It’s the most wonderful time of the year. As a confirmed lover of the holiday season, I say, welcome! Perhaps it arrives a bit too early, even for this seasoned pro, but I welcome the season of good will and giving. I anticipate the familiar traditions and celebrations. If only it could be every day.

As a child, I had a great-grandmother who each year gave us a new blanket. My 6-year-old self opened that box knowing the contents, yet secretly hoping for another Barbie. What I neglected to see was the message behind the gift. A gift of warmth and protection, something she wanted to ensure we had all year.

Choosing the right gift has never been more challenging. Often lost in the hustle of the season is the reason we gift in the first place. I love shopping for and choosing the perfect selection that will bring a smile to the receiver’s face. This, of course, demands that I know my subject. I don’t need a fresh snowfall or holiday music. I need to have spent some time with the person to know his likes and dislikes.

We’ve all opened that gift that displays a rush of last-minute choice. A visit to the present closet that fulfills an obligation. To that I say, whoa Nellie! When a gift becomes an obligation, dropped off on our way to somewhere else, it might be time to revisit.

As we embark on another season of gifts and goodwill, I would offer this. In place of randomly chosen material goods, give the gift of experiences and time spent together. As children spread their wings and fly, as parents age, offer the gift of your most precious possession – time.

How many of us who have lost a loved one look back and say, I wish I had called, visited or checked in more often? Wouldn’t we love a chance for one more meal together? Funerals have become an all too common opportunity to connect with those we’ve let go from our lives.

When we unplug, make time for people and really listen, our message is: You are important to me. I love you. I want to spend time with you. It often doesn’t matter what, just simply that it is. My children, now grown adults, may remember a gift, and may even remember playing with it for a few days. What they never forget is time spent together.

I’ve spoken in the past of a family tradition that to me is the true spirit of the holidays. Cookie Day is a Saturday or Sunday in December when the women in my family gather for hours of rolling, cutting, baking, icing and decorating. Using a family sugar cookie recipe, tin cookie cutters and homemade frosting, we laugh, talk, connect and love each other.

This yearly tradition has been a priority since my children were very little. To this day, the date is selected around flight times and final exams. It is the gift of being together. In the midst of chaos, sugar, time-honored and often- criticized Christmas tunes, my kitchen is transformed into a wonderland of warmth, love and mess.

I would offer this suggestion as you rush to the mall this year. Spend your efforts on each other. Make a date for lunch, go to church with a parent, make a call that will warm a heart and bring a smile. Give a gift of time, a gift of experiences, all year long.

The true spirit of whatever holiday you celebrate is thankfulness for all of life’s many blessings. May you recognize and enjoy them.