This is a magical time of year. The magic sometimes gets lost between wrapping presents and curling ribbons, finding the right size and hitting the sales, waiting in lines and begging for a gift box, but let me tell you about a Christmas revelation of mine.

Because it wouldn't have happened without you.

I learned something that opened my eyes, that qualifies as a revelation, if not a straight-up Christmas miracle.

You may remember I wrote about how excited I was to get a puppy for Christmas. I got lots of e-mail in response, wishing me luck and happiness. But I also got lots of e-mail encouraging me to think about adopting a puppy, or educating me about animal rescue.

And it made me think.

In fact, as we used to say in the old days, it raised my consciousness.

I always knew about animal rescue. I had a great rescue dog, and I'll undoubtedly have more. And I'm still committed to my little puppy, though as many of you suggested, I'm making a donation to an animal shelter, to offset my guilt.

But that's not the point.

Reading your e-mails, I learned something more important, and it's not about dogs at all.

It's about people.

It's about how many of you volunteer your time.

It was astounding. Almost all of the e-mail came from people who volunteered or donated their time to animal rescue. Every e-mail was heartfelt, and every person impassioned. I read the e-mails and could feel the emotion behind each sentence, giving the messages life and force.

I wanted to investigate, so I called Bill Smith, the founder of Main Line Animal Rescue, a no-kill animal shelter in Chester Springs. Bill told me they keep 150 dogs on 58 acres, and last year, they placed more than 1,000 dogs. To stay on point, how many volunteers do you think help them out?

Two hundred and fifty.

Bill said that they could always use more, but frankly, I was astounded that there were so many. Not that I don't believe in the goodness of my fellow man, or that I don't volunteer myself, but these were numbers that surprised me, happily.

The volunteers are teachers and teenagers, doctors and lawyers, moms and dads, married couples and retired people. They come to the shelter, some five times a week, some twice a month, to volunteer their time.

They walk the dogs four or five times a day, bathe them on "Wash and Wag" weekends, do laundry, and help with training. They transition dogs from puppy mills and they provide support to the people who adopt the dogs. In short, volunteers make it all possible, and because of them surrendered or abandoned animals are saved, rehabilitated, and given new homes every day.

The people who e-mailed me probably knew this, but I didn't, and I'm betting that many of you don't either. Everybody has a passion, but not everybody gives their time, their energy, their effort and their very selves to that passion.

It got me thinking about all of the people in this world who do.

Volunteers who work for someone other than themselves, who support a cause not their own. Who understand that there is something greater than themselves, and that among those things is all of us, together.

A collective good.

I have two young friends, one in the Peace Corps in Tanzania and one in Mission Year in New Orleans. My dear friend and her husband coach their sons' baseball games. My house is protected by volunteer firefighters, my very life by volunteer EMTs. Most parents volunteer at their kids' schools, or for Girl and Boy Scouts. There are volunteers in libraries, hospitals, food banks, the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, Girls and Boys Clubs, churches and synagogues; the list goes on. And, of course, there are those in the armed forces, around the world.

It's a season of giving, yet so many people are giving already, all year round. And they're giving without thanks, without notice, without plaques or awards. They certainly aren't getting any raises or promotions.

So thanks for giving, to me.

And thanks for giving, to all of us.

It's magical that you do.