As a child I dreaded the holidays. Weeks of uninterrupted solid family dysfunction were made unbearable by what seemed like everyone else having the best time of the year. I remember one year buying a tiny plastic tree and decorating it with cheap lights and tinsel so I could have some holiday spirit, too. I got sick a lot during those vacations and, sitting feverish in front of the holiday film reruns and advertising, only made me feel worse. I know from being married to a doctor for the last three decades, that the holidays are a peak time for illness and emotional breakdowns.
Everyone is carrying around a sack full of something, and for many, it is an emptiness that only seems to get heavier through the years. It is easy to believe that with all the media messages around that we can purchase the fullness we all want to feel. It only took a couple of years of gorging on stuff to realize that stuff never satisfied anyone. Instead, over the years I created our holiday traditions around healing rituals that not only helped me to heal my own past, but have also given my kids a chance to make their own meaning in this time.
We had a lot to work with as our mixed religious backgrounds gave us many holiday choices to reinvent. The Hanukkah ritual is a favorite and it can be adapted to any other holiday or even just used at winter solstice. A celebration of light, for us it became a celebration of recognizing the light of gratitude and wonder in our own lives. Each night we take turns lighting candles and sharing the light of all the many things we have to be grateful for. My children have been profound teachers in this ritual, each with remarkable insights into the beauty and wonder of the world.
Training one’s mind in gratitude is perhaps one’s most worthy pursuit and guaranteed to heal one’s holiday emptiness. In fact, there is no other single human emotional quality that has the power to completely reinvent how you perceive your life and open a door to contentment and abundance. Many of the oldest secret societies in the world have gratitude built into their foundational belief systems. It takes practice if you are not accustomed, but gratitude is how happiness feels when it is imbued with wonder.
The most meaningful gifts at this time of year can’t be bought or even given; they are the transformation that happens in us when we are open to receiving. As a chronic giver, this ability to receive is a fledgling chick just learning to fly in me, but I now understand that letting go of how I think things should be and listening deeply to what is right in front of me is almost always a gift that I would have entirely missed in the past. When we get stuck on how life’s offerings (and you can expand that to include people and stuff) don’t match our expectations, we literally turn away from the love and pleasure that is ours. I see it happen every day; we refuse to be loved when it doesn’t look the way we want it to. Celebrate life this holiday season by allowing and receiving life’s gifts in front of you. Practice releasing your thoughts and preconceived ideas when you open a gift and listen for what might be deeply hidden in the gift in front of you.
All of this healing might make you bold enough to attempt the deepest giving of all- Forgiving. This is when we accept that we won’t get a better past and when we finally understand that the only one being harmed by the grudges we hold are ourselves. Forgiveness, in many ways, is the ultimate act of receiving. You finally free yourself from carrying around the baggage of emptiness filled with justifiable injury and disrespect that might never get proper acknowledgement. Forgiveness is a chance to see beyond what we have always known and create room to get a glimpse of a universe still unknown to us. In these moments, we can drop the stories that have defined our holiday memories for so long.
It is a bold step, creating rituals to heal the holidays; you will be astonished at how it transforms the New Year.