Mind Matters — Holidays

Well, The Holidays are here again; and, unfortunately, the elves don’t come out of the woodwork along with the Nutcracker mice. Santa’s helpers remain at the North Pole while we are confronted with how wonderful it all should be as we are expected to live out the myth of the Night Before Christmas. Whether or not your family celebration revolves around Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanza, the theme is similar: a celebration of light confronting the Dark at the darkest time of year: Winter Solstice. (How these celebrations play out in the southern hemisphere where they do not coincide with the earth’s perturbations with light continues to confound me!)

Ironically, as we celebrate light, lighting candles (or LED bulbs) against the dark, the dark confronts us nevertheless. Rather than avoid the fact of darkness in our lives with the busyness of parties, shopping and listening to Christmas Carols way before their proper time, perhaps we need to attend to what are our own undercurrents.

Grief, even “old” grief (if grief is ever old), seems to become more poignant at this time of year. We remember loved ones who have died. We remember perhaps holiday celebrations lost to a parent who became alcoholically abusive every Christmas morning; we remember our families being too poor or too uncaring to nurture us with a happy holiday. These memories and feelings need to be honored and acknowledged. Let the dark stories into the lit room, as it were.

Some people find comfort in making a visit to the cemetery where loved ones are buried. Another possibility is to set a place at the holiday table for the beloved who died. For those who had difficult holidays as children, creating new and unique traditions that differentiate from the painful past can help. If this is the first year to go through the holiday season after the death of a loved one (or a divorce too), it can also help to shake things up by doing something vastly different than the old “traditions.” The first Christmas after my parents died, my family and I trekked to friends near Monticello in Virginia. We were grieving, but the change of scenery with welcoming friends comforted us.

Rather than running away from the feelings that may arise during the holidays, listen to them, accept them. “Okay, I am feeling sad [or angry]”. There are no shoulds about feelings, they simply are. It is best to be aware of them, invite them in. Listen to what you’re feeling in you body. “Hmm, every time Aunt Lottie makes a sarcastic comment I get a knot in my stomach.” That’s awareness, and the beginning of learning how to deal with feelings that arise. We can’t change Aunt Lottie, but we can learn to soothe ourselves and calm ourselves in the face of her recriminations. “Oh, it’s her usual way again. I can breathe through this and let this go.”

Journaling our thoughts and feelings, taking a walk, being alone awhile listening to music: these all can help de-stress. All the more during the holiday season of shoulds and expectations, we need to de-stress.

Pragmatically speaking, there is no need to do everything. Ask for help! The word “No” can be quite useful (especially for those of us who try to do everything for everyone). Allow yourself to be surprised by what this holiday may bring without controlling how it “should” be. It helps by being gentle and patient with ourselves, then perhaps we can let the ripple effect begin so we can be patient and gentle with others as well. (Just don’t judge yourself harshly when all of a sudden you’ve realized how impatient you just were with Aunt Lottie).

Enjoy the holidays in the Now! The Twelve Days of Christmas start with Christmas Day and finish with the Epiphany on January 6th. No rush! Best wishes for a joyous Holiday Season.