The holiday season is upon us. The advertisements featuring happy families sitting down for a holiday meal together or gathered around the Christmas tree are on television, internet, radio, billboards...the expectations and triggers bombard us.
Most families don’t fit the picture-perfect ideal promoted in these advertisements. My family life, like that of so many others I’ve met, has not been perfect. I accept that fact and I’ve learned that trying to create the facade of the perfect family to meet the expectations set forth by society creates frustration and pain, and often depletes energy. Instead, I’ve learned that I can have a family of choice that is in divine order for me. I’ve also learned that I can be grateful for all that I’ve learned from my biological family, no matter how I spend the holidays.
When I lived in Florida, my community was made up of many people who had relocated there and who didn’t have family nearby, and many of those people were single. At the time, I was blessed to have my parents living near me, but they weren’t always around for holidays because they’d often travel north to see their grandson and my sister. By that time I had already decided that I wasn’t a fan of traveling during the holidays, especially Thanksgiving, because it was such a hassle at the airports. So I started staying home. I had open houses and invited others that were alone for the holidays to visit and celebrate with me. Sometimes I accepted invitations to share the holiday with close friends in their homes. Occasionally I took advantage of the day to enjoy the beach or the movies alone.
I never learned how to cook a turkey, so I would order a fully cooked/slicked turkey with all the trimmings from the local kosher deli; the meal was always a success and I got to spend the day with my friends. During that time of my life, I learned to be grateful for the people I was with, whether they were a part of my biological family, my chosen family, or people I'd met recently. I felt thankful to be breaking bread, sharing stories, and feeling the joy of community with new and old friends alike, and because I reached out and opened my home to others, many people were grateful to have a place to go and someone to celebrate with. I learned so much while sharing that time with others, in different situations, with a variety of traditions, some completely new to me. I also learned a great deal by spending holiday times alone.
So, what are my recommendations for you during the holiday season? First, I hope that you were able to enjoy yesterday in a way that brought you joy, whether you celebrated Thanksgiving or not. Today is typically the big kick-off to the holiday shopping season. Society's expectations encourage us to spend money to show our affection, sometimes pushing us to spend more than we really have. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the holiday season and I find joy in giving gifts to loved ones and receiving gifts from them. I do believe though, that shopping can be a distraction and can create tremendous stress, especially at this time of the year. I think there are other things we can do to create a happy holiday season for ourselves and others.
Volunteering is on the top of my list because I truly feel like I'm receiving a gift every time I volunteer to help those less fortunate. As temperatures drop, we should remember that there are people who don't have warm coats to wear. Locally, I volunteer for Project Keep Warm, where we collect donations for the homeless, veterans, and struggling families. There is a deep sense of gratitude in the faces of those served and there's really nothing like the feeling you get from helping others. I'm sure you can find a volunteer opportunity in your area that resonates with you. Even in warmer climates, there are "cold spells" and the homeless need warm clothing. They also regularly need hats to help protect them from the sun, and shoes. When I lived in Florida, for some reason it seemed to feel even colder when the temperature drops down there!
Work on yourself! What about that long ignored Feng Shui project that you started to think about, but, stopped due to other obligations? Perhaps there’s a closet with too much clothing in it – what a great opportunity to declutter and donate! Take a tour of your home, room by room, and look with an eye for items that are unused and don't bring you joy. Getting rid of those items can free up some space that will allow the Chi to flow freely and create a sense of openness in your life. How about rearranging your furniture? Look at each room in your home and ask yourself if the room is really welcoming. If it's not, what might help change that? It might be that your sofa has its back towards the room entrance - that suggests that people stay out of your life. If you want more friends, and happier families, try turning the sofa around! Perhaps there's a piece of art on the wall that fails to make you smile. Consider finding a replacement, something that lifts your spirits when you enter the room. Rearranging furniture and making small changes can really liven up a space, so ask family members to help and see how it feels.
Take care of yourself! The holidays are emotional times, and with those emotional times come triggers that can be difficult to cope with. I’ve learned that staying busy keeps my mind happy and prevents feelings of loneliness over the holidays. I’ve also found it's best to wisely choose how and with whom I spend my time. I make those choices in accordance with my inner being and what is right for me. Call up a friend.... your ‘movie’ friend, or your ‘walking’ friend, or your ‘try a new adventure friend’ and get out, and fulfill your hearts’ desires! Even a phone call to someone out of state or country, or a visit to the elderly – all help elevate mood, yours and someone else's. Today, my “chosen” family is all over the globe. We keep in touch and we see each other at every opportunity and I’m grateful for each and every one of them.
The holidays are a special time: beautiful and full of tradition, but also stressful and painful in many ways. We can all survive, and even enjoy, the holidays if we remember to carry a sense of compassion and gratitude wherever we go, for everyone that we encounter. Plan your days and weeks to include activities that will nurture you, as well as helping others. Let’s all remember to give ourselves the best present possible this holiday season; the gift of self-care. Listen to your inner voice and spend time and energy doing things with people (or alone) that will lift you up, and be grateful for every moment. Namaste,