Recently, a number us at Pool & Spa News were chatting about holiday memories, and I was struck by the depth and poignancy of people’s lives. Simple stories like making tamales with a beloved grandmother or finally receiving a much-wanted puppy take on almost mythical proportions when seen through the lens of the past.

But of all the anecdotes we shared, there are three that stand out as true embodiments of the holiday spirit, and I wanted to pass them along. I hope that these memories will inspire you the way they did me.

Steve Straehley, technical editor: Years ago, when my wife and I were first married and working at a newspaper, we were both scheduled to work Christmas evening. Not ideal, but that’s part of the newspaper business. We wanted to stop for dinner on the way in, but didn’t have enough cash to order Christmas dinner at Denny’s (we were young and had no credit cards). The only other place open was 7-Eleven. So Christmas dinner in 1984 consisted not of turkey and plum pudding, but of microwaved frozen burritos.

Since then, we’ve worked plenty of holidays, but at least managed to have a nice meal before or after work. And we realize how good we have it now and, really, how good we had it then.

Erin Ansley, assistant editor: When I was 5 years old, all I wanted for Christmas was a Smurf-themed Play-Doh kit, and I made sure to tell Santa at Macy’s. But a few days before he was scheduled to arrive by sleigh, something told me to look in my mother’s closet. Buried under her hat boxes and costume jewelry was a bag I didn’t recognize. The moment I peeked in, the truth was revealed. Santa was not real. Of course, I was ecstatic to have the toy, but I aged quickly that day. While most other kindergartners were leaving out milk and cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve, I was practicing my “surprised” face. For several years afterward, curiosity got the best of me and I snuck into the closet for a peek. Until age 16. My mom had the presents in the trunk of our car and someone broke in and stole them. On Christmas morning, when our friends called to ask what we got, we shared the terrible news. We celebrated the holiday in unique fashion on Dec. 26, when 10 of our closest friends arrived unexpectedly with gifts in hand for me, my brother and mother. For 11 years I thought the most important thing about Christmas was what I was going to receive. But on that day, I realized the importance of giving. Santa actually did exist. In the hearts of each and every one of us.

Linda G. Green, copy editor/writer: Things were looking rather bleak the Christmas that I was 10. Mom was doing her best to make ends meet as a single parent, but my 3-year-old brother and I knew there wouldn’t be presents that year. We had each other, and that’s what truly mattered. On Christmas morning, however, there was a knock on the front door, and there stood a man with a giant panda under one arm and toys at his feet.

“Hi, there,” he said with a big smile. “There seems to have been a mistake and Santa left these toys at our house. They’re yours, and I thought you should have them.”

That panda was almost as big as I was, and I happily took him in my arms and promptly named him Tony.

Years later, I learned that Santa’s helper was there on behalf of a charitable organization dedicated to making sure no children in the community missed out on the holidays due to circumstances beyond their families’ control. They will never know how much their kindness meant to us.