As the Holidays approach, we may find ourselves anticipating them with Comfort and Joy, or Dread and Despair. The taste of an oven roasted turkey, the gathering of family and friends, the shopping for food and gifts, the sending of cards, the decorating of houses – ours and for those little gingerbread folks! – the traveling, the weather, and so on. Each of these things can cause joy and despair, and although the Holidays are quickly approaching, we do have choices in how we approach the Holidays.
With four children and dozens of Holiday “obligations” each year, I often find myself looking forward to December 26th, if not January 2nd. Thanksgiving, and sometimes even Halloween, will start that anxiety snowball rolling, even if the weather outside isn’t frightful!
Several years ago, after exhaustion, stress and financial worries got the best of me, I searched for that white towel! It hung softly in my bathroom with an innocent little reindeer embroidered to it; Rudolf’s large eyes were begging me not throw it in. Instead, I decided to make a list of Holiday “To Do’s” and “To Don’ts” to remind me of the peaks and valleys I repeatedly traveled across year after year. My mindless path over the river and through the woods was well worn, but I knew it was up to me to create a new one.
Although “To Don’t” was clearly in the lead, both lists dashed away to blaze a new trail!
Perhaps this year, before writing your food, gift shopping or other obligatory “To Do” lists, you set aside a little time to allow your own visions of Sugar Plums – or whatever dreams you have for your Holidays – to dance from your head onto a piece of paper. You can do this alone, or with your family; or maybe you each make your own lists and then share and compare them to discover a few of your favorite things. On another list, note all the things you want to avoid this year – like cooking yams nobody actually eats or waiting ‘til Christmas eve to start your gift shopping.
To enjoy truly Happy Holidays, I want to create a balanced garland of festive activities and soulful rituals strung between peaceful spans of breathing space while I spend time with family and friends. I want my ears, heart and mind to listen deeply to the Carol of the Bells because when I do… Hark! How the bells, sweet silver bells, all seem to say, “throw cares away!”
Our Holiday traditions can be passed down from previous generations, or created completely anew; many times they simply emerge. Traditions are those things we repeat – mindfully or not – every year. Some people feel pangs of guilt if they break a tradition. In essence, this keeps them bound to the past. Present yourself one gift this year: release the traditions that don’t sing to your heart, and continue or create traditions that do.
The simplest things make my heart sing. As a non-baker and non-TV watcher, one joyful tradition is to bring a video player into my kitchen and spend a full day baking cookies with my children and“Elf” and embracing the assurance that “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Gratitude for what we receive and giving to others nestle in the heart of the Holy Days. These can be experienced superficiously, or deeper in our own hearts. Ritual can bring meaning and intention to our customs, as well as add Spiritual awareness. Rituals can be simple or elaborate; the intention is to let them speak to your soul. Celebrate the birth of your newly created “To Do” list; take a moment each evening to light a candle and envision and recite your heartfelt Holiday Wishes. Perhaps you create or participate in a formalized ritual to observe the Winter Solstice.
One of my all time favorite rituals is the Advent spiral. When I watch my children – whom Angels greet with anthems sweet – walk a spiral of evergreen to a lit candle during the Holy Days, my whole being remembers that all is calm, all is bright!
With all those sleigh bells ringing in practically every lane, the Holidays can quickly become overwhelming. Oddly, during a season meant for hibernating, we are often bombarded with invitations to go walking in a winter wonderland, dashing through the snow, or rocking around the Christmas tree – sometimes all on the same holy night! This year, think about marking every possible event down on your calendar and then carefully eliminate those that feel like burdensome obligations or simply overcrowd your Holidays. Write some activities down in pencil, then on the day of each event check in with yourself to see if it feels right to attend – allow yourself to take it one Holy Day at a time.
Adding another “To Do” in an already busy December wasn’t exactly in the forefront of my mind when I was conceiving my oldest daughter in March of 1993. Yet, when Barbra Streisand sings to me each Christmastime, “The best gift that I ever got, didn’t really weigh a lot…” I gladly plan my daughter’s birthday party. To lighten my load, however, I have converted events like attending our friend’s annual Christmas Caroling party or The Nutcracker to an every-other-year-or-so tradition.
All in all, it is up to us how we ring in the season. We can slow down and listen quietly as Heaven and Nature sing, or we can dash away, dash away, dash away all! When things start to wind up, we can remember to take a deep breath, re-read our heart’s Holiday Wish List and re-center ourselves by singing, “Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me” …preferably,with a voice as big as the sea!