It’s less than a week before Christmas and along with everyone else I’m in a rush to mail packages, pick up wrapping paper, get to the bank, the cleaners, the post office, and the grocery store.

As I pull into a parking spot I hear the ring of the Salvation Army bell but what really strikes me is who is ringing that bell.  I learn her name is Hayden and she practically sparkles from her soul as she is wearing the biggest smile,  some reindeer antlers and a pair of gorgeous cowboy boots.

When the Salvation Army Bell Ringers are manning their little red kettles, it’s one of my things over the holiday season to never pass one by without contributing something.   As I tucked some cash into the slot of the kettle, I complimented Hayden on her cowboy boots.

If it was possible, her smile brightened even more and she shared,  “These boots were a gift from my late father and I just wanted him to be with me today while I was ringing the bell.”

Then I couldn’t help but share something about my reason for getting groceries.

“I’m at the grocery story to purchase all the ingredients for baking pecan rolls, just like I used to do with my late mother years and years ago.  So she’s going to be with me today too!”

We shared a laugh and decided we were thinking along the same lines, she with her cowboy boots.  Me with my pecan rolls.  It was our way of keeping someone we miss so very much with us here in the present.

And as Hayden waved good bye to me she said, “Merry Christmas!  I’m pretty sure your mom and my dad are very proud of us right now.”  She put a lump in my throat but a smile on my face because she was exactly right.

Who do you miss most this time of year? How do you keep their spirit part of your season? How do you honor all the memories they gave you?

Can you think of a way to share their essence so they not only stay close to your heart and in your heart but they also open your heart so that you can spread that warmth to someone else?

My mother, my grandmother and my aunt were wonderful bakers. My sister too.  As a little girl I never walked into my grandmother’s house without the aroma of rising dough and yeast rolls greeting me even before I opened the door. To this day, the scent of freshly baked bread sends me back to my childhood every time.

What seems like a lifetime ago part of my holiday ritual was to bake dozens and dozens of pecan rolls to give away to friends for Christmas.  I can’t begin to tell you how many pans of rolls I’ve baked.  It’s a huge number.  But . . .  after so many years the entire process felt like an obligation.

One more thing to cross off the holiday preparation list.

Another “have to do” instead of “want to do”.

Another source of stress.

Somehow, somewhere along the way I’d lost the joy in the process.

So . . . I quit baking.

And then I discovered what I’d been missing.  The gift I’d completely overlooked!

A few years ago my daughter told me she’d baked dozens of pecan rolls to give to her friends.  The next year some of my nieces and nephews called and asked if I’d share grandma’s recipe for pecan rolls because they wanted to learn to bake them. When my husband’s daughter asked me to give her a lesson in baking rolls, I realized that my mother and her mother had passed a legacy on to me and it was my turn to pass it along to the next generation.

I learned that baking those gooey pecan rolls really isn’t an obligation to be checked off my holiday to do list.  Quite the opposite.  It’s a gift I give myself.  I put on Christmas music, measure, knead, shape, and let the memories of my mom as well as my grandma and my aunt wash over me.

It’s almost like having mom at my elbow, checking the dough, the amount of syrup, the quality of the pecans.  All the things we used to talk about as we baked those rolls.

Again, I’m asking you . . . How are you keeping the memory alive of someone you loved?

Shed some tears and then look outside of yourself.  Share a story.  A favorite ornament.  A recipe.  A present.  Ring the bell.  Something.  Anything.  But keep them alive in your heart, and by opening your heart so they are here with you. In the present. In the legacy they left you.

The legacy only you can continue.

Because now I’m a grandma. And I want little Molly to connect the aroma of rising yeast dough and cinnamon and sugar with sweet memories of me, Lulu.  And when she’s big enough she’s going to learn about baking those big beautiful golden, sticky, syrupy, memory-filled pecan rolls too.