In contemplating why the holidays stir angst, it didn’t take long for me to identify a few big snarls in my holiday experience. Certainly, I am not alone in finding the tangles of the holiday season. Without bringing the positive vibe of Christmas down, it has been helpful to have this exploration. It’s an over-simplification AND it gives voice or acknowledgment to some of these common tangles. Do any of these sound familiar?
- Unrealistic Expectations: I admit that I am a big fan of the holiday romance/comedy films out there. Thank you Netflix, Prime, Hulu, and HBO for the instant gratification! You name it, I’m sure it is one I’ve watched. There are no big shocking endings; usually these movies all follow a similar format… bad guys learn a lesson, the girl gets her dream date, the chaos of family drama has a sweet happy ending. So what’s not to love? Hence the tangle of unrealistic expectations. When I look deeper into the how and why I fall prey to this tangle, it goes way back. Having the expectations of the perfect gift or the ideal day only to be disappointed. As a child, there were the years of great excitement. A new bicycle with a banana seat parked under the Christmas tree, followed by later years when there were no surprises and very little under the tree. As a parent, I remember having my daughters in matching holiday dresses at Christmas Eve Services only to have them both start vomiting in the pews. Where was my story book holiday?
- Disappointments and old wounds: Yes, I have always loved the holidays despite these known tangles. Bring on the cookie swaps, the caroling, the poinsettias, the candy canes, the piano recitals and the egg nog. I somehow found the energy to be awake at 2am still wrapping gifts on Christmas Eve only to be up again by 6 o’clock. How and why does this insanity persist? All decorations aside, it doesn’t take away the old disappointments and hurts. The Christmas when my father had moved away while I was off at college and I didn’t have an address for him or a Christmas tree; the first year my siblings weren’t all together for the holidays; the burnt turkey; the holidays without loved ones who have passed on; the first Christmas after a divorce; the loneliness and quiet when I least want it; my adult children who now must divide their time between various households. The poinsettias start to wilt and lose their leaves, the decorations lose their sparkle, and the last thing I want to do on Christmas is to prepare a big meal. This year at my house, we were actually in a bit of a crisis that could easily have been another holiday disappointment. Long story, but we were out of heating oil and our tanks had to be replaced due to a leak in order to replenish the oil supply (note to self, those tanks don’t last forever). Doesn’t sound like a big deal – yet it turned into months of waiting for the best solution, the right technician, and the availability of both. Uncertainty rose while the temperatures dropped. And as of yesterday, the crisis was aborted and we now have a new oil tank and heat! Not at all what I was expecting, but I have the happy ending!
- Stuff and attachments: This is a constant argument in my psyche. Less stuff, more simplicity… except I really like stuff. I like giving stuff; wrapping stuff, and shopping for stuff. There is nothing faster for a dopamine jolt than a new addition to the wardrobe, new gadgets for the kitchen, or new gear for future hiking adventures. I love jewelry and all things that are sparkling and beautiful (it is a Libra attribute to like beautiful things). As a matter of fact, I buy gifts for myself most years because I don’t trust that someone is going to get me that ‘one thing’ I truly want. Do I sound a bit like a spoiled 10-year-old? It’s embarrassing that I am even admitting this. However, when I can take the time to slow down and be quiet, there is an internal source of guidance that chimes in and says STOP. Enough stuff! Take a walk on the beach instead of going shopping. During most of the year, I can hear that voice of reason and go for time outdoors instead. The holidays are different though… that tangle of consumerism and the amazon package on the steps in 24 hours is hard to resist. All the tangles of wanting to ‘make things right’ pull my attention away from the rising full moon or the sunset.
Ultimately, the same Libra in me that is drawn to pretty things – seeks balance. Enough is enough. The balance between the thoughtful gesture of gift giving with less accumulation of stuff and kind regard for the planet and its well-being is necessary. When I first read the poem below, it also brought my perspective into better focus. The greatest gift I can give myself and others, is my passionate presence. Wishing you and your’s peace, balance and an opportunity to untangle.
With love and light,
Overlooking Our Greatest Gift
We search everywhere outside ourselves to try to find ourselves. We collect experiences, relationships, knowledge, and objects. We hope for recognition from others to validate our importance. But while we may have found pleasure or rewards in various ways, we have often overlooked our greatest gift, hidden in plain sight – our own passionate presence. We overlook this gift because we are so busy searching elsewhere for something more. As long as we depend on an enhanced sense of ourselves to be happy, we are likely to be disappointed. Telling ourselves stories about what is missing forces us into a relentless pursuit of desires, akin ask my teacher Poonjali would say, to beasts of burden driven by a madman. Happiness comes in relaxed simplicity, living in present awareness, and contentment with this life that is granted. – Catherine Ingram