There's no place like home.

Hanukkah is already here, Christmas just hours away, and of course I’m scrambling around like an elf with his head chopped off. But even in the midst of all the wrapping, the baking, the packing of jammies and that darned elf on the shelf, before we jump in the car with the girls to visit my family, I just have to pause and reflect on what Christmas means to me.

I simply cherish everything about it—feeling close to those I love, sharing childhood memories with my husband and kids, entertaining dear friends, drinking in the sweet dusky smell of the fir or the pine or the spruce permeating the house and the fragrances of winter cooking drifting out from the kitchen. And the music! Ah, the music. The smells and sounds of Christmas bring a tender ache to my heart and remind me that Christmas is really about togetherness, and that’s why I love it so.

This year my favorite moment of togetherness was decorating the tree with our girls. We danced around the tree as our arms did a magical ballet of arches, framed by twinkling lights, as we weighted each limb with a memory.

With every ornament comes a story: vintage ornaments from my childhood, totally perfect-in-their-imperfectness ornaments crafted by little preschool hands, beautiful baubles given to us by dear friends and family, some who are no longer with us. And we pause and sometimes shed a tear, or two, or three, for those we miss.

We reached into boxes, we hung memories on boughs, we stepped back to admire our handiwork. And for some odd reason the lower third of our tree now carries 75% of our ornaments. But I’m not complaining. I couldn’t be more grateful. It’s not about the perfectly decorated tree, but about a tree that tells a story: a story of family, a story that will always create new chapters for itself, a story of joy, of togetherness, of everything that matters to me.

May your holidays be filled with all that matters to you.