Oprah and Paula Deen

Paula Deen: It's All About Family
I have to tell y'all that mine and [my husband] Michael's favorite holiday tradition is so simple. It's just family. We would walk over hot beds of coal to make sure that every one of our family members is there at the table with us to celebrate our lives together and the holiday.

Listen, I'll tell y'all something else. I don't mess with the Thanksgiving meal. I prepare just what my family is expecting, just what they get every Thanksgiving that's fallen before, and I don't mess with the meal.

Celebrity cook Paula Deen is the host of two Food Network shows and the author of 14 cookbooks including Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible. She is also the owner of The Lady & Sons restaurant in Savannah, Georgia.

How do you celebrate the holiday season?

Next: Daphne Oz on family traditions at her grandmother's home »

Daphne Oz and family

Daphne Oz: To Grandmother's House She Goes
Christmas carols playing softly in the kitchen, the smell of crackling fires and the fir tree decorated with twinkling lights and family members enjoying homemade reindeer cookies (some gluten-free!) with hot tea. All these things signal that Christmas is in the air at my grandmother's house in rural Pennsylvania, where my family and I go to celebrate the holidays every year. Somehow, the memory of the 25 or so people who pile in from all parts of the country (my mother is one of six children) and begin screaming at one another over who moved the toothpaste and why there is no hot water left for the shower always fades over the course of the year. I return each December filled with the great expectation for happy, peaceful (ha!) memories that lie in the week ahead. And really, would you have it any other way?

We have a few traditions in our family that make for an altogether jubilant family vacation, one that is grounded in religious observance, but also leaves room for plenty of rabble-rousing fun. For instance, in the dead of winter, my father always organizes our Christmas Eve football game. It is coed, and apparently two-hand touch, although it's always seemed more like full contact to me and my inevitable sprained ankle.

My siblings and I also bake close to 10,000 sugar cookies. I make the dough. My sisters, Arabella and Zoe, select the cookie-cutters. And my brother, Oliver, is in charge of sprinkling each with the colored sugar of his choice. Thankfully, most of these cookies are sent as gifts to friends and family, but a fair number of them contribute to the afternoon tea parties held every day until Christmas. Sometimes it's just our immediate family, but often many of the neighbors and close friends will join us in the evenings for Christmas caroling, a tradition started by my great-grandmother. We watch old movies late into the night on Christmas Eve, and after church in the morning, all the children get to open their stocking presents (though, as I remember, I usually managed to sneak a peek in the wee hours of the morning), followed by a plentiful brunch and more merrymaking.

These are just some of the ways my family enjoys one another's company around the holidays. I would love to hear some of the special traditions you and yours may have.

Daphne Oz is the co-host of ABC's The Chew and author of the national best-seller The Dorm Room Diet. She is the daughter of Lisa and Dr. Mehmet Oz.

What's your favorite holiday memory?

Next: The Rev. Ed Bacon on why family is good medicine »

The Rev. Ed Bacon

Photo: Cam Sanders/All Saints Church Pasadena

The Rev. Ed Bacon: Why Family Is Good Medicine
I love the holiday season for all the emotions. I feel a lot during the holidays. Sadness, elation, tears, fears, anger and laughter all flood in in varying degrees each year. The healthier the holidays, the more all those feelings bring their own messages, and I am a fuller and more complete person because of them.

Let me illustrate. For me, the "holiday season" begins on Thanksgiving Eve and extends through the four weeks of Advent, then the 12 days of Christmas, with New Year's Day thrown into the mix. That 45-day period is marked with distinct moods, foods, gatherings, rituals and spiritualities: the spirituality of gratitude, waiting in anticipation for something new and exciting in my life and the life of the world and the gifts of new things and new life, giving hope to resolutions about the next calendar year.

With so much going on, there are bound to be times of feeling mad, bad, sad, happy, peaceful and afraid. Let them all come in. Instead of being attached to any of them, simply have a holiday commitment to asking, "What is this feeling telling me about my state of being right now?" That can be a holiday gift in and of itself: More self-awareness. What a gift!

From my perspective, a good holiday season leaves us with two things: a stronger sense of stability, or ballast for our journey, and a sense of newness in life's purpose.

My 85-year-old mother frequently says, "Son, being with family is like good medicine." Now, this is from a person who operates from a lifelong commitment to enjoy herself no matter what. If someone tries to spoil the party, she says to herself, "Consider the source." The source she's referring to (I have come to understand) is the state of that person's soul at that particular time. A person may be acting like a jerk because he or she is really hurting or is really scared or really sad inside. To consider their source, without it determining my state of being, is a great experience of freedom.

Then there are all of the parties, the turkey and dressing, the gift exchanges, the gathering of family for affection and good healthy disagreements, the holiday music, the wonder of the Sacred in our lives, the New Year's resolutions—all can be a seminar of what it means to be fully human. After it's all over and we are longing for some ordinary time again, we can discover that we have a much healthier foundation or stability for moving forward and we will have discovered many new gifts that the Spirit of the Cosmos has given us! Last word: Don't forget to rest. Breathe in the wonder of simply being a human being who has God dwelling within us. And let that breath truly be a holy-day.

The Rev. Ed Bacon is a guest host for the Oprah's Soul Series radio show. He is also the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California.

Share your most memorable holiday tradition

Next: Nate Berkus on growing up with two holidays »

Nate Berkus

Photo: Carter Berg

Nate Berkus: Growing Up with Two Holidays
My parents divorced when I was little. So, I grew up celebrating with both sides of my family. On the Golden side, we had our Hanukkah traditions, and on the Berkus side, we had Christmas. As a kid, I was fascinated by it all and really came to appreciate each celebration. My siblings on both sides, however, had to have thought I was making out like a bandit.

One tradition that stands out was how my brothers—Steven, Dan and Bob—and me would draw straws as to who had wake up our father on Christmas morning. Each year, the race was on to open the gifts under the Christmas tree—of course, it was a much more energized activity at age 12 than it is now. But, with the arrival of nieces and nephews, the tug is there, once again, to wake at the crack of dawn and rip open those presents.

Nate Berkus is the host of his own show The Nate Berkus Show, author of the national best-seller Home Rules: Transform the Place You Live into a Place You’ll Love, and the founder of interior design firm Nate Berkus Associates in Chicago.

What holidays does your family celebrate and how? Tell us!

Next: Peter Walsh on family bonding during the Christmas feast »

Peter Walsh and family

Peter Walsh: Family Bonding During the Christmas Feast
In my family, the holidays—especially Christmas—are all about the shared meal. I'm one of seven children and so when we all gather—partners, in-laws, kids and grandkids—it's a big affair.

In Australia, December is summertime, so Christmas is always pretty hot. For this reason, the usual hot meal is not really practical. This holiday celebration always starts with us gathering around 11 a.m. at one of my sisters' homes. We all work together in the kitchen, which is crowded, crazy and a lot of fun, preparing a lot of different salads, seafood platters and other dishes that have become family favorites. This is a great time to catch up, drink some good wine and just enjoy each other's company. After everything is prepared, around 1 p.m. or so, we all enjoy a great meal and a fun time.

Peter Walsh is an organizational expert who stars in his own series Enough Already! With Peter Walsh on OWN. He is also the author of four books, including Lighten Up: Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier with Less (Free Press).

What holiday food traditions are in your family?

Next: Mike Robbins asks: What are you grateful for? »

Mike Robbins

Mike Robbins Asks: What Are You Grateful For?
Thanksgiving is one of the most important holidays for my family and for me. Gratitude is something that means a lot to us as a family, even when we forget to express it and practice it with each other.

Each year for Thanksgiving there are a few things we like to do to remind us about the true essence of Thanksgiving, as well as to give us a chance to focus on what we're grateful for, what we appreciate about each other and what we're proud of in ourselves.

Here are three things we do:
  • When we sit down for our Thanksgiving meal, we go around the table and everyone shares things that they're grateful for. This always puts us in a good mood, reminds us of the good stuff and connects us with each other in a wonderful way.
  • At some point (before, during or after our meal), one of us starts and picks someone to acknowledge, letting them know how they've positively impacted our life and what we appreciate about them. That person then "pays it forward" and acknowledges someone else. We keep going until everyone has been appreciated. This activity is moving, fun and such a great way for us to gift the beautiful gift of appreciation to one another.
  • We each take some time to ask ourselves, "What do I appreciate about myself?" As we think about, talk about or even write down our answers to this important question, we get in touch with what we're grateful for about ourselves. As we know, all love, appreciation and gratitude starts with us. Our capacity to appreciate ourselves in a genuine way gives us the ability to do that for others.
Thanksgiving can be a wonderful time of family connection, food, fun and more. And, for us, it is so important that we take time to focus on the "Great-Fullness" of life.

Mike Robbins is the best-selling author of Focus on the Good Stuff and Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken. He is a sought-after motivational keynote speaker and a personal growth expert.

Tell us about the holiday moments you're grateful for

Next: Sandra Magsamen on the art of making traditions »

Sandra Magsamen and her grandmother

Sandra Magsamen: The Art of Making Traditions
For me, creating a holiday tradition has always been firmly rooted in the word "making." From the time I was a little girl, I've always made things to make the holiday special. As I think back on the traditions that I treasure and that mean the most to me, they are the ones that I have made something with someone I love to give to someone I love.

My grandmother taught my sisters and I how to knit, so we made slippers with Granny to give to our friends. Likewise, my mom taught us how to bake, so we made cookies and shared them with neighbors. As members of the local 4-H, we gave them to folks at local nursing homes. My mom also likes to remind me that my sisters and I made a lot of trouble too! As a young woman and as a student, I made prints, paintings, quilts and dinner for friends during the season. And as a mother, I've handmade an ornament every year for my daughter, Hannah. Together, Hannah and I have made holiday cards, decorations and more cookies then I should have eaten! I've hosted ornament-making parties for our friends and family where everyone gets into the act of creating something festive to share with someone they love.

As the years have passed and I journey through the many phases and stages in my life, I find great comfort in the familiar feeling of satisfaction and joy that making something for someone brings.

This year, my tradition will continue—I'm going to make more time for family and friends because they truly are the best gifts in the world.

Sandra Magsamen is an expert on making meaningful moments. She is the author of 35 books including the award winning Living Artfully (Free Press).

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