Rain danced on the window and opaque clouds turned the world vivid grey while we enjoyed our warm, dry, and glowing home. My son was quietly focused on his building blocks and the baby played at my feet while I cleaned up breakfast. I called to Arlo in the other room, “Would you like some music?” “Yeah,” he replied. “Charlie Brown Christmas!” It is the middle of August, but it seemed like a welcome change from the rotation of Raffi and the Laurie Berkner Band. I threw on the record and we settled into the peace that comes with the nostalgic offering of the Vince Guaraldi Trio. It brought to mind, again, something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: what are we to do about the 2020 holidays? It is entirely too early to begin making plans for the fall and winter celebrations, but this is an exceptional year. Why is this on my mind? It is more than a distraction from the strangeness that permeates social and political life. I find myself concerned that the muffled pulse of depression and anxiety that floods into every corner of American society will only become louder. When people realize this holiday season will look immensely different than the last, we will experience a collective shock – no matter how cool-headed everyone claims to be. I fear the convergence of sadness and desperation, even among those who deny that they are affected by these changes. In other words, I predict a very twenty-first century American response to the 2020 holidays: a mix between irritating product placement, roaring holiday jingles, directives from pseudo-spiritual social media personalities, loud-mouthed religious types who insist on keeping “the reason for the season,” and bombastic political commentators who just will not leave us alone – all laced with utter obliviousness to their irony. We are only half way through the year and feeling fatigue. How will we survive the fake sincerity that meets us, already, every year?
It does not need to be this way. We can survive – even thrive – this fall and winter. We need a new relationship with the holidays, regardless of religious affiliation. We must, each one of us, make peace with the fact that things will look and feel differently. And, if possible, use this moment as a turn to something fresh and life-giving.
It is August and the stores still have a few weeks before they break out the holiday decorations (except for Hobby Lobby, who is already there…those crazies.) It is the moment we must begin thinking about how we will welcome the cooler temperatures, shorter days, and traditions we find comfort in. I list a few suggestions here, but it is only to get you started. My hope is that these ideas will inspire you to take ownership over your emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical wellbeing this year.
- Re-evaluate your relationship with the holidays. For many, the holidays come with a twinge of sadness (or a truck load) and anxiety. For others, there are feelings of disconnection as messages of joy, peace, and celebration flash before our ears and eyes, but the heart feels differently. Some genuinely love the holidays, but feel burned out after throwing themselves into doing all the things. Take some time to sit and contemplate over your feelings about the holidays. Are you looking forward to this year? Or not? From where do these feelings arise? Be strong and courageous as you move through these sensations. Perhaps write them down.
- Plan to read a book. Better yet, crack open the spiritual text that is the foundation of your tradition and dive in… on your own. Do not rely on religious leadership to guide you through the story. Or, locate other beautiful books that reflect the spirit of the season. Read a little every day and try to stretch it out over the course of the holiday months. Take notes or journal your thoughts. Take ownership over your spiritual life.
- Go outside. Plan hikes or take walks as the days get cooler. Smell the crisp air and fallen leaves (if you live in such a climate.) Going outside is one of the best ways to balance our mind, body, and spirit – and to feel connected to the world. Take your family with you. If the weather is cool or cold, bundle up, but do not be afraid of a chilled nose. If you live in the warmer latitudes, notice the ways your landscape may change – even just a little – during this time. Or, simply take notice. These can be sacred moments of reconnection.
- Commit to a daily ritual, no matter how small. Do this alone or with your family. It can be as simple as enjoying your first cup of coffee without any other distractions, or as elaborate as committing to daily yoga through the holiday season. Light a candle each morning and enjoy breakfast with the family under its glow as the sun rises. Start journaling. Have a “digital free hour” every day. Wake 30 minutes earlier every day to meditate or pray. Set the clock for 3:00 pm and do something you love. Read a daily contemplation every evening before bed. Any one of these suggestions would be enough. Do not attempt to do it all.
- Start a new tradition or two. I will avoid suggestions here, because each individual is different and every tradition is a wonderful tapestry of celebration and history. Dive into something meaningful here. Search the internet for ideas. Chose as a family or make a change as an individual to establish your own tradition, not tied to someone else’s decision.
- Embrace music, theater, and art. The holidays are a glorious time for trying a form of performance or art that may be different for you. There is a reason ballet and dance has staying power. Opera can move you to tears. Museums are providing virtual tours of their collections. Step out of your comfort zone here and try something new. Do not worry that you may not “understand it.” Let go and enjoy the ride.
- Make something. Anything. Food. Art. Music. Gifts. A story. A piece of furniture. A board game. You get the idea.
- Hygge. Slow it down, wear comfy clothes, light a candle, and let go of anything that is stressing you out. Seriously. Let it go. It will be there when you get back to it. Settle into the shorter days and read books, play games as a family, eat comforting foods, and keep it simple. So often Americans feel they need to purchase or acquire things in order to enjoy life – or to feel something. This is patently false, but it takes practice.
- On that note…Do not make up for lost holiday experiences with consumerism. Especially in America, we buy things to feel better about ourselves. We gauge the health of the economy by how many cars, appliances, or houses are purchased in a given year. During the holidays we are bombarded by pleas to buy more things (and that is an understatement.) Save your money. No amount of new things will lead to joy or comfort. This is not to say that one should feel guilty about making holiday purchases (the moral pendulum swing,) rather, notice if feelings of being on edge arise with the desire to buy something. That is often a red flag and will only lead to crashing emotions later on, a house full of stuff, and a lower bank balance.
- Check on family, friends, and neighbors who live alone. Certainly, during a pandemic you want to be extremely cautious in doing this – especially, if you or the individual is immunocompromised. The winter months will only come with increased risk and probably higher rates of contagion, but still, we must care for the lonely. It may require creative thinking this year, but make plans for it. For example, instead of sending a mass of cookie cutter greeting cards, write a special message to each recipient. The connection will be felt in both of you.
- Allow the emotions to come and do not resist. Be strong and courageous. If heavy or difficult feelings arise, take note and become aware of them. These emotions may feel overwhelming at times, but they do not make up who you are as a person. You are also not alone. The world is full of anger right now. Unwittingly, we can take on fear, sadness, anxiety, and anger without realizing it. Making time to do any of the suggestions above will probably lessen the load of strong emotions, but it is important to be aware of their existence. Also, on the flip side, remember to enjoy joy. When you feel positive emotions like contentment or happiness, make note of them.
If you have any other suggestions, please share them here! Blessings to you on this journey. We can be in this together if we want it.