The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?
For many of us this is not the most wonderful time of the year. All the kids jingle belling and everyone telling us to be of good cheer does not help make this a most wonderful time. Some of us prefer to be left to our own devices, or at least to warmer weather.
I talk with quite a few people whose holidays are not particularly wonderful. Some people tell me this time of year makes them feel stressed, sad, and depressed.
They feel pressure to do the shopping they do not enjoy and cannot really afford. There seems to be a general expectation we will make our holidays “perfect.” We expect ourselves to buy the perfect gifts for the people in our lives. Our own expectations are heavily reinforced by global advertising campaigns.
Some of us find ways to resist the pressure of advertising to spend money and purchase things. We still seem to experience the weight of our own expectations.
For many of us the pressure of our holidays is about having the right experiences. There are people who expect themselves to decorate in more elaborate ways each year. We might expect ourselves to be the life of every holiday party. Some of us want to take the perfect trip to get away and avoid some of the pressure of the holidays. There may be holiday traditions we feel we must continue. We may expect ourselves to recapture some level of holiday magic each year.
The pressures we feel may be exacerbated by the holidays. As we draw closer to the end of the year there are goals we want to accomplish. Holidays make it harder for us to complete what we want to finish.
We may miss people who are no longer with us and we wish were still here. Holidays can be times of loneliness or regret for us. It is a challenge to see so many images of people together when we feel alone.
What Could Make Our Days Most Wonderful?
There are things we do, ways we behave, which drain the wonder from our holidays. I do not believe there is anything inherent in the days themselves which makes them less wonderful.
Some of the pressures of our these days are difficult to avoid. The apparently constant demands for us to spend more and more money do not help. The ideas of “Black Friday” and Cyber Monday” have become almost new holidays themselves. Our news media and our social media relentlessly emphasize our commercial lives without restraint.
One way I try to make my holidays the most wonderful, or at least more wonderful, is finding a healthy balance. We cannot escape all this talk about the financial aspects of the holidays. I find it helpful to make sure I remember the other aspects of life as well.
One aspect of life which, ironically, often gets ignored at this time of year is spiritual life. There just seem to be so many things we want to accomplish and we feel so much stress. It is easy for us to forget or neglect our spiritual practices.
It is important for us to balance the pressure of all those expectations with practices which help us find our center. We need to take time to listen to sacred stillness and to reflect so we can let go of all the pressures and stress. It seems to grow in importance as holiday pressures try to squeeze it out.
The holidays are not inherently wonderful. Our expectations push us and pull us, and we feel pressured and stressed. We need to find practical steps we can take to make our holidays wonderful and protect our wonder.
One thing I find is paying less attention to the expectations within me helps me find more balance.
How Can We Make Our Days the Most Wonderful Time of the Year?
One of the first steps for me toward making my holidays wonderful is understanding what they are about.
Many of us live in a time when holidays have become generic. Holidays are days when stores or online services offer special deals or days when we do not work. The specific purpose of each holiday, the reasons it is a holiday, are lost. More and more of our holidays become defined by their commercial aspects.
When we lose sight of the reasons behind a particular holiday its traditions become meaningless.
I try to spend time reading and reflecting about holidays each year. Sometimes I discover aspects of a holiday I did not know before which change how I celebrate them. There are times when my holiday exploration introduces me to new holidays and festivals I never knew existed.
A contemplative approach to holidays helps me appreciate how they are wonderful. Spiritual life often shows me something from another tradition which helps me celebrate a holiday in a new way.
As we come into closer touch with the meaning behind our holidays we celebrate in ways which make holidays happy. It is the meaning, the wonder underneath each holiday we are actually celebrating.
When Are Our Holidays Most Wonderful?
I believe we make our holidays wonderful when we understand why we are celebrating and put our insights into practice.
Our happiness grows from putting our understanding into practice, from acting consistently with our beliefs. Each holiday is a wonderful way to reflect certain reasons and our celebration is based in those reasons.
I also believe we do not need to allow our calendars to tell us which days are holidays and which are not. It is important for us to celebrate days even when no government or calendar company tells us to celebrate.
Our holidays are not limited to days when stores or online services offer deals or days when we do not work. Any day can be a holiday for us.
We may choose to treat each day as a holiday and find ways to make all our holidays wonderful.
How can we find new ways to make each of our days the most wonderful time of the year?
When will we have a better opportunity to celebrate the most wonderful time in our lives?
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Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.