I used to have an ambivalent relationship with holidays.
I loved them because I got to be away from work, do some special activities, and see friends or family that I didn’t get to see regularly.
At the same time, I dreaded holidays because they always got stressful. Even when I made reasonable plans, my commitments inevitably multiplied like bunnies and before I knew it, I was frazzled and distracted, doing things I’d rather not, and all with an obligatory smile plastered on my face.
But all that changed soon after I met my husband. He had begun a practice of going to Yosemite for Christmas.
When I first considered going, I knew immediately it wouldn’t work. I mean, what about all my holiday “stuff”?
Getting together with family on Christmas eve?
Christmas dinner and all it involves?
What about all the presents I had to buy? And wrap? And pack? And send? And give in person?
The cards I had to write and mail?
The tree to buy and decorate?
All the boxes of Christmas decorations to unpack and put out, and then pack away again.
All the cookies I had to bake?
All the Christmas parties to flit around to?
What about donations to the needy, the service work to do?
On and on. And on and on. Aggh!
But alas … Christmas in Yosemite sure did sound heavenly!
So I began thinking about how to do most of my other stuff ahead of time. Yes! I could do it before and while preparing for the 5 day trip to Yosemite! But the thought of that just freaked me out.
And then it hit me.
I had been moving through all my holiday activities like an automaton. Sure, I enjoyed some of them, and some of them touched my heart.
But most of them were not enjoyable or meaningful at all, or they added so much stress and took so much time or money that they were just not worth it to me.
A New and Improved Way to Do Holidays
And for the first time, I began to make conscious choices about how I wanted to spend the holidays.
I let all the had-to’s and shoulds just fall away in favor of the want-to’s.
We went to Yosemite at Christmas for a number of years and it was *magical*. We used the heater in our little cabin as our imaginary fireplace and opened our few little gifts to each other. We went to the fancy Bracebridge dinner at the Ahwahnee, a lavish affair with an 8-course meal. We ate bad food in the brightly lit and nearly empty cafeteria and had lovely exchanges with the cafeteria workers, and oddly, that remains one of our happiest memories. And I’ll never forget being in the tiny chapel there with snow falling gently outside, while 2 young kids in front of us fought loudly over the candles for the candle-light service. My heart soared and I laughed and cried at the same time.
Those experiences enriched my life and made me a better person.
This was the point of Christmas.
Connect with the Holiday Spirit
You, too, can trade in your stressful pile of obligations for free time (*gasp*) where you can connect with the special meaning that each holiday embodies by nurturing its lovely spirit and bringing it to life.
You can make the holiday spirit a significant part of your experience instead of something fleeting you try to grasp or catch a quick glimpse of in-between commitments that have gotten out of control.
Examine Your Assumptions
Examine each thing you do and every person you connect with and ask yourself why you do it.
Did you merely “inherit” it and now just do it without choosing to do it? Without realizing you don’t have to?
Are you allowing others’ expectations to overly influence you?
Do you enjoy doing these things?
Do you enjoy being with these people? (Yes, ask this about family. Maybe especially about family.)
Can you afford it easily or does it add undue stress?
What are the results? Are they worth the investment of time and money?
Maybe you’ll find that some of these things really are where you want to put your energy. Good! Now you know. And the rest you can consider letting go of.
What Makes Your Heart Sing?
There are always trade-offs. So it helps to consider if there are things you might like to do instead.
Maybe you want to leave the newly freed-up time alone. Allow it to just be there and spontaneously enjoy it when it comes around … or not.
Or use your creative spirit to brainstorm some fresh, new ideas that have some life to them.
What does this holiday mean to you? How can you express that?
Who do you love? What do you care about? Do you want to make a connection or contribution?
What do you enjoy? What makes your heart sing? Don’t you deserve to commune with the spirit of the holiday for your benefit as well as for others’?
With just a little deliberate forethought, and feeling into your own heart, you can make the holidays a time to go deep instead of wasting them on meaningless, superficial activities.
Unless you like superficial! It does have its place. The point is to make conscious choices.
Give Yourself Permission
You’re a grown-up now, and no-one is the boss of you.
You don’t need to follow in the old traditions automatically. Of course, if you love them, then yes, indeed!
But spare yourself being an automaton for as long as I was. You can break free now.
Watch What Happens
If you’re like me, you’ll be surprised to find that the things you cut out are not missed. And if they are, well, you can do them next year. You can even do them just because. If they have value, do they need a holiday to go with? Maybe not.
As to the people you usually spend holidays with, perhaps they need to adjust to your new way, but they’ll come around before you know it. You’ll likely find that it’s not nearly so traumatic on them as you imagine.
And the time you do decide to spend with people is much more meaningful when you do it because you genuinely want to be with them.
Nowadays, my list is pared waaaay down. This year, we’re having a low-key holiday. We may or may not decorate, we’ll have a delicious meal that is simple to prepare, and I’ll give a few heartfelt gifts to my son and his family. (They may do a road-trip and arrive on our doorstep. If they do, I’ve got plenty of extra time to spend with them.) Lots of children — too many — in our area need hats and gloves (can you imagine?), and that’s my service/donation priority this season.
And that’s plenty.
It leaves me space to touch in regularly with the spirit of this beautiful season, and see where it takes me in the moment.
I wish you many spirited moments of your own this holiday season.
Thanks for reading!
How do you spend your holidays? Are they spirited? Would love to hear!
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