By Mary Lou Sanelli

I’ve never been the kind of person who can wait to open a gift that arrives a week early.

Certainly not a Little Christmas gift.

Little Christmas falls on Jan. 6. More commonly known in the rest of the world as the Feast of the Epiphany (admittedly, I have no idea what this means), in our house it meant the official end of the holiday season. And likely why it felt like my mother’s favorite day of the year.

That’s the funny thing about growing up: Your parents hardly realize which look in their eyes is going to be one of those impressive ones their kids will remember forever.

Anyway, we saved our smallest-sized gift to open on Little Christmas. Then, after the oohing and aahing, the tree came down — faster if we could get my dad to help.

Earlier this month, when my Little Christmas gift arrived in the mail days early, it was like having our ritual back all over again.

Except, of course, I couldn’t wait to open it. I sat down on the floor and tore into the tiny box that, unlike me, had been waiting ever so patiently to arrive at my door.

Ooh! Aah! A new pair of earrings! I didn’t know it at first, but the greenish-blue stones are aquamarine. The wires are sterling silver. They are the sort of earrings you would wear to, let’s see, a Feast of the Epiphany! Should you ever be invited to one.

My friend Lena has always had the gift of timing. This was true even when we shared a room in college. She was the one who remembered to whip out the Visine when we had to sneak by our dorm monitor past curfew.

Now, Lena remembers my mother used to give me a new pair of earrings on Little Christmas.

I put the earrings on right away. I pulled my hair back in a ponytail so I could show them off.

I wore them to Safeway! I wore them to the gym!

I’m also thinking about when, as a freshman, I had the flu and it was Lena who made me tea. The strongest sensation I remember isn’t how sick I felt, or even the fear I shouldered because it was the first week of the semester and I was terrified to fall behind, but the way I felt under Lena’s care.

When we’re young, we assume there will be so many of these totally supportive, extra-cushioned moments, too many to recall, until we realize that there aren’t so many, really.

Now, you may think it overly sentimental for me to ask you to be sure to savor each generosity you receive in 2015, but you’d be wrong. Because I totally get that what we remember are the kindnesses we receive from friends when we need them the most.

I tried to be better at this sort of savoring last year, but it can take me a while to receive (or respond to) the world in a new way. It can take a long time.

Not biblically long. But as long as, say, it takes a candle wick to light in a wind. It flutters and flickers because, like an old habit, it prefers to die a slow death. We can’t just tell ourselves to quit fluttering one day and burn like a torch the next.

But after a while, there is nothing quite as ineffective, or useless, as a flickering wick.

Mary Lou Sanelli is a writer and dancer whose latest book is Among Friends. Her commentary has been heard on Morning Edition, NPR.

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