Compiled by Stacy Jenel Smith, Stephanie DuBois and Emily Feimster
We asked celebrities for their most indelible holiday memories, good or bad, and got a great mixed gift bag full of responses. Just like the rest of us, some of the stars have discovered that less-than-perfect circumstances can lead to some of the best holidays -- and that when it comes right down to it, the very best gifts don't come in a box.
Sarah Jessica Parker: "I have a really large family, and like every family it has its own eccentricities. As a child, we would always have an undecorated tree, and when we woke up, the whole tree would be decorated and there would be presents, and we believed Santy did all that. Now as an adult, it's fun to stay up all night wrapping and decorating and getting ready. Unless my sister has her baby on Christmas - she's expecting Christmas day -- we'll be doing the same thing. There are so many wives and husbands now, it's fun to be an adult in the group. This year is especially wonderful because James is old enough to understand Santy, so I'm seeing it all through my son's eyes. We wrote a note and put it into the mail. It was a pretty modest list." She and husband Matthew Broderick are "trying to drum into his head that basically, if you're a good little boy, Santy will bring you two presents. We don't want him expecting too much, but it's hard not to indulge a three-year-old, frankly."
Jeff Daniels: "I was shooting a movie once - I think it was 'Marie,' in Tennessee -- back in the early 80s and it was early in our marriage. My wife Kathleen flew home to Michigan and I told her that I wasn't sure I was going to be able to get home in time for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. I was hoping to fly in for Christmas Day. Here she was with her young husband gone and, you know, we're going to spend Christmas without each other. 'Go home to your family. Be with family,' I said. 'It's more likely I'll see you on the 26th.' She was completely depressed about it. Her favorite Christmas song at the time was 'Joy to the World.' So, she goes home and she's at her mother's house, celebrating Christmas Eve with her huge extended family. And all of a sudden, she hears this voice out on the porch singing 'Joy to the World.' Me. I was planning it all along. There was a period in my life I was terribly romantic."
Hilary Duff: "One Christmas particularly stands out. When I was six or seven, we got snowed in at our ranch in Texas - my mom, dad, sister and grandmother. We couldn't even cook, so we had Christmas dinner out of hor d'oeurvres. It was so much fun. We're big cookers in my family, so making dinner together is a big thing, and getting to spend time together and not be consumed by work. Most of the family is in Texas, but this year we're having Christmas in L.A."
Cyndi Lauper says her most memorable Christmas happened while on tour. "It was the first year our son was born and I had to have a Christmas tree," she recalls. "We were so tired and we were driving and driving and every place was closed and we couldn't get a tree." Lauper says she'd given up, but apparently her husband did not. "There was this one place that had trees but was closed, so he climbed over the fence and left a note and some money, and started to take the tree. Then the guy came out and said 'What are you doing? And he said 'Well, I was trying to buy the tree, but you're closed.' The guy started laughing and sold him the tree. My husband came back with a tree on the top of the truck and playing Christmas music really loud in front of the tour bus. It was pretty funny. That was a great Christmas -- and the kid just fell asleep. He didn't even see the tree."
Eddie Griffin will never forget the Christmas he was seeing nothing but green. "When I was young I got a bag of plastic green army men," recalls the comic-cum-actor. "I didn't get all of them, I just got that one pose!" Meanwhile," he says, "My brothers and them got bikes and s--- and all I had was these little green army men. I thought that was it, then my grandmother surprised me and brought me out a brand new bike. That was cool."
Howie Mandel: "Somebody gave me this dreidel and it was made out of clay and I played with it before it was dry and ready and it was a disaster."
Naomi Judd: "Wynonna and Ashley and I were living in a one-bedroom apartment in Marin County, California, while I was putting myself through nursing school and we didn't have anything. It was so hard on me emotionally to be away from Ashland, Kentucky and my mom and the house I was born in, but we didn't have any money to get home, so it was just the three of us. Wy was 14 and Ashley was 10. We had just a small turkey breast for dinner. The girls were very sad and quiet. But then I started this thing, asking them about their favorite memories. They both have such rich, vivid imaginations they began acting them out, and the mood was transformed. It started a tradition, a ritual we do to this day."
"Monk" star Tony Shalhoub says "Last year was very memorable. I traveled with my family to Africa. We went to Kenya and it was really eye opening for the kids. Even though we weren't there during any of the animals migrating we did see a lot of everything. It was really stunning. We did game rides every day and went to four regions in Kenya. I recommend it to anyone who can do it, especially with children, just being in this whole other part of the world. We went to a Masai village where the culture is so different. The living is very simple, but not unhappy and not unhealthy, just living a spare kind of existence. It's hard to imagine they can survive the way they do, but they were so friendly and so beautiful. My children are already talking about going back."
Dean Cain: "I think this is going to be my favorite Christmas. I'm living the holidays now through my son (Christopher, age five). The idea that he's going to be so excited to open Christmas presents is what makes me feel excited."
Lou Diamond Phillips says he's into making every Christmas unforgettable. "There's a line from a Rickie Lee Jones song that goes, 'You never know when you're making a memory.' The first time I listened to that I told myself I will always know when I'm making a memory. And now that I have three daughters, I set out to make memories for them. When I was down in South Africa shooting a film one Christmas it was the perfect opportunity to take them on safari and a shark cage dive…. they petted cheetahs and everything. Every holiday I want them to have memories."
Darryl Hannah's most memorable holiday "would have to be when I was like seven years old at Christmas. I ran down the stairs and my parents had one of those things that are sort of like a fabric tunnel at the bottom of our stairs. They always had ribbon at the top of the stairs, so we couldn't go down till our parents woke up, then they'd cut the ribbon and we'd all race down. It looked like there was a veritable Santa's Toy Shop under the tree and we had to go through the tunnel in order to get to the living room. Seven is a pretty great age for Christmas anyway, and it was also snowing. It was like really exciting."
Neil Patrick Harris: "I grew up small ski resort town in New Mexico (Ruidoso), so Christmas was climate dependent. My favorite memories are of waking up to an incredibly white Christmas -- snow everywhere, building a fire, staying together with the family because you had no other option."
Patrick Warburton says his favorite family Christmas was spent in "in a cabin in Oregon on the Rogue River, not far from Snow Valley. We got a Christmas tree permit to go up to the woods and get your own Christmas tree, so we drove up in the old army truck with my children and cut down a tree and slid it into the cabin. It was just fun to have a real kind of mountain Christmas. That was about three years ago and it was a really special time.. It's beautiful up there," he adds, "The Rogue River is one those stunning American rivers. It's rural and it's protected by Oregon's Scenic and Wildlife Department, so its one of only six rivers in American protected by specific laws."
Lauren Holly says her family was so into Christmas "for me it's just always been the same. I was very lucky that both my mother's side and my father's side became like best friends so when I grew up every holiday was with everybody. It was really special and I remember good things would happen and I want to continue that for my children," says the "NCIS" regular, who's married with three young'uns aged four and under.
"Desperate Housewives" troubled teen, Shawn Pyfrom, predicts this Christmas will be his most memorable despite the fact that "in my family when you turn 16 you become an adult and you get one gift and buy a gift for whosever name you pull." He says, "I haven't really been all that into Christmas before, but this year I'm really excited. I don't even care about the gifts. I just want to sit around the tree and have some eggnog and kind of like take in the whole Christmas thing. I think I'm starting to appreciate more of the family aspect, rather than the gifts. The family's in Florida, so it doesn't really get that cold, but it gets colder than it normally is there and I'm just really excited to get back to my family, take in the whole Christmas feel, walk outside and look at all the colors and lights."
Former "Six Feet Under" regular Freddy Rodriguez: "The most memorable for me was the first time my kids realized what Christmas was and the looks on their faces. Around two years old, that's the age when they see the tree go up and the surge of excitement goes through their little bodies. It's cool as a parent to see this. And it's the greatest thing to watch them open presents. When they're two or three and they start opening gifts it's like the world to them. They finally get what its about and it s the most amazing thing."
Former "JAG" star Catherine Bell says it was her daughter's "second Christmas" as well that will stand out. "She could appreciate it and she was so wide-eyed and so into all the Christmas stuff, it was fun to see that through her eyes."
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: "I was the youngest of all my brothers and sisters so I usually had great Christmases. My siblings are quite a few years older than me so I would get a lot of presents and I was spoiled. When it was just my wife and I, we wouldn't put up a tree or decorate because we were usually out of town. I'm enjoying the holidays more since my son's been born. You definitely overdo it with a little one in the house."
"Invasion" star Kari Matchett says her the Christmas that stands out in her memory is the one her family learned to make lemonade out of lemons. "I was 10 years old and we were driving in Alberta, Canada, on Christmas Eve to make it to my aunt's house. We got snowed in by a blizzard, so we had stop in a place called Medicine Hat and get a hotel," she recalls. "But it was good. Everybody was in the same boat, so everybody broke out their box of chocolates and cookies and the little goodies they were taking to their relatives. It was such a feeling of generosity, and that we were all in this together that it was actually pretty fun. You make unexpected friends fast and the generosity that just stirs up in everyone is pretty incredible."
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