We’ve always been led to believe that the holidays are a joyous, magical time of year. A time when families come together, and everyone is happy, happy, and – if you’re good - miracles happen. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, if that’s really the way it is for everyone? Unfortunately it isn’t. I don’t mean to be a buzz-kill here, but it’s true. Life is not a Hallmark movie and for a lot of people, this can be a sad, lonely, upsetting time of year – for lots of reasons.
I imagine that all of us, over the lingering course of our lives, have had stellar and not so stellar holidays. Sometimes the memories and disappointments can be so painful or off-putting, that they overshadow the spirit of the season. So instead of all the Christmas hype making us feel excited about what’s to come, it puts us in a not so festive funk.
To make it worse, markers in time, like holidays and the beginning of a new year, cause us to reflect on what’s happened in our lives, during that span of time. While I think it’s important to celebrate where we’ve been, and think about where we’re going, comparing ourselves to others, or even to other times in our life is not helpful. Situations change. There are always going to be highs and lows and no promises things will be better in the new year. That’s what it takes to learn, keep growing, and to ask ourselves the hard questions.
I’m one of those weird people that likes Christmas. I’ve even been known to listen to Christmas music at other times of year. That weird. I have lots of good memories from my childhood that still seem magical when I think of them, which is something I feel very fortunate about. Last year around this time, I wrote about some of my favorite things about Christmas – the smells and making peanut brittle. I hope you find joy in the holidays too.
Still, some years I’m just more into it than others. Life doesn’t just stop because it’s the holidays. It just means there’s more to try to jam into every day. I must admit, I’ve kind of been ignoring it this year, only doing the bare minimum of my traditional stuff, that I feel like doing. I’ve learned that the fastest way for me to resent the festivities is to do things just because I think I should, rather then because I want to. I’m looking at the holidays as a chance to relax and take a little break, so the easier I can make things the better. That includes decorating. And making peanut brittle.
The holidays can be tough, and it doesn’t help that it’s getting dark too early and the gloomy days stir up the winter blues for those of us who are afflicted. Whether your Christmas is white or blue, here are some suggestions to help you.
Take care of yourself.
Being busy to the point of overwhelm, usually means we’re taking care of everything but ourselves. Even the basic stuff. I can’t tell you how many times women have told me they need to go to the bathroom but are putting it off. (Isn’t it funny that as adults, we still feel we have to make an announcement?) While it seems like no big deal, ignoring this body function causes urinary tract infections, kidney stones, incontinence and more! I’m guilty of it myself. I’m also bad about going all day on no fuel, not eating a decent meal and wondering why I feel so wrung out at the end of the day. When I’m feeling stressed, I ask myself a question I learned from our co teacher Sarah Ellen, “What do I need right now?” Do I need to eat? Walk around the block? Take a nap? Don’t ignore the signals our bodies send us and take care of your needs. We make our own magic.
Revisit what makes you happy.
Hopefully, you have some magical Christmas moments from childhood too, that you can revisit. What seemed magical to you? Memories of making peanut brittle with my grandma is something I revisited last year. She cranked out so much every year, it felt like she was supplying Santa! The smells, the tastes, even the sugar burns, take me back to being in the kitchen with her, creating that magic all over again.
Let someone else do the work.
I love Christmas lights, but don’t have the time, energy, and gumption to put on a big light show. I love that other people do, so a fun part of Christmas for me is driving around, looking at the lights. I’m also lucky that I have overachiever neighbors, that stretch their display onto my house. They’ve made a 5-foot wooden cut-out of the Grinch, that stands of my roof, pulling the lights off their house. I couldn’t love it more.
Remember, you’re in charge.
There really isn’t anything you absolutely HAVE to do, especially when it comes to Christmas. Don’t feel dragging out all the decorations and setting everything up, only to take it down a few weeks later? Don’t. Since I decided I don’t need to do this every year, my life has gotten so much easier. I can decide how spartan or Liberace I want to go, depending on what I have going on. Pick your favorites and forget the rest.
Practice your boundaries.
You’re in charge of what you will and won’t be part of. Setting boundaries, and communicating them to others, about how you’ll participate and expect to be treated is the secret to happiness and self-esteem. You don’t have to go to three or four gatherings in a day, unless you want to. You can opt out on anything and everything you want. By the way, visiting people, even family, that are toxic is not required of you. Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean they’re going to be any nicer or easier to deal with. You have my permission. Just don’t.
Celebrate the ones you miss.
One of the things that makes it sadder this time of year, is thinking of the loved ones that won’t be with us. Their absence can make it feel like this time is not appropriate, or worth celebrating. I know I’m going to miss my friends Myrna, Rose, and Sharon at the Heifer Christmas Party this year. I already am. So, I’ve decided not to ignore how I’m feeling and to honor and celebrate the lost herd of this women’s group I love being part of, in their own unique way. For Myrna, I’ll break into spontaneous singing and for Rose, I’ll make funny snarky comments. Every year for Christmas, Sharon made us all mix CDs of her favorite songs. To celebrate and honor her, I plan to listen to last year’s gift and reminisce about the trouble we stirred up together. While I’ll still miss them, honoring them makes me feel like they’re still within me.
You’re not in it alone.
Last year, I over extended myself in too many ways and it threw me into a dark place, stealing my sparkle for months. I’m not doing that again. This year I plan not to just survive the holiday blues, but to acknowledge and work on what I’m feeling, so I can thrive through this time. Part of doing this means setting boundaries with myself – to try to balance my workaholic tendencies, with my social butterfly necessities, and down time at home to recharge my batteries and love on the poodle. It also means not trying to do this alone, knowing that my therapist, spiritual advisors, and the people that love me will help and support me.
Next weekend I’m going to enjoy time with my family and won’t be sending out a newsletter. I hope you have a magical holiday, whatever or however you celebrate.