Although the holidays are a hectic time, I always try to step back for a moment and reflect on what the year has brought. It is a time to count my blessings and appreciate all that I have in life -- a wonderful family, a fantastic group of people to work with, and good health (knock on wood).

But recently I was reminded of something else that is so important to a good life. As I sat and watched the celebration of life for Nelson Mandela on TV, it struck me how this man suffered so much, yet found it in his heart to forgive those who stole more than a quarter-century of freedom from him. He understood that forgiveness is liberating in a way that can literally change the world for the better.

That's when it hit me -- in this season of giving gifts, forgiveness can be the greatest gift of all. Now, granted, most people's forgiveness won't change the world in the way Nelson Mandela brought peace to his country, but it can free them from the burdens of painful memories and allow them to start over with new beginnings. When we find a way to forgive others, we determine that the past will not control our future.

Remember to forgive yourself, as well. We all experience shortcomings in our lives, regret over paths we chose not to take, or failures in meeting our responsibilities. Take those as opportunities to learn and grow, but forgive and move on.

The gift of forgiveness is about finding a way to let go of the past, to put behind the people or things that brought misfortune. In short, to forgive and forget. That's not always an easy thing to do, especially if wounds are deep. But we can never heal if we dwell on the negative and let it consume us.

Forgiveness is a gift that frees us from working to change a past set in stone, learn from our mistakes, and devote the resulting wisdom and energy to making a better tomorrow. In this way, it is the gift that keeps on giving.

Happy holidays and best wishes for the New Year.

EDWARD F. MANZI JR.

Chairman & CEO

Fidelity Bank