Family traditions vary during the holidays.
Most involve gift exchanges or attending religious services and traveling.
Sean Grady's holiday trip was longer than most. The U.S. Marine lance corporal returned home after a five-month tour in Afghanistan as a scout with light armor reconnaissance.
His flight brought him home to family and friends in Fort Dodge Thursday afternoon, his mother Sherry Grady said.
While he'll be home for Christmas, his two brothers - Christopher and Nicholas Grady, along with many other servicemen and women - will still be serving in Afghanistan in the Army National Guard.
Sherry Grady said she's making care packages for her boys, and that the family will take pictures and record video of the Christmas holiday to share with them overseas while the family celebrates in their traditional manner: enjoying oyster stew and chili together and opening gifts.
My husband and I will travel as well this holiday season to be with friends and family, albeit not as far as Lance Corporal Grady.
Similar to the Grady family, ours will cook a meal together and dine together sharing memories and future aspirations.
Maya Angelou - a renowned writer and poet - published a new cookbook "Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart," and in an interview she spoke of the dinner table as a place of meeting.
A place where not only is good food eaten, but good company and family stories are shared.
As families, friends or platoons unite for the holidays, there's no better time to swap stories than around the dinner table.
By sharing stories, families and friends can solidify relationships.
When my cousins, siblings and I were younger, the Christmas meal - while delicious - was only a precursor to opening presents or an unwelcome break from our games. Now, as we graduate from high school and college, we've begun sharing stories over the piping hot food.
Wedding plans, basketball games, homecoming, prom, jokes, hunting adventures and college experiences are just some events we chat about.
Last year my husband and I were snowed in and didn't get to celebrate with our entire family, but that didn't stop us from cooking a nice meal for two and sharing memories from past Christmases.
There are also stories to be shared by strangers.
I know of families who volunteer time to serve meals at homeless shelters and soup kitchens. After speaking with Steve Roe at Beacon of Hope Shelter, I can only imagine some of the stories shared that open the eyes and hearts of others.
Because, let's face it, sometimes we all need a helping hand, even if it only entails someone who'll listening to our story with a nonjudgmental ear.
This holiday season I hope you can enjoy a meal and swap some stories with the ones you care about, even if some members - like Christopher and Nicholas Grady and their fellow service members - are only with us in spirit.
Lindsey Mutchler, who wrote this column, is a staff writer for The Messenger. She will be celebrating Christmas with her family in Earlham and with her husband's family in Des Moines.