new ones!

In more recent years, there have been different Christmas occurrences. Since 2000, I have spent various Christmas occasions in Oklahoma with Ashley's grandparents, mom, cousin and aunt, and in Kansas with Ashley's dad, his partner and her family. Other Christmases have been spent at our home here in Champaign, often with my mom coming over. There was one Thanksgiving, when I stayed home while Ashley went to visit his parents, that our friends Pius & Sue graciously welcomed me into their home for food and fellowship.

Thinking back, it becomes rather obvious that the constant to the Christmas tradition is that there have been many traditions. I rather like that, actually. The ephemeral nature of the holiday gatherings I've known reinforces the nature of life, that it is transient and that every year is different and to be cherished for what it brings, good and bad.

I miss those who are no longer here, but that makes me appreciate those who are here, and the friends and family members I have yet to meet and get to know. That's the beauty of the holidays: it's nice to look back, but the fleeting nature of the past forces us to appreciate the present and to look forward to what lies ahead.


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