The last of the Christmas decorations came down on New Year’s Day – the garland surrounding the front door with dozens of holiday cards from friends and relatives hanging from it.

New Year’s Day is a treasure for me. While I remove all other signs of Christmas, from the tree to the wreath, the day after the celebration, the cards are something really special.

The quietness of the first day of the New Year gives me a chance to read each handwritten message, to take into my heart both the card’s printed words and the handwritten ones, and to really think about each person.

New Year’s Day is a day set aside for reflection, for thinking about my family and friends and their lives and how some changes were for the good, while others were not, the births and deaths, divorces and retirements, anniversaries and illnesses, the graduations and other celebrations, the one more year of lives continuing on.

Enclosed photos or cards made from photographs tell a visual story of many, of a nephew’s first birthday, to a cousin and her husband who as baby boomers, finally made it to Disneyland; of the closeness of new kitties and dogs to their human companions; of exotic trips to faraway places, of another cousin who, in his retirement, is making it in the art world.

Each card and photo is placed in separate piles – one for answering with a letter or card, another for making telephone calls, yet another, the one with the Christmasy photos, for placing in my album.

Addresses must be changed for a few friends and relatives, and some have finally hooked into the Internet and have given me their e-mail addresses.

While much has changed in our technologically-crazed world, some things have remained the same: the need to stay in touch, the desire to tell of the good things in life or of disasters, the need to be included in a circle of family and friends.

As the new year begins, I also think about just how thankful I am for all the people in my life. I think of the young cousins I grew up with and the joys of making snow tunnels, putting on plays, talking under the covers until our parents hollered at us to quiet down and go to sleep.

I think of friendships that began in elementary school, and though the distance between us may be thousands of miles, the emotional closeness has remained the same.

I think of younger siblings who are now grandparents, of nieces and nephews who are now parents, and of my parents who always tried so hard to give us a wonderful life and meaningful Christmas and New Year’s.

I remember staying up with my tiny transistor radio until I heard the stroke of midnight struck three hours away in California, and I think of my parents’ hopefulness as each New Year dawned.

Yes, I have much to be grateful for.

And not the least is a chance each New Year’s Day to sit back, relax, and think about all the people in my life.