It's been three years since my father died and the holidays were his favorite time of year.
The first Christmas after his death was especially difficult.
As I set the table for Christmas breakfast the night before, I stood back to admire my work and realized something was terribly wrong.
There were too many places set. I had given my father a place at the table even though he would no longer be there. The tears welled in my eyes as I removed the dishes.
In my family, some of our Christmases were spent in Florida, where I grew up, and others were spent in Lopez, Sullivan County, where my father grew up.
The ones in Florida were spent with my grandparents - my mother's parents - with whom I was especially close.
The other cousins teased me that I was the "favorite" grandchild, but I knew it was true. I enjoyed spending time with my grandparents and they often did special things just for me.
This year will be difficult as well, because it will be the first year without my grandparents, too.
And although I have my own family now, it's the memories of Christmastime growing up that I hold dear. It's the realization that my daughters will never know their Grandpa Dan that make the holiday season especially hard to bear. And GG - what my oldest daughter called my grandmother (GG, for great-grandmother) - never got to meet my youngest; she would have enjoyed her so much.
Christmas was a time of excess in my family, no matter how much money we had.
Growing up, there were years that were good and there were years that were not-so-good; my parents never kept it a secret when times were tough.
We were spoiled with love and adventure, often taking trips throughout the year as our "present."
My sister and I didn't mind because we both had toured the entire East Coast and most of the Midwest by the time we were in our teens.
There were places we went that still hold special memories - skiing in Showshoe, V.Wa.; driving cars well before I was legally allowed to in Detroit; whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River; watching the sun rise at Acadia National Park, Maine; trying to count all the islands in the Thousand Islands on the way to Boldt Castle; touring the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina - and so many more adventures at various theme parks along the way.
We cut our own Christmas trees from our farm in Sullivan County, and there always was a fight over getting the prettiest one versus the softest. Dad's favorite was blue spruce, which my mom hated because the needles were so prickly. If we were in Lopez, we made it a point to find the ugliest, saddest, Charlie Brown-style tree.
We'd decorate our tree with ornaments my grandmother passed down to my mom, or ones they found while discount shopping after the holidays.
We'd include the handmade ones my sister and I created in school; I can't believe my parents and grandparents saved them - and used them year after year.
One year we tried stringing popcorn and cranberries before realizing that was too difficult because my father kept eating all the perfectly popped kernels.
There were times when the bottom of the tree was filled with presents, and there were times there were just a few boxes.
I don't remember all the "stuff" I'm sure my sister and I had to have each year, but I know my parents did the best to make us happy without going overboard - no matter how much we begged.
But it was never what was under the tree that mattered.
This year, I hope my girls don't get a lot of "stuff." They don't need "stuff." They need memories. It was the best gift my family ever gave me.
Borick is the Lifestyle and Education Editor.