Crowded department stores, stunning light displays, Hallmark holiday movies — these are just a handful of things you might think of during the month of December. It’s easy to get caught up in the commercialism and frenzy that’s so prevalent this time of year. There may be an unspoken competition your parents have with their siblings to provide the most elaborate dish at a family gathering and midnight shopping binges to get the best deals on the best clothes your sister is going to wear twice before giving away.

You may be planning to spend your days off this Winter Break skiing somewhere chilly, relaxing somewhere warm or catching up on sleep somewhere in between. But while you’re doing whatever you have planned this season, it’s important to be mindful of what the holidays are really about.

From a young age, I was taught that the holidays are a great time to reflect on the year you’ve had, sit by the fire with your loved ones and maybe eat some sugar cookies. The memories I have from my favorite holiday seasons include spending quality time with my cousins and listening to my grandmother’s ridiculous stories over Christmas dinner. I remember watching "It’s a Wonderful Life," carrying out zany traditions with my sister and dressing our dogs up in festive sweaters. I know I am endlessly lucky to have had 21 Christmas mornings where I’ve woken up to a warm home and presents under the tree. As I age, I feel myself becoming more and more grateful for the comfort I’ve known every December, and I know millions of Americans don’t feel quite so lucky.

One out of every 30 children across the country will go without gifts this holiday season, as there is a total of 2.5 million homeless children in America, as reported in a study by the National Center for Family Homelessness. According to the Gun Violence Archive, 13,397 people lost their lives to gun violence this year across the nation, and the families of these victims will have to spend their first holiday season with an empty seat at the table. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that 44,965 Americans died by suicide this year alone, and their loved ones will face unimaginable grief as well. No matter your situation this December, be mindful of the people in our country who are spending this season dealing with loss, pain and misfortune. 

Instead of planning how best to blow your hard-earned money for the holidays, try to spend a little more time remembering what these holidays are about in the first place — spending time with friends, family and loved ones. Instead of spreading your money around buying this, that and the other thing, spread cheer and joy through the little ways in which you interact with the world around you. Help an elderly woman carry her groceries in a snowstorm. Toss whatever change you have in your car into the Salvation Army collection box. Let that overworked mother of four in her minivan have the prime spot in the Target parking lot. 

Capitalism will fight for you to sell your soul to materialism this time of year, but a cute new outfit can’t move someone the way that compassion and generosity can. 

Happiness goes further than you think. You never know what someone else is going through, and it never hurts to be kind. Do it for your loved ones, do it for Rudolph and do it for the millions of people who made the nice list but still won’t be getting exactly what they want this year. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.