Traveling in Europe after college, I met three lively Danish boys: a quiet photographer, whom I had a crush on; a boisterous architecture student; and a sweet saxophone player. They offered to host me while I was in their hometown. All three lived in a sparsely furnished apartment by the harbor. It was June, so we made the rounds of graduation parties, the most highly anticipated of which would take place on Midsummer, a Scandinavian holiday celebrating the longest day of the year. On that night the sun never set. The closest it came was a purple twilight where you could just make out the stars.

On Midsummer we rode up the coast on our bikes, past bonfires on the beaches, until we reached a house with a pool. The boisterous architecture student showed off by making sideways dives into the pool in his underwear. My crush disappeared, leaving me with the sax player.

“Let’s take a shortcut home,” he suggested at 4 AM, after we’d all reconnected. We got on our bikes. The sky was now a soft indigo, and the shortcut took us across a wide green lawn surrounded by columns of trees. In the middle of the lawn we rode over a bump, toppled off our bikes, and lay in the grass, laughing drunkenly. At the top of the hill was a large white house.

“Whose lawn is this?” I asked.

“It’s the queen’s summer home!” one of them replied. “She’s probably not here yet.”

The house was dark, but I got to my feet.

“We have to go!” I said. “We can’t just lie on the queen’s lawn!”

As we pedaled back into town, we smelled bread baking. The boys pulled up to a bakery, and the quiet photographer exchanged words with the baker. The bread would be ready soon, so we sat on crates on the floor, our sneakers leaving lines in the spilled flour. It was quiet and warm, and there was a weary congeniality among us. No one needed to talk.

Nothing like this ever happened to me in New Jersey. The closest equivalent was Memorial Day, when we’d pack into our cars and sit in traffic on the Garden State Parkway for hours, waiting to get to the shore. I decided I would move to Denmark one day and enjoy more magical holidays that end at 5:30 AM with fresh bread. And I’d marry one of these boys; at that moment it didn’t matter so much which one.

Less than a year later I did. It was the boisterous architecture student.

Robbie Ratte
Bloomfield, New Jersey

After my husband left me — on his birthday, two weeks before Christmas — I went back to a 12-step program and quit drinking. For thirteen years I hadn’t gone a single day without alcohol.

The holidays are not an easy time to get sober. My remaining family was 1,300 miles away, and most of my friends were big drinkers. Alarm bells went off in my head at 5 PM every day, reminding me to drink. But I didn’t. I went to meetings and made one sober friend.

On Christmas morning I fed my five dogs and sat down to call my sister. Suddenly an earsplitting crash rocked the house. A six-by-ten-foot mirror had fallen in the bathroom. Shards filled the sink, tub, and toilet, covered the countertops, and buried the tile floor, reflecting my shocked, miserable face.

If ever there was a good excuse to drink, this was it. Instead I called that sober friend. She let me cry and complain before pumping me full of 12-step platitudes, which worked surprisingly well. Then she offered to come over after Christmas dinner with her family and help me clean up the mess. She had known me for only thirteen days.

I said I would wait for her, but at 3 PM, the time I would normally start craving that daily cocktail, I rolled two big trash cans in from the garage and started filling them with glass. Three hours later I swept up the last pile of shards and dust. My only Christmas gift was this: five o’clock had come and gone without a single thought of drinking.

Bonnie McCririe-Hale
Grapevine, Texas

In 1979 I was spending my second Thanksgiving in Mexico. About a year earlier I had begun a relationship with Polo, a wiry, funny young man, and we’d had many unorthodox adventures together. I rarely talked about my feelings, but he was good at picking up on my moods.

Thanksgiving was one of my favorite holidays, but in Mexico it was just an ordinary day. I got up and went to work as usual, feeling homesick. Polo could tell I was low and asked me about it. I tried to explain, but it only made me sadder. Finally he had an idea. We clambered into a taxi, and Polo told the driver to take us to the nearest Sanborns, a store with a restaurant that served simple Mexican food and a lot of “gringo” dishes. Polo felt sure they’d have a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

He was right. It was the driest, most flavorless turkey I’d ever eaten, drowned in a coagulated liquid that only somewhat resembled gravy. There were decent mashed potatoes but no cranberry sauce. Polo ordered himself some nice chilaquiles, and, to be honest, I wished I had done the same. But my disappointment with the food could not overshadow the love I felt for this man who would eventually become my husband. He just wanted to make me happy.

Adrianne Borgia
Oakland, California

When I began serving a six-and-a-half-year sentence at a low-security federal prison, I was sixty-seven years old and had no priors. I felt quite vulnerable housed with so many younger and bigger men, many of whom seemed like bullies. People who shared my interests — movies, books, and jazz — were about as numerous as surfers at the North Pole. My depression was severe. I started to doubt whether I could survive the rest of my sentence with my sanity intact.

At lunch one day Shlomo, a genial, bearded man wearing a yarmulke, sat down across from me. He told me that the Jewish prison community knew about the arrival of every new Jewish inmate.

He asked if I had been bar mitzvahed (yes); what my Judaic education was (two years of Hebrew school); and how observant my grandparents were (Orthodox). He invited me to pray with him and the other Jews as often as I wanted to.

A few days later, on Passover, I started to worship with the group of around twenty regulars. Our observance of Passover lasted eight days, during which we ate all our meals together. For the first time since I’d arrived, I had a sense of belonging.

Fort Dix, New Jersey

When I was still a child, my dad declared Father’s Day to be Father’s Week instead. For the whole seven days his three children were to help him complete a long list of tasks he was always cultivating. We didn’t have to get him any gifts or cards, just enthusiastically assist.

I was annoyed at him for always needing to be productive, and for not being more like “normal” fathers. But eventually I realized that Father’s Week was not about child labor. It was about spending time together. So I learned to speak his language, communicated through wood split and brush piles moved and flashlights held while fixing tractor motors. Now, instead of rolling my eyes and getting frustrated by his list, I feel grateful for all he taught me. I put on my work pants, go out to the shop, and pass him the screwdriver.

Elle Gasperini
Bellingham, Washington

Lorraine, my wife of forty-two years, loved holidays. She sent greeting cards, made special meals, and bought colorful decorations. For Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day she marched to John Philip Sousa and cheered the finale of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Though her immediate family was Catholic, some branches were Jewish, as were most of our closest friends, so Hanukkah and Purim traditions were part of the annual retinue.

The Christmas before Lorraine’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, when I brought home the tree, she pulled at one of the branches, asking, “What is this thing for?” For the first time ever, I decorated the tree alone.

Soon after, her dementia became more pronounced. A policeman pulled her over for going through a red light, and when he asked to see her license, she said, “What’s a license?” On a clear night that spring she stared at the full moon and asked, “Who put that there?” A week before July Fourth we went to the airport to pick up her ninety-five-year-old mother. “Nice to meet you,” Lorraine said to her.

The most traumatic day of my life was when I consigned her into a memory-care facility. She fought and screamed, “Take me home!”

By her last Christmas Lorraine had no idea who I was. But when Santa walked into her room, she beamed, rose from her bed, found her Christmas sweater, and brushed her hair. I have a few photos from those final years of her life. The one of her and Santa stays close.

Dean Parmelee
Oakwood, Ohio

When I was a child, my mom made me dress up for family gatherings. I was zipped or buttoned into hand-me-down frocks with frills that my mother sewed over areas where the fabric was worn. My chubby feet were stuffed into well-worn, ill-fitting dress shoes that she would rigorously coat with polish. After inspecting my appearance, she would remind me not to do anything that would mess up my outfit. She was proud that her family looked presentable and neat despite our poverty.

I tried hard to keep my outfit clean, but every holiday it would get ripped or dirty, and my mom would yell at me for not caring about her hard work. She never once asked how I got so disheveled, only why I didn’t care enough to stay neat.

I did not tell her that, for as long as I could remember, a relative would molest me every holiday. When I fought to get away, my clothes would end up torn or smudged. This relative said if I told anyone what was going on, he would go after my younger sisters instead. I did tell a grown-up once, but I was punished for “lying.”

Years later my abuser was sent to prison for child pornography. Many of the pictures the police seized were of me in those torn dresses.

My family believes me now, and my mother can’t forgive herself for punishing me. I have forgiven her; she did not know. But to this day I refuse to dress up for any family gatherings.

New York

For more than twenty-five years I’ve belonged to a women’s group called Sisters-in-Spirit. For our first summer solstice together we went to a rustic one-room cabin in a pine forest in eastern Oregon. We had planned to build a sweat lodge of scrub willow covered with tarps and blankets. There were lava rocks in the area that we could heat for several hours in a deep fire pit.

Only one of us had ever participated in a sweat lodge, and the rest were a little nervous. We built our lodge in a meadow close to the river, then drummed and sang and danced our way there. We put two glowing lava rocks into the lodge, but there wasn’t enough heat to make us sweat.

On our second year we brought more blankets, heavier tarps, and a chain saw for cutting wood. Everyone brought something special to wear during the walk down to the meadow: flowing animal-print skirts, sexy negligees, scarves, wild headdresses, and exaggerated makeup. We were twelve women between the ages of thirty and fifty-five, at least seven miles off a paved road. This was our chance to really let go.

The drumming and singing were loud and enthusiastic, and when we were done, we began removing our clothes and loading hot rocks into the lodge with a pitchfork. That’s when one of us spotted two fly fishermen walking along the river’s edge with poles over their shoulders, about a hundred yards away. They stopped to stare, confused.

A group of us, all naked or still in costume, faced the fishermen and started drumming and whooping. The men turned and ran like frightened deer.

Cindy Hunter
Eugene, Oregon

On Christmas Eve, 1977, I came out to my parents.

Jim and I had met during fall orientation at a theological seminary near Chicago and had been sleeping together ever since. He was twenty-four, and I was thirty-one. Within months we had come to believe that we had the potential for a long-lasting partnership. We could have kept it under wraps, finished our degrees, gotten ordained, and embarked upon a life of clandestine assignations, but we probably would have paid for it psychologically and spiritually. Jim and I agreed that if we were going to stay together, we had to come out to the Church — and our parents.

Though my parents had always assured me that their love was unconditional, for years I’d assumed I would keep my sexuality to myself, find a compatible woman to marry and start a family with, and take my secret to my grave. Now Jim was to spend New Year’s Eve with my parents and me. I’d be bedding down with my lover a couple of rooms away from them.

On Christmas Eve my mother was prepping dinner while my father and I sat sipping cocktails. Sometime during the second round of drinks, I used a lull in the conversation to deliver the speech I’d planned.

“Over the years,” I told them, “we’ve given each other many wonderful gifts. This year I want to give you the gift of truth. Jim and I are much more than just friends. We’ve been lovers since September, and we hope to spend the rest of our lives together.”

There was a pause while they collected their thoughts. Then my father offered his hand across the table, and we shook.

“You’re the same son you were five minutes ago,” he said. “We just know you better now.”

I could tell it wasn’t emotionally easy for them, but they never faltered in their support and affection for me and Jim. They made us feel we had something as worthy of preserving as their own marriage, which lasted more than fifty years.

Jim and I are retired now. Lots of decisions have been made along the way, but forty-three years later I look back on coming out that Christmas Eve as one of the best.

Terry Colbert
San Francisco, California

Every year for Easter my mom would line up baskets of candy on a piano bench for my three siblings and me. The year I was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, I received a “special” basket. It was also the year I realized that sugar can never truly be replaced. Have you ever had a stevia jelly bean or a Splenda Peep? I pray you don’t. I’d rather have nothing than eat those imposters.

“Well, you have to have a basket, honey,” my mom said.

Thus began a new annual ritual: emptying my Easter basket into the trash.

Pat Hull
Chico, California

The first time I brought a boyfriend home for Christmas, I was twenty-six years old and had been living on my own for several years. My boyfriend was a kind, generous man, and I was proud to show him off to my family.

The visit started well: He laughed at family stories and helped in the kitchen. My mother even took me aside to whisper her approval. Then, on Christmas Day, after we took a long walk around the neighborhood, my father stormed into the house. He’d been drinking and was in a surly mood, and he directed his ire at my boyfriend, deriding him for being divorced, calling him a loser and a failure. I was horrified. We grabbed our things and drove across town to my sister’s house.

The next morning, embarrassed by what he’d done, my father called to apologize. My boyfriend accepted, but we still headed home as soon as we could. A year later we were married, and my father did his best to repair the rift. That Christmas Day thirty-four years ago was the last time he ever had a drink. He stayed sober until he died last year at the age of ninety.

Lynn Helbrecht
Olympia, Washington

The first Thanksgiving Jane and I were together, we were each grieving. She had lost both of her parents, and her companion of fourteen years had died in June. I had just broken up with the woman I’d hoped would be my partner for life. For the last sixteen years I had helped raise four of her children.

Jane and I had no one but each other, so we brought her dog to a beautiful, rocky beach on the north shore of Massachusetts. The day was gray and desolate, and we walked on the sand and talked about what was in our hearts.

“I can’t commit to you for forever,” she told me, “but I can for this one year.”

One year. I could do that. I took her hand in mine and warmed her cold fingers. As the sun started to sink, we went home, baked a frozen turkey pie from the local farmers market, boiled some potatoes, and gave thanks.

For twenty-seven years now we have found ourselves back on that same beach every Thanksgiving, walking and holding hands. And every time we end by saying to each other, “Yes. Another year.”

Martha Kingsbury
Cambridge, Massachusetts

There isn’t a Christmas from my childhood that I don’t remember the cops being called. If it wasn’t my oldest brother and my father fighting in the front yard, it was my sister screaming at our mother to keep our other brother, who had molested me, away from her young son. Any joy became muted behind sobs and sirens.

When I lived on my own in my early twenties, I tried to control holidays by inviting only the family members I thought would behave. I’d host them in my apartment for a feast I’d prepared, hoping that a dose of normalcy could cure generations of dysfunction. At some point Mom would excuse herself to phone the brother who’d molested me. This always stirred up the same guilt and anger I’d felt since I was four years old, when I’d told on him and shattered my mom’s world.

A few years later, after he’d died and my mom had gotten lost in her own grief, I stopped hosting or attending any holiday gatherings. I wanted to celebrate alone. I’d buy my favorite foods, get stoned in the morning, paint all day, and take an afternoon walk in the woods. I discovered strength, joy, and gratitude on these days.

Last year I married a man who belongs to a loving, supportive family; they plan holiday gatherings nearly a year in advance and insist on video chats for any celebration where they can’t all get together. In theory I love how close they are, but it’s taking me some time to adjust to spending holidays with a family again.

Great Falls, Montana

On New Year’s Eve my thirteen-year-old son and I stood on our hotel balcony overlooking Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. The country goes mad for fireworks on this holiday, with vendors on every corner selling piles of firecrackers. My son had been disappointed with our last two Fourth of July arsenals back home, so he was excited.

Lately a distance had grown between us. My depression and his teen angst were making it hard for us to connect. At midnight fireworks erupted from every town around the lake. The sky lit up for twenty minutes. As we basked in the scene, I felt raw and exposed.

In that moment I understood that our roles were changing. As my son moved further into his teens, we would need different things from one another, but we could work through it.

There wasn’t much to say as we watched the display. Then my son turned to me and said quietly, “I love you, Dad.”

Kevin Riley
Corvallis, Oregon

One of the few acts of assimilation my immigrant parents made was to exchange gifts on Christmas Day rather than on Epiphany, as was the custom in their home country of Italy. Money was scarce during my childhood, and some years there were more gifts than others. The birth of Jesus was seldom mentioned on Christmas.

As an adult I did not bother with gifts and generally kept to myself during the holidays. I marveled at the consumer excess, which seemed contrary to the teachings of Christ. Later, after I had married a woman who cherished Christmas and we’d had children of our own, I came to enjoy the ritual of hiding gifts and wrapping them after the kids had gone to bed; of being awakened at five in the morning to open them; of pretending to be pleased with some useless item.

After our children were grown, my wife and I would spend awkward Christmas dinners at my in-laws’ house with my wife’s siblings. Gifts were exchanged, accompanied by explanations of the ones that seemed to bewilder their recipients. I came to believe that Christmas is for kids.

In retirement, far removed from the rituals of my Catholic upbringing, I have embraced the winter solstice as a nondenominational, earth-centric, all-inclusive holiday that serves as both the end of a cycle and a new beginning. I sit in front of the fireplace with a small brandy and contemplate the year gone by and the year ahead.

I have no idea what Jesus would say about my winter holiday. Perhaps, like me, he doesn’t want anyone to make a fuss over his birthday.

Name Withheld

Since my husband came home from prison more than eight years ago, every simple occasion has felt like a holiday. We take any excuse to celebrate, honoring no particular faith other than joy and closeness. We decorate and feast to celebrate the returning sun at midwinter; the coming of spring; the longest day of the year; and the fall harvest. We even knock on our neighbors’ doors for treats on Halloween.

But most of our holidays are made up and harder to explain. Like the “Gathering of the Greens” to honor the earth, or the broth ceremony at each new moon.

On the night of the year’s first fog, we take plates of food and thermoses of tea outside to lie on blankets and look at the stars. As the temperature drops and the sky gets darker, we are at once chilly and content.

Erika Ironwood-Hunt
Portland, Oregon

I grew up culturally Jewish and religiously atheist, so we had neither Christmas tree nor menorah at my house. I always loved the idea of a fragrant tree with twinkling lights, though. In the winter of 1991, stranded in Lake Placid, New York, without the money to go to graduate school, I decided this was my chance.

No need to buy a tree in the Adirondacks. I simply drove around back roads for a few days until I found the perfect balsam near the edge of a thick wood. I came back that night to cut it with a handsaw and brought it home.

I don’t remember how I stood it up — I’m pretty sure I didn’t know about tree stands — but I did have lights to put on it. Ornaments were harder to come by without much money. At a craft fair I found two little tin stars patterned with tiny holes, for five dollars. They didn’t provide much coverage to the tree, though, so I had to be creative.

Dot-matrix printers were common in the early nineties; the paper had perforated edges that could be torn off once the printing was done. As an aspiring writer, I had reams of this paper, so I made paper chains out of those edges, long enough to wrap the entire tree. For the top I cut a lopsided Jewish star out of cardboard and covered it in aluminum foil.

It was a lonely winter, as I worked several minimum-wage jobs to cover my rent and student loans, but there were moments of joy: ice-skating on a lake at midnight; skiing on a nearby golf course in the early morning; and sitting by the Christmas tree at night, gazing at the warm lights.

Twenty-five years later I’m still in the Adirondacks, on land covered with balsams. Every year my daughter (now seventeen) asks for a “real” tree, but I insist on cutting down a gangly one from our woods.

We have boxes overflowing with ornaments, many handmade by my daughter, and I still have the little tin stars. One was chewed on by my cat, Levi, who lived with me for nineteen years. The Jewish star still goes on top every year, though it’s gotten a few new coats of foil. The paper chains no longer get used, but I can’t bring myself to throw them away. Every year I open their box and remember that first Christmas in the place that became my home.

Shir Filler
Vermontville, New York

After much cajoling and bargaining, I was finally able to convince my wife’s family to come to our Caribbean island for Thanksgiving. I had agreed to provide her parents a full-on turkey dinner for ten, with every conceivable trimming. Henry, her father, is a type-A personality who knows what he wants and is accustomed to getting it. He also likes pranks, so my wife’s younger siblings and I hatched some mischief of our own.

We explained to him that a law didn’t allow processed turkeys on the island, but a friend of mine would let us hunt wild ones on their farm in the country. The deeper we got into the story, the more excited Henry became.

The night before the hunt, I made a big production of clearing the kitchen table and cleaning, loading, and polishing my rifle. Before the sun rose, I drove out to the farm and stashed a frozen, store-bought bird in the pasture behind a rock. Then, in the first light of morning, we all climbed into our vehicles and headed out to shoot our dinner.

To let the anticipation build, I stopped a couple of times to scan the horizon with my binoculars. “There they are!” I said. We parked and quietly stepped through the fence.

“Stand back a little bit,” I whispered, raising and lowering the rifle a few times to aim, then squeezing off a couple of quick rounds.

“I think I got him! Let’s go see!”

Henry was right behind me, not wanting to miss anything. I told him it wasn’t going to be pretty, so he warned his wife to stay by the truck.

The look on his face when I pulled up the shrink-wrapped frozen turkey was priceless. No one laughed harder than he did.

I’ve been waiting for payback. I know it’s coming.

Jonathan Edwards
South Portland, Maine

My three-year-old son and I had just moved into a two-bedroom apartment in a large complex. The place was clean and small, with wall-to-wall brown carpeting. The only furniture in the living room was our family’s upright Steinway piano, a floor lamp I’d picked up at a garage sale, and an overstuffed chair I’d had since college.

I had recently gone back to school to get my teaching credential. Each weekday I’d drive my son sixteen miles to my mom and stepdad’s farm. Then I’d drive to the local university for classes, followed by another long drive for my afternoon student-teaching assignment, and finally back to pick up my son. By the time I was done, I’d driven nearly a hundred miles.

Once home, we’d go through our evening routine. At bedtime I’d let him pick from a stack of books. (“Is this a three-book night or a four-book night?” he’d ask.) After he was tucked in, I’d do my homework, then collapse.

My upstairs neighbor asked me once how I did it. He was in his mid-thirties, never married, and childless.

“I just do it,” I said. “I never really thought about it.”

As Christmas approached that year, my son asked how Santa would deliver our presents if we didn’t have a fireplace.

“Don’t you worry,” I told him. “Santa always figures things out.”

On Christmas Eve we finished our bedtime routine early. As soon as my son was asleep, my neighbor brought down the presents I’d hidden upstairs. I finished wrapping, filled the stockings, and ate some of the cookies and milk we’d left out for Santa — to prove he’d been there. As a finishing touch, I pressed my snow boots into some flour and carefully made white footprints across the living room to the cookies and milk, then to the tree, and back again.

The first thing I heard Christmas morning was “Mom, Santa came through the piano!”

Alexandra Robin
Atascadero, California

After my family moved from Hong Kong to the United States, I grew up with three types of holidays: Chinese celebrations that followed the lunar calendar, American holidays that I observed with my friends at school, and my family’s home version of the American holidays. On Thanksgiving, for example, we ate lobster chopped up, still in its shell and sautéed with scallions and soy sauce. When my mother got a turkey from work one year, my family didn’t even know how to cook it. Everything we ate was either steamed or stir-fried. We’d never turned on our oven, which we used to store pots and pans. At eleven, I had to help my mother decipher the stove knobs to figure out which one set the temperature.

On Christmas we didn’t put gifts under a tree or in stockings. My sister and I got lucky money stuffed in festive red envelopes with gold dragons, orange plants, and Chinese characters on them. I yearned for the sort of presents my friends received: a Barbie doll, a big sixty-four-color box of Crayola crayons with a built-in sharpener, or an Easy-Bake Oven. (After my sister and I learned in school that well-behaved boys and girls received presents from a fat guy with a white beard in a red suit, our family Christmases became more Americanized.)

The only Chinese holiday my family celebrated that my friends had even heard of was Lunar New Year, which they knew as “Chinese New Year.” It’s the biggest holiday on the lunar calendar, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s wrapped into one. In other parts of the world, businesses closed for weeks so workers could travel to visit their families. Here in the U.S., my family would watch the lion dances in the streets of Philadelphia’s Chinatown and gorge on a festive dinner of symbolic foods, such as long noodles for long life and dark, leafy vegetables for good fortune.

On New Year’s morning we woke to the aroma of the fried dumplings called tay, which my grandma had spent half the night making so that we could eat them fresh and hot for breakfast. Apart from a large pile of sweet tay filled with red-bean paste and another of salty tay filled with meat and veggies, there was a smaller stack of sweet tay shaped into a scrotum and penis. These we weren’t allowed to eat until after they’d been offered at the ancestral altar — for fertility, I later learned. At the time, my sister and I giggled at the funny shapes, but we were too scared to ask my grandma about them.

We got scolded for all kinds of reasons around the New Year. We weren’t allowed to wash our hair, say bad things, or watch any TV programs with blood, doctors, or accidents because it would bring bad luck.

Every spring, around the time my friends celebrated Easter and Passover, my family honored our ancestors with the Ching Ming festival. I called it “grave sweeping”: We visited my great-grandma’s grave site to clean away leaves and wipe dirt from her tombstone. We also brought offerings of sweet buns, oranges, bananas, and chicken and rice, and we burned incense and special papers representing money and clothes. Some other Chinese or Vietnamese families brought whole roasted pigs to their ancestors’ graves.

Today my American-holiday celebrations are much more in line with the mainstream culture, but every spring I still visit my great-grandma’s, and now also my grandma’s, grave site, bringing offerings of brilliant red and pink tulips. And every year I look forward to going home for Thanksgiving, when my parents still serve lobster.

Judy Chow
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

My dad had always wanted to visit New Orleans to hear Dixieland jazz in person, so when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, my siblings and I hatched a plan to get him there. The disease progressed quickly, however, and we realized that the trip wouldn’t be possible.

I came up with a new idea: to bring New Orleans to him. I reached out by phone to people I knew in my hometown and gathered a ragtag group of music teachers, church musicians, and military-band members. They’d never all played together and didn’t even know the tunes I’d suggested, but they promised to learn “When the Saints Go Marching In.” That would make Dad happy.

I left on a red-eye for the East Coast, arriving just in time to see that one-shot Dixieland combo bring Mardi Gras to my parents’ living room. They played four tunes in all and sounded amazing. I don’t think I’d ever seen my dad so happy: he clapped his hands and tapped his feet to every song.

He died two weeks later. The musicians said it was the most meaningful gig they’d ever played.

David Wiggs
Bellingham, Washington