Bing Crosby croons about dreaming of a White Christmas once again, and dreidls will soon be spinning. No matter one’s faith or lack thereof, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, December ushers in the darkest time of year as we approach Winter Solstice. Night and Dark swallow the daylight, December 21st marking our journey into the longest night of the year. And so we push against the dark with a celebration of the Light. However our spiritual celebration of inviting Light in our lives can get eclipsed by our busyness and our unrealistic expectations.
Recently I discovered that the Japanese ideograph representing busy-ness is the character for heart with a line drawn through it, meaning, in essence, no heart. Interesting that in a season that boasts about heart and hearth, and peace on earth, that we get caught in even greater busy-ness and busi-ness than at other times of year.
So how do we slow down the pace? How do we change our expectations and greet the season differently? Instead of busyness, we need to bring heart back to the celebration of light.
Hope. Every year we cycle with this season and talk about hope and healing in a wounded world. Every year at this time greeting cards are politically correct to say “Peace on Earth.” And as much as one may get cynical about how wars continue and nothing may ever seem to change, the fact that we can in our world still dream and hope for a different future for humankind is crucial. So we continue to hope that someday we indeed may all live as one. This season can remind us of that dream. (I recently read, “Every child that is born bears a message from God – that He has not given up on us.”)
Expectations. Our expectations for what makes the season merry might need to change. We can get caught in the mythology that all of a sudden families who have had difficulties for years will be nice to each other. Or we may have the expectation that the holiday season now will erase the pain of past Christmases. Holiday memories for many of us are fraught with not so merry scenes: an alcoholic father tearing down the Christmas tree or an in-law storming out the door, for example. Expectations need to be realistic and reset: accepting the things you cannot change.
Alms. Why not consider giving gifts to a charity in honor of that person in your life who has everything. Besides you won’t have to get stressed out, not only driving to the mall but also trying to figure out how to park there and what to buy the person. There are plenty of organizations ready to send you gift cards for the loved one on your list. Stephen Post, author of Why Good Things Happen To Good People, notes that we benefit ourselves physiologically and psychologically when we do good for others.
Remembering loved ones. This time of year has a poignancy: we especially feel the loss of loved ones who have died (or loved ones who are separated from us for some reason too). We need to honor our grief and find ways to commemorate the loss. Talk about our loved ones at the dinner table, set a place for them, put out photos, light a candle, go to the cemetery. Sometimes it helps to change the holiday traditions altogether the first year after such a loss. Find new ways, create new traditions to celebrate life as you commemorate those who have died.
Time. Take time to unbusy yourself. Time to dream, play games with your children, walk in nature, sit by the fire. In other words, Take a Holiday with heart!