By B.G. Kelley

Gift-giving is the most time-honored tradition at Christmastime. The true joy of gifts turns on their spirit. I am reminded of a father I know who gives his son and daughter tickets to a Phillies game every Christmas, and then goes to the game with his children. I think of the family I know who devotes the day to dishing out meals at a homeless shelter, or those members of a church I know who bring gifts to the altar for poor children who otherwise would have no Christmas gifts. I know a student who remembers a favorite teacher each Christmas with a book.

Those gift-giving traditions are actually at the heart of being human; they connect us to something beyond ourselves - to larger, more meaningful unions.

One year, I was delivering poinsettias for my father, a florist, in a Ford panel truck in Northeast Philly when I noticed this girl waiting at a bus stop on Roosevelt Boulevard. We had met as students at Temple and had gone out several times. She spent most of her time in the library studying French literature; I spent most of my time in the gym playing basketball. We were as different as the Louvre and the Palestra. I moved on.

I stopped the Ford, rolled down the passenger-side window, and shouted, "Need a lift?

After recognizing me, she said, "Sure," and hopped in. "Are you still playing basketball?" she asked, before noticing the cache of poinsettias in the back of the truck. "I love poinsettias," she said. "Do you have any extras? I'll buy one."

"Yes, I'm still playing basketball. No, there aren't any extra poinsettias."

After dropping her off at her house, I returned to my father's flower shop, picked out a rich, rose-pink poinsettia, and hung a "sold" sign on it. On the card, I wrote a poem. The next day, when I was again delivering poinsettias in Northeast Philly, I stopped at her house to give her the poinsettia and the poem. She answered the door. Awkwardly, I said, "These are for you. Maybe we can get together."

Several days after Christmas, I called her, and we got together. She suggested we go for a walk. On the walk we stopped at a playground near her house and played some one-on-one basketball. I won. I married her.

Not only do we remain true to our traditions, but they also remain amazingly true to us. Traditions write our histories, establish our continuity, and, central to their vitality, bring us together in the human desire for comfort and connection.

For 40 Christmases, I have given that French literature student a poinsettia and a poem.

B.G. Kelley is a Philadelphia writer. He can be reached at bgklly@yahoo.com.