It’s that time of year again! Is this a happy time for you or do you feel stressed emotionally, physically and financially? Do you have the true meaning of Christmas in your heart and spirit or do you feel like you’re just going through the motions and doing what is expected of you? I enjoy the trilogy of holidays now – Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year – in a way I didn’t for much of my adult life but it did take a long time to get here. As with so many things in my life, I spent a lot of time on the wrong path. I lost my belief in the true meaning of Christmas in my early teens and didn’t start to get it back for many, many years. For a long time I even doubted the existence of God so Christmas meant nothing to me but pressure to spend money I didn’t have, and pressure to “make the season bright” for my son and my parents. As a cash-strapped single parent I dreaded the annual letter to Santa Claus! I felt like I had to fulfill his every wish (the guilt monster again!) even though I knew I’d be paying my credit card off for the first three months of the New Year. On top of that it seemed like every holiday season was fraught with relationship troubles and, since I especially wanted to have a “special someone” in my life at the holidays, I was usually depressed and feeling sorry for myself when things weren’t going well in that department. The relentless commercialism of the season disgusted me and certainly didn’t help my mood. It seemed like every year I ended up with back spasms or bronchitis or both.
When I moved to Florida 20 years ago (two days after Christmas) I decided to change the way I observed the holidays. I wanted to have a completely different perspective. I started by drastically reducing my gift giving and card sending and, believe me; this didn’t go over well with everyone in my life. I didn’t care; I was on a quest to find authentic meaning. Since I didn’t know anyone in Florida, relocating was an opportunity to remove myself from the expectations of others and do things differently. That first New Year’s Eve I offered to staff the hotline office at the domestic violence shelter at which I had begun volunteering. I had no plans and, having worked in a shelter, I knew the regular staff would appreciate having the holiday off. I could have stayed home alone and felt sorry for myself because the man I was involved with was out of state, which is something I would have done before but, I decided to make myself useful and I was glad I did. As a result of spending less on gifts and cards I was able to start my own tradition of giving an annual donation to a few charities I like. When my parents moved to Florida a few years later I encouraged them to keep the gift giving to a minimum and I began another tradition of putting tickets to a show in their Christmas cards – the gift of time and shared memories instead of “stuff” they didn’t need. These simple changes in my perspective and habits paved the way to a better appreciation of the holidays – no more stress, no more pressure, no more unrealistic expectations.
If you love the holidays and are perfectly happy with the way you observe them – carry on! On the other hand, if you are struggling to keep your spirits up I hope you’ll take some time to find authenticity and meaning. If you have children, do everything in your power to keep them from getting sucked into the empty void of materialism and greed that has enveloped Christmas. Teach them that it truly is more blessed to give than to receive. If you don’t have a lot of money to spend on gifts, just remember that Christmas is not about the number of gifts you give or the cost of them. It’s not about the lights, the decorations, the music, or the food. It’s not only about romantic love; it is about every kind of love. To be sure, those are all enjoyable trappings but it’s important to remember that they are actually symbolic rituals to remind us of deeper meanings. The gifts we give each other are symbolic of the gifts the three wise men brought to honor baby Jesus. The lights signify the return of “the light” to a darkened world. The evergreen trees and branches that we bring into our homes (even the artificial ones!) represent eternal life. Many of the decorations we hang on the tree are symbolic or representative of things that have importance in our lives. The food is a celebration of the abundant blessings provided to us from the harvest. The celebration of the birth of Jesus is a reminder of God’s gift to us of love, forgiveness, redemption, and new life. I didn’t think about the miracle and mystery of Christmas for a long time and, when it started coming back to me, I felt sadness for all the years I had been oblivious but, also joy for the return of belief. Even though I don’t fully comprehend the meaning of Christ, I recently began studying his life again and I have a new appreciation for the wisdom, simplicity, and truth of his teachings.
I’m glad I’m not the same person I once was and that I can be truly thankful on Thanksgiving for all the blessings in my life, feel the spiritual promise of Christmas, and look forward to the New Year with hope and optimism. This won’t be a surprise to anyone who regularly reads this blog but, I believe it all starts with self-love.
Christmas Gift Suggestions
To your enemy; forgiveness.
To an opponent; tolerance.
To a friend; your heart.
To a customer; service.
To all; charity.
To every child; a good example.
To yourself; respect.
So … who’s the little fat guy in the red suit?
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