I’m haunted by a recurring nightmare before Christmas that doesn’t require therapy to interpret. It’s Christmas Eve and I’ve not bought any presents, sent any cards, prepared food or even set up a Christmas tree. I start driving from store to store where I find only empty shelves, vacant lots and broken toys. Frantic, I try to cobble together something, but I don’t have tape or wrapping paper and the cupboards are bare. Once the family begins to arrive, I wake myself up, heart pounding and drenched in sweat.

In hindsight, I realize how decades of overseeing Christmas magic came with a steep price tag as I tried to make sure everyone not only got what they wanted, but also what they needed.

Now that I’m more Mimi than mommy, those panicked Christmas dreams have begun to subside. I don’t have to fill stockings, buy matching velvet dresses, tease out the wish lists or do any of the other things that once filled me with anxiety. The days of assembling playhouses and Barbie camper vans after Christmas Eve Mass are behind me.

 My grown girls’ wish lists now include things for their homes rather than baby dolls and bikes. Three hours away, my grandsons help set up the same creche their mom once added tiny plastic princesses alongside shepherds and sheep and their aunt placed Power Rangers next to the angels.

They hang my curated collection of Radko ornaments on their trees and even the battered copy of The Night Before Christmas has been passed on. It’s such a great joy to see my daughters begin creating their own holiday traditions, especially the ones that generously include us.

Our newly married daughter and son-in-law are hosting us for Christmas Eve — I’m no longer responsible for planning and cooking! — before we head over to our grandsons’ house where Mimi and Pop’s gifts have already been wrapped and assembled.

It’s fine. I’m fine. Really. I loved every minute of those days and am filled with the warm light of enjoying Christmas instead of being the one who frets about how smoothly the holiday comes together. And yet, where did the time go? Oh, to go back and tell my younger self to slow down and savor the moments. She should know that the perfect gift was never the ones on the wish lists and the holiday joy was never something that could be given, only shared.

When I ask our girls what they remember the most about their childhood Christmases, they both say the Advent Angel tradition. We joined with four other families, drew names and secretly delivered gifts throughout the Sunday’s of December. As the kids grew, the thrill of sneaking small presents without getting caught became the heart thumping, fun of the season. What they may not know is that the grown-ups continued the tradition of anonymously giving gifts to lonely, sick or heartbroken members of the community. Once, late at night, I placed a poinsettia on the porch of someone who recently lost their spouse and saw a fellow Advent Angel had gotten there before me.

I’m heartened that they chose a tradition of giving for their favorite memory and must laugh at myself that it wasn’t the getting of any of the season’s most elusive dolls or toys. All those lost hours of stalking the aisles of Toy R Us!

When I asked my six-year-old grandson for his wish list, there were the usual boy items such as balls and race cars but his last request stopped me in my tracks.

“I want a shark that I can walk around on a leash,” he announced, his blue eyes sparkling with mischief.

Which is the perfect ask because while I can’t order that from Amazon, I can write a story for him about a little boy who walks a shark on a leash. And that’s a gift that will give great pleasure to this giver.