The Secret to a Happy Holiday

Our writer finds that holiday cheer isn’t found in gilt gifts or sparkling decorations.

The calendar insists that a year has passed, and I’m in utter disbelief. I’m beginning to understand why some people prefer to keep the holiday lights on their homes all year long. 

Time has been a worthy adversary. But it has also been a friend—and it’s taught me some important lessons.

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The old me—at one point, the young me—always assumed that I carried the responsibility to host the perfect holiday gathering. I had to make everyone’s favorite foods and purchase the coolest presents, all while decorating as if the editors of House Beautiful magazine were stopping by. 

It was exhausting and stressful, but I thought it was worth it. I was, after all, doing it for the people I love most. 

Here’s the rub: None of that makes the perfect holiday. The secret is simply being together. Big revelation, yes?

Don’t get me wrong—food is important. I’m Italian, so it’s closely associated with love. When I close my eyes, I can still see my mom in the kitchen, mastering all those dishes that emitted such extraordinary smells. I hope my own kids will be able to do the same with my recipes. 

But I’ve also learned that I don’t need to make everything. Now, I cook a little less and talk a little more.

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The older we get, it seems the more we miss parents and grandparents. At least we have each other to recall all those memories. My advice is to do more of that—keep them alive in thoughts and words so they never leave. 

How will the younger ones remember us and the way we celebrate the holidays? That’s the most important thing.

We often spend too much to put a smile on someone’s face. It’s the thoughtful gifts that are the most cherished. And while I’ve kept every little present my children “bought” for me, I’ve truly savored the ones they made. That they thought of me—not just bought for me—makes it even more of a treasure. 

These days, I try to give my family and friends a piece of myself. All along, that’s what they really need and want—me. Not stressed me. Just me. 

And all I need and want is them.

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JoAnne Cannon hopes you and your family have a memorable holiday season. It’s about time.     

Illustration by Jon Krause

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