Sometimes the holidays bite us right on our gingerbread fannies.
If social media and tv commercials are to be believed, we’re supposed to be all Martha Stewart and Norman Rockwell this time of year. Everything should be just-so for merriment and touching moments by the tree. Kids happy with gifts. Family heirlooms polished and nothing burning in the kitchen.
I, for one, have never had a holiday that looked like tv.
There have been absolutely great times with family and friends. There was always a tree (except for that one year during the divorce). There was usually music and good food. It was magical when I was a kid– but then I stopped being a kid. With maturity, I started to feel a weird pressure to make something happen during the holidays in order to fill some sense of loss. I felt nostalgic and a little bit angry for reasons I didn’t understand.
It can get almost existential this time of year: why does my Christmas not look like everyone else’s? Why don’t I have what I thought I’d have at this point in my life? Is it ever going to be magical again? Who decided we all have to do this crazy thing every year?
And I see the inequality in our world, the ways that middle-class families are struggling in ways they never used to, the grief that people feel because of empty seats at the table, the absence of civil conversation, the addiction to cell phones. It’s writ large during the holidays.
Most of the people I know who are brave enough to talk candidly about the holidays admit to feeling triggered, sad, or bored this time of year. Rather than just opting out, I prefer to ask questions: what is the something magical we’re looking for, and how do we find it? Can we use this time as part of our spiritual practice, as an opportunity instead of a liability?
I think we can, and here are a few ways to truly utilize this season for wholeness and healing:
—Pay attention to the triggers. If you find yourself short-tempered, picking fights, feeling panicky or depressed, trust that there may be a specific button that was pushed. See if you can trace back your feelings to a moment or an exchange, and be curious about your reaction. There is likely some good information here that you can work with to dismantle that trigger. Contact me for a healing session if you’re ready to do more of that inner work or need a witness and some perspective.
—Leave space for sadness. If you had unhappy holiday experiences in the past, or are missing someone, or have other issues going on (and who doesn’t?), allow yourself to feel it. Holidays can put a spotlight on what’s missing, rather than what we have, and faking it doesn’t really help. If you’re sad, be sad. If you’re grieving, talk about it with someone you trust. Being honest about the sadness takes way less energy than covering it up with tinsel.
—Consider what’s truly nourishing. This certainly applies to food, since veggies tend not to be high on our list of holiday snacks. That sugar rush comes with a crash, so if you’re already blue you might want to skip the extra cookie or glass of wine. But nourishment applies to who you spend time with, what media you consume, and having adequate time for personal care. Schedule in what keeps you sane and grounded, whether it’s a yoga class, thrash metal in your car, or a long walk with a kind friend.
—Find or create rituals that make sense to you. If you’re reading this, I bet you have an impulse towards meaning-making and story-telling. You probably crave connection and eschew things done “because that’s how we always do them.” So, what did your ancestors way back through the centuries do at solstice-time? What does your heart ask of you in quiet moments? Looking back at your childhood, what did you have or wish you had –and are those things you can provide for yourself in some way now? Some example might be candlelight meditation, heart-to-heart sharing or stories, favorite songs, volunteering, travel to special places, dancing, and cooking family recipes, or you might decide to try something new each year at Christmas. Examine why you do what you do during the holidays, and be willing to part ways with what feels empty– in favor of what’s genuinely meaningful.
Whether you explore these options or not, I hope that you will hold yourself and others in as much compassion as you can muster as we close out the year (and the decade!). Everyone has stories and sadnesses that you may not see– and that includes you. Let this be a season of giving generously and from the heart, even in small gestures of kindness and patience.
Wishing you warmth and cheer. I’ll see you in 2020, with bells on.