Many people are thinking about presents at this time of the year....what they want, what they want to get for others, who they feel obligated to buy for, etc. Commercialization of the season, a naturally quiet and introspective time of year, runs rampant and turns a “still season” into something frenetic and chaotic.
When you think about the holidays do you think of “presents” as in STUFF or “presence” as in EXPERIENCE and RELATIONSHIP?
Thinking back to past holidays, what have been the most valuable presents? The cozy robe and slippers are surely appreciated, video games and electronics illicit shouts of excitement, and jewelry bring gasps of surprise and tears of joy; but what have been the most truly valuable presents in your life? Almost always they are the gifts of time, experience, and relationship.
Presents are typically forgotten over time, but sharing experiences and being truly present with those we love are times rarely forgotten. For many people, the exchange of presents is a part of the holiday traditions in families and with friends. There’s something comforting about honoring traditions and perhaps traditions even make it easier on those who organize and host holiday events. An aunt brings her famous pie; a cousin brings his special homemade pickles; a sibling brings the board games...perhaps everyone draws a name from a hat so that each person only has one gift to buy, but everyone gets to open a present. Each family and culture has its own traditions and people follow them year after year, generation after generation.
I’ve long been a bit of a maverick when it comes to tradition. I truly enjoy trying out things new and different because I love new experiences, people, cultures and visiting countries new to me.
I’m the member of the family that never learned to cook a turkey, but I don’t let that hold me back. My father went on an annual trek to the mountains on Thanksgiving, so as an adult, I enjoyed taking my Mom out for holiday brunches. We always managed to find a wonderful buffet that usually had a cottage-style gift shop, and that was a part of our shared holiday experience. Many of my friends are of the Jewish faith and don’t celebrate Christmas; I enjoy seeing the latest movies with them on Christmas Day. I was married to a Jewish man, so for a number of years, we celebrated both Hanukah and Christmas with a cross cultural feast and our blended family.
Another tradition for many is putting up a Christmas tree. If we choose to have a tree and look at this tradition with a Feng Shui perspective, we can carefully consider what area of the bagua to place it. This year, my nontraditional recycled wrought iron ‘tree’ with South American gourd ornaments, will be located in the FAME area, where lights are welcomed as they represent the FIRE element. A more traditional green Christmas tree would be right at home in the FAMILY area where the element is WOOD and the color is green. If you are concerned about spending too much money over the holidays, consider putting it in the WEALTH area, where WOOD (green) nourishes and RED stabilizes.
Perhaps the Christmas tree tradition can be used to add more mindfulness to the holiday and also focus more on the shared experience. Any time we can make choices that support the environment; we’re doing a good thing for ourselves and society. Why not consider getting a tree from a sustainable tree farm that plants two or three trees for every tree that’s cut? Ask family members to join you in choosing and cutting the tree. Perhaps a potted Norfolk Pine is a better choice for you. You can enjoy it year round and decorate it for other holidays, in addition to Christmas. Maybe something unique like my recycled wrought iron ‘tree” is more your style. Whatever you do, please don’t buy fake trees. There’s no healthy purpose for them. Another way to make the Christmas tree tradition a shared experience instead of a chore is to ask family members and friends to help you put up the tree and make decorations for it, or go through the old ornaments and talk about the memories they bring up. This can turn in to a wonderful event and a new tradition that everyone looks forward to.
The point is to make this season about PRESENCE not PRESENTS. When you think about presents, consider shared experiences and time spent together rather than “stuff.” Everyone likes to have a gift to open during the holidays, but remember it doesn’t have to be big and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Simple gifts like a handwritten letter or an invitation to dinner and a movie; gifts of time like “an afternoon to clean out the attic” can mean the world to people...so much more than another electronic device or shirt they won’t really wear.
What can you do to simplify the holiday season for yourself and your family? Who would you like to spend more time with and how can you be more present for them? How can you honor the family traditions you love and still be mindful? How can you turn the chaotic, frenetic time into a true time of calmness, peace, and joy? I’ve offered a few suggestions today and will offer more each week. Remember as you plan your holiday season to take a deep breath and take care of yourself because inner peace is the most important ‘peace’ of all.