When my sons were young, I told them the story of Patrick, the penguin, who, even though he was poor, and a penguin, had the very best Christmas presence and he made a point to share it with everyone he knew who needed some Christmas cheer.

My sons, not being able to read, didn’t understand the difference between the word presence and presents, but by the end of the story they understood that Christmas gifts didn’t always have to come from the store. In fact, the best Christmas present couldn’t be wrapped, unless it was wrapped in a hug and the beautiful smile of someone with whom you were celebrating the holy and festive holiday of Christmas.

I often recall the email one of my sons sent me some years ago when finances were tighter than usual. He knew the pleasure I took in filling stockings and buying presents for everyone, even as the family expanded from my six sons to more than a dozen loved ones.

He wrote, “This year, don’t worry about gifts. Take comfort in knowing that we’ll all understand and that we don’t expect much anyway. I think I speak for all the boys when I say that we enjoy Christmas morning for the spirit of the day; the company and the love of one another. No matter how many gifts are under your tree, it’s the celebration that we all enjoy most.”

It certainly touched my heart, and I wondered if he remembered Patrick.

For me, while I do love to give gifts, the best part of every holiday is just being with all my sons and their families at the same time. Of course, that is not always a possibility, given their many responsibilities, and I’ll admit I’m sad when one of them can’t join us.

It just seems when I was growing up there were many more family gatherings, with aunts and uncles and lots of cousins, more discussions and laughter and arguments around a table, more sharing of food and drink and stories, more presence, more time – and I miss it.

Life seems to be spinning faster and faster these days, or maybe I’m just moving slower and slower.  I wonder if it’s possible today to find space inside time to regain those simple celebrations of relationships that were at the heart of so many families.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I treasure the modest Nativity that sits on our front lawn throughout the season, reminding me that the heart of Christmas rests with the Holy Family.

Somehow we have allowed the focus on gifts to become a distraction from the profound meaning of this holy celebration – God’s desire to be in relationship with his people, becoming one of us within the womb of family.  It is sad to know that Christmas, such a beautiful gift to us, has become a difficult, stressful time for so many because we have lost sight of what’s important.

Christmas is all about relationship: Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, wise men, even the many animals our traditional crèches include, were called to be in relationship with a tiny baby, Lord and Savior, God.

When we reflect on the Nativity we may see beyond wrapped presents and embrace, instead, the power of presence. We may be able to shake the need for the perfectly decorated house, and marvel, instead, at the beauty of a humble manger.

When we see the Crèche as more than a tender greeting card image, we may share in the only gift that matters – Love.

Mary Clifford Morrell is the author of “Things My Father Taught Me About Love,” and “Let Go and Live: Reclaiming your life by releasing your emotional clutter,” both available as ebooks on Amazon.com.