Next to Santa's lap in a department store, the friendliest places to be this time of year are bus stations, train depots and airports.
That's where those first seasonal reunions happen - the places where the holiday gift exchange begins with hugs - an old-fashioned, one-size-fits-all, everybody-participates kind of present. And, unlike monogrammed dish towels or Aunt Edna's fruitcake, hugs are returnable.During the most traveled of seasons, colorful packages take their place on the luggage carousels at the Salt Lake International Airport, right next to serious hard-siders, trunks and cardboard boxes. And many of the airport's unofficial meeters and greeters are seasonallydressed, whether they've donned elf hats, colorful Christmas sweaters or the sweatshirt with a direct message to the North Pole: "Dear Santa, I want it all."
Airport Director Lou Miller said 40,000 passengers will pass through the airport each day just before Christmas.
At the Amtrak station west of downtown, the train depot has hosted as many as 130 arrivals and departures per day, while 1,000 travelers have passed through the doors of the Greyhound-Trailways bus station.
Holiday hug exchanges come in all shapes and sizes: missionaries and their families, sweethearts, parents and their college-age children.
For childhood friends, Celeste Redd and Mikelle Swenson, the giggle-flavored reunion came with Lindy Ward's return from college in Southern California.
Wyatt Moore, 15, Bountiful, made sure he'd remember the holiday homecoming of his grandmother and grandfather from Pensacola, Fla. He stood, video camera perched on his shoulder, taping the entire scene as his relatives deplaned.
For Lorraine Radeke, the holidays began when her little brother, Dan, a senior majoring in industrial and operational engineering returned from college at the University of Michigan. "He's my bro-bro," she said. She recounted their teary farewell six months earlier at Yellowstone National Park.