I have a story to tell. My story is no different than the ones you hear from others. It’s the story that you always hear around Christmas. It sounds like a sad story, but it’s not.

I haven’t spent Christmas with my family in nearly seven years. And through all these years of spending it alone or with my girlfriends’ or friends’ families, I realized a couple of things about Christmas.

Christmas, to me, is just another day when I miss my mother. She died seven years ago, losing a two-year-long battle to leukemia. But rather than feeling sad every year on this day, I’m usually happy. I’m happy because the people around me always make me feel like she’s still around.

My father, a good man, is half the world away in China. He decided some time ago that Christmas without my mother is not worth celebrating. So he moved to a large country where they don’t care much for Christmas.

My sister, studying in San Diego, celebrates Christmas with her “surrogate” family. I call her every year around this time to tell her that I love her and to get her address so that I can send her a book.

Christmas is a lot better when you’re with your family. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I sat here, on Christmas day, by myself and I received numerous phone calls from my friends. Christmas is great to me because they all care about me. That’s what Christmas is about to me, caring for others that aren’t as fortunate as you. It’s not about whether or not singing Christmas carols is okay in public school or at your workplace. It’s not about presents and Santa Claus. None of that matters if you don’t have people to care about and people that care about you.

To an atheist like me, Christmas is not about Jesus and his birth. Christmas is about taking the time to call someone you care about and telling them that you love them. Yes, Christmas is about love. The love that fills your heart when you see yourself giving and not expecting to receive. It is one time of the year that no matter how tired you are and how sick you are, you always feel warm and safe.

I don’t know much about other people’s Christmas. But I can tell you that my Christmas is a lot better than theirs. That’s because my Christmas is everything and everyone that reminds me of the one thing that is pure and true left in this world, love.

So love your family. Love your significant other. Love your friends and your neighbors. And most of all, love people even if they don’t love you.