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Here Come the Holidays

11/11/2012 07:27AM ● Published by Christie Gibson

What do we feel and think when we hear the word “holidays”? Does it put a smile on our face or fill us with dread? Maybe somewhere in between is where we find ourselves when we are overworked and believe there is no time for anything extra on our plates. As the 2012 holiday season approaches, let us take time to think about what really matters and how we might approach this time in a different way.

Because we are such a diverse and mobile nation, there are so many different ways in which we make our lives meaningful. Something as simple as the traditional food we eat can bring joy. For example, do we eat sage dressing or cornbread dressing on Thanksgiving? “Holidays” mark a time to stop, reflect and assess where we are in our lives, what they represent to us and whether they reflect where we want to be in our lives. Whether it is Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, Thanksgiving, or other special days in our diverse culture, memories of those times play a large part in how we define ourselves. Each year, we stop and think about years past and those memories will bring emotional reactions that are as wide ranging as human nature allows. When those memories bring smiles, laughter and a sense of eager anticipation, we don’t challenge them. When they bring tears, anxiety and even anger, we shut down and hold on tight, just waiting for the holiday season to be over. Thus the painful “holiday memory” cycle continues and adds to the dread of next year’s season.

How do we change our perspective, our belief in what our holidays mean, what our lives mean? Is it even possible? The answer is yes! There are many ways to heal the past so that we can enjoy the present and look forward to the future. This year, let’s take time to plan for the holidays in new ways if the old ways are painful or frustrating or just simply depressing.

We can involve family members, especially children, and extended family who play a part in our lives. We can all identify personally the most important aspects of the holidays. If there is little time to sit down together to talk, then have a suggestion box and cards to fill out for each person participating to identify ways to give. Let each person know that it is time to review what it means for each and every one involved. Have a calendar handy to write in important planned dates such as school, community, church or other commitments related to the holidays. Then review whether it is possible to do all of it. If not, prioritize and recognize that the goal is to enjoy the season.

We can talk about how each can contribute to the family, community or common welfare by giving of self rather than of material goods. For example, an older child can help a younger one make cards or “gift certificates” for chores or activities to give of self. It could be as simple as giving a promise to help wash the dishes for a holiday meal, spending an evening together playing games, mowing someone’s lawn, sweeping a sidewalk, or promising to do extra chores that would make life easier for someone else.

But for some, the holidays are a lonely and depressing time. When we are grieving for a special person or even a way of life, important days are particularly painful, and there is a feeling of emptiness that nothing can fill. We all need time to grieve, yet our lives and social demands rarely allow, anymore, for those time-honored periods of mourning when social obligations and activities were suspended for a year to allow passage through all of one’s anniversary dates. There are many who have lost loved ones permanently through death and even divorce. There are others who have lost a way of life that may or may not be recaptured. Others have lost homes or jobs.

Those who are willing and able to forego a period of celebration in order to pass through a grieving process will naturally return in years to come, fully healed and ready to feel joy again. Others may be stuck and are dealing with depression or anger that will not abate just because of the time of year. Understanding without judging, listening without interrupting, offering a helping hand in so many little ways can bring a measure of hope to those who are feeling pain rather than joy. The unexpected bonus of giving of ourselves in this way is that we reap the gratification of doing for others, therefore adding joy and fulfillment to our own lives. Counseling through a church, organization, or through mental health professionals who specialize in grieving can also offer hope and healing to those who are struggling to find joy in their lives.

The greatest gift one can give this holiday season is that of sharing ourselves. The gifts we give by offering of ourselves in simple as well as complex ways can be so much more valuable than those we buy. We may not know the joy we bring when we are patient and kind with the overworked and overstressed cashier, when we acknowledge a person with a simple greeting and smile, when we let someone have a parking space that we spotted first, but, think about how we tend to feel when those same gifts are offered to each of us. When we offer of ourselves in simple but powerful ways, we are carrying out the true meaning of the season.

My wish for all of us this holiday season is that love permeates our world and our lives.

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