Have you noticed how emotions buildup steam around the holidays, emulating a runaway train? Far reaching stressors often halt the holiday joy ride — be it time with difficult personalities, over-spending, trying to mirror picture-perfect celebrations, too little rest, dashed hopes on a “Dear Santa List,” and of course alcohol consumption (usually in excess at this time of year). But those unscheduled stops don’t have to become your final holiday destination.
This may be a time of traditions but it can also be a time of breaking them. Are you the caboose chugging along well-worn tracks, or the engine choosing more fulfilling activities? Only you know how you feel around the family contrarian, when you over-indulge in special holiday treats, or struggle to pay bills. No matter when or how holiday difficulties appear, step back to see how to handle them differently, rather than traditionally.
Challenging opportunities can be unexpected sources of strength when initiating change to rise above them.
When approaching a disquieting juncture, try the unfamiliar. Respond instead of react. Shorten the visit at difficult family get togethers. Politely walk away from an argumentative platform to an affable track. Prioritize time-sensitive tasks on the schedule, and include self-care on the timetable. Ask yourself if overloading on those tempting holiday sweets is worth risking diabetes. Good old fashioned discipline still works. Set a budget for gift giving and stick to it. Better yet, offer a gift from the heart. Most of all, be kind. To yourself and others.
A few sayings I find helpful, and particularly at this time of year:
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
Nothing changes if nothing changes.
Let it begin with me.
May your holidays fill your heart with joy, peace and love.
Starring the close of each year and darkest, darkest night, the Poinsettia’s striking winter appearance hails worldwide wishes of generosity and good cheer.
A Plant of Many Miracles…
Rooted around miracles and the power of love, Mexican legend paints a heartwarming story around the Poinsettia. While details vary, it’s essentially about a meager child having nothing to offer the baby Jesus except some roadside weeds. Once placed on the Christmas Eve altar, however, they miraculously transformed into brilliant redand green flowers. Can you imagine witnessing the unfolding of such beauty, like the ugly duckling turned swan, or springtime buds bursting into bloom? You know, it’s how your heart feels when overflowing with love. How you feel when giving (or receiving) from the heart.
Exemplifying the giving season, Poinsettias achieved stardom once sold under the botanical name Euphorbia Pulcherrima. Nearly 70 million plants now sell from Thanksgiving to Christmas, generating $250 million in sales.
Today, more than 100 varieties of Poinsettias range from burgundy to red, salmon to apricot, yellow to cream and white, and solid to marbled, not to mention the dyed blue and purple ones or those speckled with glitter.
The United States commemorates December 12th, the date of Poinsett’s death, as National Poinsettia Day.
As much as I love gardening, and can rarely bear discarding any broken plant stems (several cuttings are rooting on my windowsill now), I admit I never gave Poinsettia’s their proper care. Sure, I didn’t toss them after the holidays when their bracts (often called flowers) fell, and a few hung around awhile as green house plants, but I didn’t keep them in total darkness so they would turn red for the holidays next year — a process Certified Nursery Consultant, Rick LaVasseur calls photoperiodism. A process I call a miracle if I remember to do it.
Also known as the Christmas Eve Flower or Flowers of the Holy Night, some Christians symbolize the plant’s shape as the Star of Bethlehem which guided the Wise Men to Jesus, and the red color as the blood of Christ.
Love the way holly’s distinctive green leaves and vibrant red berries adorn your holiday table, especially under candlelight? Then you better wait close to its show off date to bring it indoors. This robust winter beauty begins to shrivel in the heat. And if you are superstitious at all, wait until Christmas. Legend has it that it’s bad luck to bring holly into the house beforehand…or removed before Epiphany Eve on January 5th.
Of course there are some who avoid these problems altogether by decorating with artificial holly which doesn’t wilt but contributed to the economical decline of small town Milton, Delaware.
Holly is What You Make it…
Once claimed to be the holly capital of the world, Milton thrived in wreath-making businesses from 1920-1950 when holly grew wild and abundantly in Sussex County. (Two men could pick enough holly each day to make 450 wreaths.) When state resident Charles C. Jones, Sr. began shipping holly wreaths and products, Delaware became the leading supplier of holly nationwide; and in 1939 Delaware named American Holly (Ilex Opaca) as its official state tree.
This cash crop was short-lived though and by the 1960’s Delaware’s commercial holly industry died. The introduction of industrialized production, plastic wreaths, wage laws for piecework businesses, and development depleted much of Milton’s holly groves. Sadly, the only holly harvesting in Delaware today is in backyards. Hmmm…an early lesson in conservation…
…And What You Believe it to Be
If you don’t live in Delaware, any idea why you decorate for the holidays with holly? Is it simply a standard at this time of year? The lively colors? Perhaps it’s family tradition, religious symbolism, or superstition from long ago.
Believed to have magical powers, Druid’s hung holly in homes for good luck and protection. Cutting down a holly tree was considered bad luck.
Christians associate holly’s red berries to blood spilt by Christ, and its prickly leaves to Jesus’ crown of thorns.
Romans connected holly to Saturn, the god of agriculture and harvest, and decorated with it during the popular Saturnalia festival. Originally a two-day event beginning on December 17th, changes in the Roman calendar extended the celebration to December 25th, near the date and time of the winter solstice.
Scottish tradition placed an ivy leaf in a bowl of water on Hogmany (New Years Eve). If the leaf remained fresh and green until January 6th (Little Christmas) a good year was forecast; if it withered with black spots, ill-health would come. Hopefully, the house was cool…
Considering holly’s prickly leaves as masculine and ivy’s smooth leaves as feminine, pre-Christian parades costumed a boy in holly leaves and a girl in ivy to bring Nature through the darkest part of the year and re-emerge for another year’s fertility.
Some believe the household will be dominated for the coming year by the gender of either the holly (prickly or smooth) or the person first bringing it into the house.
Who brought the holly home at your house— was it Mom or Dad? Are you thinking of offering to bring it home this year? Before you do…
In heraldry, holly symbolizes truth. So when you say, “Honey, I’ll pick up the holly this year,” will you tell them why?
Better yet, decorating with both prickly and smooth (aka he and she) holly is said to create a very balanced and harmonious year for the household. Makes sense to me. Why not get them together, make some luscious hot chocolate while decorating, then snuggle by the fire?
Mixed Nuts What do you think about when you think about squirrels? Ravaged bird feeders? Acrobatic acts? Rabies? The park? Nuts? Well, yes, nuts. That also comes to mind when I think about the December holidays.
Not just the type of nuts we eat — like roasted chestnuts, walnuts on that sumptuous apple pie, or honey coated peanuts in the snack dish, but nuts as in gathering frantically like a squirrel, and nuts as in foolishly excessive holiday behaviors. It’s a bountiful season for sure, but will it fill us up or leave us feeling exhausted, robbed and empty?
Filling Up More than Stockings Each of us can choose to step back and celebrate in simpler, more meaningful ways. You can create a holiday celebration of choice and one that enriches, rather than depletes, you or loved ones — physically, emotionally, and financially. Take time to think about what Christmas really means to you.
Is it that important to try and create the perfect Christmas of yesterday, or a happier one now? If so, dig deeper and ask yourself why.
Will taking on additional activities amidst an already crammed schedule affect your ability to give others your undivided, in-the-moment attention…or leave you feeling distracted, tired and resentful?
Is it worth it to over-spend, searching for an ideal gift when expectations and disappointments often cancel out efforts of holiday goodwill?
Are your actions obligatory or from the heart? Compulsory sentiments and gifts noticeably lack holiday cheer for both the giver and receiver.
Will you honor your self-care with adequate rest, nutritious foods, exercise, asking for help, and being financially responsible? Or will you set yourself up to sour your holiday mood?
Do your actions make sense? Do they seem a little nuts to you? Be honest.
Enlist Creativity If you own a bird feeder, you’ve witnessed a squirrel’s analytical creativity accessing it — including those supposedly “squirrel proof” feeders. Be as innovative.
If others are involved, ask each person to select the one thing about the holidays that makes their heart sing. Avoid the inner critic’s beleaguering to add just one more thing then another because you’ll be right back to the overload you tried to lighten. Determine what is absolutely necessary then sew those pieces together to broaden smiling faces around a more joyful holiday. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover it’s not a holiday of lack but one of overflowing abundance from the spirit within.
Apply Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh‘s sentiment to the holidays… “Once you identify your deepest intention, you have a chance to be true to yourself, to celebrate the kind of holiday you’d like to have, and to be the kind of person you’d like to be.”
Trudging through Tradition Several years ago I happily exchanged some traditional activities for what means most to me. Quieter gatherings, tuning in to nature and the gifts she generously offers day in and out, gladden my spirit. (This is not to say I don’t host or attend holiday parties. But I keep them manageable, not falling prey to Madison Avenue’s message that I must decorate my house with a thousand lights, bake cookies, and overextend my bank account purchasing lavish gifts.)
A friend, looking frazzled and slumped in her chair, told me yesterday how overwhelmed she felt filling out 300 Christmas cards! Three hundred cards? Who wouldn’t feel overwhelmed? But, was it really necessary? It’s important to connect with others and tell them how much they mean to us but if it adds a layer of stress it doesn’t make sense to me — it’s nuts.
All in a Nutshell Make the holidays what you want them to be and create cherished memories. Don’t worry or fret. Otherwise you may become like the red squirrel whose coat turned grey from stress. 🙂
December often conjures up complaints about the cold, snow shoveling, and dangers of falling on ice, but just as often I am awestruck by winter’s beauty contrasted against a backdrop of barren starkness. And so is life. One is necessary for the other.
So, rather than more of the usual holiday hype for this month, I’m focusing instead on Mother Nature’s vivid gifts. What comes to your mind this season…?
Have you noticed how many smiles you see? Or don’t, in this overly busy time of year when buzzing around making returns, shopping, doing errands, or whatever tasks need to be done. I counted only one smile today. And it was a wide one as another customer and I passed each other at the store.
One priceless gift to return is take one second and smile — at whomever you encounter. It’s a gift to yourself as well. You don’t have to say anything, although a pleasant word is a bonus. As is a smile returned.
When you smile, your face muscles trigger a release of endorphins. Helping to reduce stress levels, they are responsible for making you — and others — feel happy.
So the next time you see someone, offer up a smile. Like a breadth of fresh air in a weary day, notice how much lighter you feel too and it didn’t cost you a penny. Just one…second…of conscious…thought. A gift you can be happy to return.
It’s true. Smile and the whole world smiles with you.
“To be still, get still,” popped into my head while feeling dizzily over-stimulated from noisy store crowds, parties, and meandering traffic this week. The holidays can drain anyone and especially with technology’s hastened pace and constant bombardment.
For many years I’ve chosen to celebrate the holidays through the beauty of the land. Whether it’s gathering aromatic pine boughs on the morning of Christmas Eve or breathlessly climbing a steep slope of evergreens to gain fresh perspective on New Year’s Day — intimately connecting with Mother Nature is my holiday spirit. It is the quiet, the crunch of my boots in the snow, the sun warming my face, and breathing in fresh pine, that speaks to me deep within. Glowing candlelight and a poinsettia paint the mellow ambience I love. Add in laughter, healthy food and hand drumming with friends, and voila’; I’ve created a non-traditional holiday out of love, not stressful obligation. And as an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), I want for nothing more.
This year, I’ve received wise words from unexpected sources — women I’ve never met but with whom I share a Nature-focused spiritual path:
Particularly comforting in the midst of losing so many trees to pipeline construction are the words of a Yoruba priest: “Nature is resilient. The trees will come and go – some naturally and some by the needs and destructiveness of man. Don’t cry for the trees. They have served their purpose and they have planted their seeds. They have helped those of the earth in many ways – the humans, the animals, the air, the soil, and other nature beings. Their spirit is resilient and they will be reborn in other forms and once again, serve their purpose. Perhaps one of them lies in you. This is the nature of life.”
Find a pine cone and place it in front of you. Gaze at the pinecone for a full minute, then close your eyes and imagine the pinecone-shape behind your third eye. Envision the scales of the pinecone unfolding and opening to take in nourishment from Divine Light, and see your pinecone-shaped pineal gland energized and radiant. In this space, consider all the benefits of pine medicine and imagine this energy as a white light healing your mind, body, and spirit.
The wisdom of the land is why I love it so.It teaches me about living life.
I say that’s a typo. It’s about presence — lots of it. Bepresentwith yourself, loved ones, and each moment you (hopefully) come in contact with someone. Well, anyone for that matter. This is more than sitting next to someone while staring into a device. It’s about being mentally present, focused on your interaction with that person. Giving someone your attention is as true a gift as it gets.
It’s easy to “buy” some thing and hand it to someone or the more recent scenario of leaving it on someone’s desk or at their door. How many obligatory gifts have you received that were a pre-packaged something-for-anyone that you didn’t use? Note: “re-gifting” was created for a reason. Yes, some will say, “It’s the thought that counts.” I counter, “How much thought was there?” A sincere kind word or sentiment means more. At least to me.
More precious and worthy than material gifts, giving time is a gift so large it can’t be wrapped in any box yet overflows the heart. Ask a soldier being deployed or a dying patient. Ask your spouse. Do they wish they had more time? Do you feel overly stressed that there isn’t enough time? Stopping the distraction and being presentis the most generous gift of and to thyself. (Hard lesson learned — see prior post “Meager.”)
You can give yourself the gift of time by being in Nature. Whether planting the season’s garden or trekking through the woods, time seems to slow without the constant pings of phones or e-mail. The stillness of Nature’s tranquil beauty reaches the soul. Gift your time by being present with others this holiday season. Play with your children. Visit an elderly person. Smile at the store clerk.
Feel the isolation and loneliness disappear as you put down your device and look into someone’s eyes when they speak to you. Listen to what they have to say. Offer something in return. Maybe it’s just a hug, or thank you to Nature.
Time – The Perfect Gift for You and Everyone on Your List
There they were, in plain sight — my car keys laying on the driver’s seat and cell phone plugged into the charger. In the midst of holiday shopping, with several more stops to go, I wanted to get home before heavy traffic stole more time. Oh well.
The biting cold stung my uncovered ears and head — my hat lay on the passenger seat too. Walking back into the dollar store, I asked the cashier if I could use the phone because I locked my keys in the car. The skinny, high-school looking girl asked her manager if I could use the phone. I dialed home. Busy. Now what?
Reading my anxiety over tieing up the store’s phone and her time, the girl’s colossal black olive eyes looked up at me, “Do you have Triple A?” she asked.
“No. No, I don’t.” I didn’t tell her I gave it up years ago when the price kept increasing and they appeared more interested in selling travel plans than providing road side assistance. Instead, I’d obtained the same service through my car insurance but alas, that information was also in my locked car. Sigh.
“Well, I do. You can use mine,” she said while reaching for her purse under the checkout stand.
“I don’t want to get you in trouble.”
“It’s okay. I’ve been through this. I know what it’s like,” she smiled, her teeth jutting from sunken cheekbones confined by strands of fine hair barely warming her bony shoulders. Pulling out her AAA card, she showed me the account number and phone number to call. I felt surprised and relieved all at once.
Someone finally responded at Triple AAA and after I provided the required information, told me they would arrive in 45 minutes to an hour. The young clerk told me to just sign her name when the serviceman arrived but that I should wait inside the warm store. I don’t know if I was more stunned by her blind trust in me or her thoughtfulness in today’s self-involved world.
“Thank you. Thank you for your kindness. I so appreciate it,” I said. She waved off my offer of a $20 bill even though she most likely earns a $7.25 minimum wage. I insisted, “Please. You’ve been so generous in helping me.” Her wide smile reappeared, and I walked away thinking…
“Ping!” my car doors locked as I headed toward the grocery store, dodging rush hour cars veering into tight parking spots then carts barreling into the entrance. No one was smiling. Including me.
For years I’ve dreaded the Christmas holidays and for nearly as many years, I’ve sought to understand why. Dysfunctional Christmases of my youth reveal anticipated Norman Rockwell (virtual) holidays severed by the reality of family arguments and chaos. Young adulthood in a city several hours away still felt the angst of coming home for the holidays. By midlife when stores began pushing Christmas before Halloween and then Labor Day, I felt so weary of Christmas that I too jumped ahead, seeking spring’s relief (post Easter Bunny).
Wise counsel lessened the Christmas Madness. “Make the holidays what you want them to be,” my friend said, “Not what others think you should do, or just because it’s always been done a particular way. Create your own tradition or celebration. You decide how much and what you want to do.” Wow! What a life changing concept.
Several decades and layers of understanding later, I realize I can be free of holiday chaos and not be a scrooge. Each year, I reassess my participation and focus on what is most important, what stirs my soul. Baking cookies went by the way side. Too many calories, too tempting, and too time consuming. Besides, by January my regret would weigh as much as the extra pounds. I reduced one hundred Christmas cards with personal messages to only contacting those farthest away or the elderly. This year, those Christmas cards evolved to “giving thanks” cards in November — a more relaxed time to express heartfelt sentiments. Once I consciously chose to ignore marketing’s mantra to buy-buy-buy, and the stigma that Christmas should look like XYZ, I felt more free.
Back at the grocery store, a woman’s cart blocks the bread aisle. Politely offering, “Excuse me,” I attempt to push past, discovering she is mid conversation on her phone. Others wheel through the aisles, their eyes downcast to the left or right. I wonder if they’re taking time to reflect what Christmas is supposed to be about or if they are consumed with get-get-get, then how to pay-pay-pay for all of the (mostly unnecessary) stuff. Flashing Christmas lights and blinding glittery ornaments compete with well-worn carols and shopper specials blaring through the loudspeaker. Rows of cash register dings punctuate long lines of overwhelming chatter and ring tones ranging from sirens to barking dogs. No one smiles.
Do you have a hard time with the Christmas holidays? Are you one of those persons who hear the shotgun start at Thanksgiving, rush breathlessly to Christmas, then drop across the finish line of New Years? How do you cope with this season? Do you wish you could blink your eyes and the holidays would be over? (Not to rush your life, but…)
You have more control over this than you think you do. And once you let go of the shoulds and obligatory traditions, engagements and gifts, you set yourself (and often pocketbook) free. Consciously choosing to make the holiday manageable equates to a more enjoyable time for you and everyone around you. Try it. You may be pleasantly surprised.