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It's here: that season when you throw sanity out the window and with wild abandon throw yourself full throttle into the holidays. I mean, there are things to do, people to see, places to go and only a certain amount of time to make things happen. Right?

For the most part, we've gotten really good at our to-do lists. We find a way to get the coveted gifts for our family, hopefully at the prices we want to pay. We plan our menus for holiday gatherings and assign tasks to our guests. We ferociously clean and shop and wrap and eat and, if we are honest, we often complain either inwardly or outwardly about all we have done to make the season merry and bright for the ones we love. When that is the case, we look a lot less like Santa and a lot more like the Grinch.

Maybe you gave up aiming for the "perfect" holiday, but still find yourself stressed about all that you want to pack into the month. Even those who have opted for simpler moments of peace and quiet find themselves wrestling with everybody else's expectations.

In reality, the holiday season is full of opportunities for us to really be there for our friends, family and even strangers. Though it may be tempting to rush through it all and complete our to-do list with as little financial and emotional damage as possible, this season has the unique potential to create a mind shift, not only for this month, but on into the new year.

A couple of years ago, a holiday to-do list went viral, probably for a lot of reasons, but perhaps the most important is that in spite of how "connected" we say we are, people are longing for the presence of people in their lives. The list is a great reminder of ways we can be present in the lives of those we know and those we have the opportunity to get to know.

Buy Presents — Be Present

Wrap gifts — Wrap someone in a hug

Send gifts — Send peace

Shop for food — Donate food

Make cookies — Make love

See the lights — Be the light

Keeping this list in mind can set the tone for how you give what you give during the holidays and beyond. It's kind of amazing that the gift we can give to people that means the most doesn't actually require us to spend money, but in our minds it may be the most costly present because we can't be completely present with someone while focusing on something else at the same time. Perhaps the best present is to be present. Time is the one thing that once it's spent, you can't get it back.

The great philosopher Dr. Seuss said, "Sometimes you never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory." There will always be things to buy, but the moments when we give our best selves to people are what make lasting memories.

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Julie Baumgardner

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at julieb@firstthings.org.

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