Centering My Holiday Celebrations Around This 1 Thing Has Made All the Difference

I'm not a fan of the New York City cold and what the streets look like the day after it has snowed, but I do love the warmth you feel in the air when you walk past a holiday market selling hot cider. Or how the city that's always rushing to get from one place to another suddenly moves slower — thousands of people crowding around Rockefeller Center, the holiday window displays at Macy's, the carols that play in every store you walk into, and the abundance of holiday decorations.

Whenever I remember what the holidays were like growing up, I can't help but think about turkey, ponche, Santa Claus, grapes, 12 wishes, and getting to stay up past my bedtime on Christmas and New Year's Eve. We had numerous calendars with Xs crossing out the days until the next holiday, and we made constant trips to stores, adding new decorations to the house every week. And while I still look forward to doing all those things, over the years, I've spent less time thinking about what I'd be receiving and more about who I'd be spending those days with.

Over the years, I've spent less time thinking about what I'd be receiving and more about who I'd be spending those days with.

After losing an uncle and my grandmother during the same holiday season a few years back, I've learned to spend more time being thankful for what the year has brought me and to be more appreciative of the stories that my parents and relatives like to tell during our holiday parties. Each year, I learn something new about a family member, which has helped me learn more about myself, too. I've learned to give without expecting anything in return, that a little help to those in need goes a long way, and that baking with love makes all the difference.

I've also shifted my focus to charitable work, checking my privilege and using my free time to volunteer at homeless shelters and thrift stores with a mission, like Housing Works, and playing Santa Claus by participating in programs that send new toys to kids in need.

Now that I have a daughter, starting new traditions and continuing old ones is my main priority. I have nothing but good holiday memories, and I want the same for my daughter. Thankfully, she loves the holidays as much as I do and asks to go apple and pumpkin picking, helps me mix ingredients when I bake, puts up decorations with me, and tries to wrap presents on her own. Although, we're still working on getting that perfect picture with Santa.

As she continues to grow, I'd like for our holiday season to continue being centered on empathy. To know that we have the option of choosing not to focus on material things is a huge privilege, and it's one we have to appreciate and honor by doing good for others. Of course, it isn't enough to do good during the holidays, but hopefully the good one does builds enough momentum to find them doing good deeds well into the new year.