Thursday, May 28, 2020





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“Oh, Christmas isn’t just a day. It’s a frame of mind. And that’s been changing. That’s why I’m here. .Maybe I can do something about it.”

                                                              -Kris Kringle, Miracle on 34th Street

The holiday season is one of the most beautiful times of the year yet it is filled with paradoxes and mixed feelings for most of us.

My childhood memories of Christmas left a lot to be desired. My father was a violent alcoholic, left with a five year old daughter after the death of my mother.

We transitioned into a new home with a stepmother who had little interest in a child that was not ‘hers’. One of our crazy holiday dysfunctional ‘rituals’ was my father coming home after the bars closed and knocking over the Christmas tree on his way to bed.

We had little money most of the year but at Christmas an Uncle mysteriously lavished us with a new dress and loads of presents. It didn’t make sense to me since we rarely saw him and our lives were unextraordinary at best.

A few times we attended the local Lutheran candle light service.

That event in my child mind was the ultimate in celebration done right! I loved the quiet peace of the setting and the presence of something invisible but very loving.

It balanced out the imbalances of our patched up, rough edged family with a softness and spiritual quality far beyond the home life I was living.

That Lutheran minister did not know it, but that simple community service gave me hope there was something MORE to look forward to beyond the present situation of my young life.

Since then I’ve had bountiful Christmases as well as barren, skimpy ones.

I find the most creative ideas for gift giving require little in money and are incredibly satisfying to the giver and receiver- IF the intention is true and authentic.

Going against the grain of the Christmas Steamroller takes more effort, energy and creativity yet the results are really worth it.

But know this. These suggestions only work if you feel the vibe of it. Just going through the motions won’t work. It is best if you and your family or partner are in agreement about changing the holiday setting. Better to wait until you "feel it," or at least, can open up to the idea of giving this a try.  To unplug cannot be forced and you cannot fake it.

Here are some ideas to get you started if you decide to unplug.

1.    KEEP IT SIMPLE. Consumption does not equal love. It does create stress. How do we get past the ‘perfect’ holiday spin? Create and design a unique beautiful day that is balanced; not too much or too little. This is a lesson in knowing what ‘enough’ is. The reward is you enjoy a relaxed and harmonious flow that is peaceful and more satisfying for everyone.
2.    KEEP IT REAL. If you are not a Martha Stewart domestic goddess, why pretend to be one when guests come over? Do we really need another stupid impossible standard to uphold? Why not add a few candles to the mantle and some fresh greenery, hang a wreath on the door and call it a holy-day? Christmas dinner could be potluck.  It is possible to host a holiday dinner for 10 to 20 people with less stress than a regular work night dinner, and this way invites the important feeling of communal participation and contribution.

3.    PUT THE EMPHASIS ON EASY RITUALS THROUGHOUT THE MONTH. This is a time for nurturing and looking inward while spending time with those you love, right? Celebrate the winter solstice by building a fire outside, or place votive candles around the house to symbolize the return of the sun. A family, a community or a couple might hold a candle and take turns saying what they are thankful for this year. Remember the love you have for each other. Just turning off the lights and setting a candle alight brings reverence, peace and focus no matter what the spiritual background is. Bring a few simple artifacts of nature into your home for the season. Turn your back on traditional tinsel and shiny gold ornaments for a change. If nature, for example, was a goal you could decorate with fruit, branches and greenery from the woods.

Consider allowing traditions to change from year to year, instead using the same foods and rituals every time.

Learn about traditions from other faiths, ethnicities and countries. Your children or grand children will love this.

(I remember being filled with wonder at the idea of children from Holland leaving wooden shoes for Santa to fill instead of stockings on the same night as me, not to mention the Hanukah colors of blue and silver instead of green and red when a schoolteacher explained this!)

Make a list of the things you dislike about Christmas (instead of a gift or wish list) and consider just getting rid of them! Poof! It’s magic.

Is this is the first holiday for you after a death or end of relationship? It’s really ok to just get out of town, removing yourself from reminders of the past.

In moving toward the simple approach to the holidays, remember to put something back. If you spend less on gifts, fill that in by spending more quality, fun, and meaningful time together. Giving to those with less is always uplifting.

Let go of expectations in family gatherings and give yourself a break, too.

You may still struggle with a father drinking too many holiday eggnogs, your sibling’s annual arguments, and in-laws disapproval - but it is possible to broaden your focus by deliberately incorporating a forgiving and loving attitude. Hold your fire if things get tense. Take a short walk outside and a few deep breaths.

When you come back in tell a joke. Laughter is a contagious, irresistible healing medicine.

Say you have no religious ties to the holidays, and it all seems way too out of hand to you- why not just forget the whole thing?

Just maybe you do not have to turn this time into deep meaning at all! Michael and I have sometimes chosen to take a vacation and checked into a hotel or a cabin with dinner reservations instead of gifts or parties.

One year we ordered a delicious room service traditional dinner and ate it in front of a roaring fire in our pajamas. We took naps, read books, walked in the woods and soaked in a hot tub. (Judging by the amount of time needed to get reservations, many others have made similar choices.)

The real hope of the holidays is actually what I discovered in that Lutheran church candlelight service many years ago as a young girl.

In spite of alcoholic fathers knocking over Christmas trees, and the imbalance between today’s 1% and the 99% - this is still the season that ties us to something greater than ourselves.

May we have the hope of the season always, and may all be well, in all ways.

May we live grace filled, richly meaningful lives that are simple, satisfying and…wonderful.

  “See George, you really had a wonderful life.”

                                                                          - Clarence Oddbody, Angel 2nd Class, It's a Wonderful Life

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Copyright 2013 by Karen "Tallkat" Conley