I got to see pretty much everyone in my family and spend time with the people I love the most. The ones I didn't get to see this go around I will see over New Year's this weekend.
During the holidays I always think about the less fortunate, and for some reason I thought about them a lot more this year.
I try not to feel guilty. Nothing has ever been handed to me or to my family; whatever we have we've worked hard for.
But somehow, the guilt creeps in anyway.
I know that people who live in shelters aren't all lazy good-for-nothings.
I know jobs are hard to come by.
I know bad things happen to good people.
I know everyone who is on welfare or unemployment isn't just taking advantage of the system.
I still have enough faith in humanity to believe that most of the people who find themselves in dire financial straits have gotten there because of circumstances beyond their control.
When I was asked to say grace at my family's Christmas gathering, I asked that, as my family ate they remembered those who were hungry; as we enjoyed each other's company that we remembered those who were lonely; and that as we gathered in a warm home we remembered those who didn't have one.
I didn't mean to bring anyone down, I just felt it was necessary to remind ourselves how truly blessed we were.
When I really get to thinking about how bleak things are for the needy, I almost become overwhelmed.
Every year my husband and I take a tag from a local giving tree, and we buy gifts for children who might not otherwise get anything. We dutifully put our spare change in the Salvation Army buckets outside local stores. We earmark our tithes at church for the homeless shelter and other missions that help the needy.
We donate canned goods to the local food pantries. I don't have a lot of free time to volunteer, but I do what I can where I can.
Still, I always wonder if I can't be doing more. It just never seems like enough.
I always hope to read that things are getting better, but somehow things actually keep getting worse.
The problems are so big. I think about children who don't have coats when it's cold out. I think about parents who have to decide whether they're going to pay the electric bill or buy groceries this week.
And then I wonder what the point system is.
I am no better than the people who are going through these things. How is that I am able to provide for my family?
How is it that I always have the money to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads?
I mean sure, we go through the usual financial bobbles ... an unexpected medical or car repair bill can throw our budget into a tailspin, but even if we have to tighten the belt for a month or so, somehow we end up back on keel fairly quickly.
How is it that I am so lucky? I certainly don't deserve it more than the people who are struggling constantly.
I'm a good person and all, but so are they.
I've done stories about people who have ended up in the homeless shelters, and what hearing their stories has done is made it crystal clear to me how quickly life can turn and the rug can be pulled out from under you.
There before the grace of God go I, you know.
How far are any of us from being homeless? Hungry? Cold?
I believe in karma ... I believe that whatever you put out into the universe will come back to you eventually. I admit I haven't always put out the best stuff, but these days I'm honestly doing my level best to change that.
I know that I alone can't change the whole world. I know that I can't solve all the problems.
I can't pay the water bills for all the people who can't afford them; I can't love all the children whose parents have abandoned them; I can't buy new furnaces for all the people who don't have heat.
What I can do is continue caring and doing what little I can. My efforts are small, but they're making a difference to someone.
Hopefully, enough of us will continue making these small sacrifices that one day, poverty and need will cease to exist.
It's a big dream, but it's one I hope will come true someday.
Jamie Barrand is the editor of the Banner Graphic. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.