You can spend all year looking forward to the holidays But what if they don't go according to plan?

That was the question facing me a week ago. I've always loved Christmas--the presents, the cookies, the carols, the dashing through the snow from family to family, friend to friend. All of it makes me happy. This year was different, though. After moving to the West Coast and losing my mother last year, my husband Bill and I were suddenly facing a Christmas where our closest family and friends were either thousands of miles away, or gone altogether. We do have family and friends in the region, but in some odd twist of fate the people we'd be likeliest to spend Christmas with all chose this year to go away for the holidays.

We're resilient, holiday-loving people and we've made new friends so we planned to attend one friend's traditional Italian Christmas Eve seafood feast, and another's traditional Christmas Day Chinese Buffet outing. We were determined to have a fun Christmas, no matter what.

But then Bill came down with a horrible flu and we had to cancel all our arrangements one by one. He spent Christmas Eve shivering in bed with a fever of 103 while I ate a can of spaghetti for dinner, feeling worried about him and sorry for myself in equal measure.

It was the crummiest Christmas I can remember. But it taught me a few useful lessons about the holidays.

1. Christmas is not just one day.

The holidays are special, but that specialness is not restricted to December 25 (or Hanukah, Solstice, or Kwanzaa, depending what you celebrate). My husband and I already have a long-standing tradition of exchanging gifts on New Year's rather than Christmas. With kids and grandkids to buy presents for, it takes a little of the holiday pressure off. It also lets us take advantage of day-after-Christmas pricing.

So it's not that big of a stretch to push our Christmas celebrating back as well. Now that Bill's better, we've already had one festive post-Christmas dinner with one friend and we're making plans to celebrate with some others as well.

2. It's an important time to reflect on the year you've had.

In our case, that was a very bittersweet exercise because we lost one of our closest friends this summer so that it would have been a sad holiday season even if Bill had been in perfect health. But a loss like this is also a reminder to be thankful for all the time we have here on earth, and this sad year also came with many blessings in the form of new friendships, new jobs, new opportunities, and a new home that we love. It's important to be thankful for what the year has brought as well as what it's taken away.

3. It's the people in your life that matter, not the day.

By the evening of December 27 I let our disappointing Christmas get me down as I realized I had to go back to work without feeling like I'd had a proper holiday. But then Bill caught me sniffling about it and insisted on taking me out to an impromptu dinner. It was a sweet gesture that cheered me up immensely. It reminded me again that what really matters is having someone in your life who loves you and wants to make you happy. And that really is worth celebrating.