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For the past 17 years my family has been going away for the holiday season. This trip has evolved into one of my sacred times. It’s here that I escape the holiday frenzy and recharge for the new year. No matter what you are celebrating, December is a difficult time. High anxiety is matched by high expectations for happiness and joy. You may feel closer to your loved ones as they gather around the home or you may feel even further removed and alone. The stores are filled with people buying just to buy. I wonder at the wastefulness of plastic shopping bags, miles of wrapping paper, and holiday cards that will likely end up in a landfill. Everyone seems to be trying to fit in more frivolity as they schedule back-to-back parties and dinners.
I can’t help but be aware of the families that can’t afford presents under a tree, the ones who will barely be able to scrape together a meal for the festivities. I grew up in a family that didn’t have a lot. My most lasting and heartfelt memory of Christmas morning was the year each of us six kids received one gift—I felt that deeply.
I do remember worrying in other years about my parent’s desire to keep up with everyone else by charging on credit cards so that we could have a couple gifts to open. As a middle-schooler, I was worried we were going into debt and wouldn’t be able to climb out, worried we would lose our home just because my mom and dad were trying to bring us a little happiness on Christmas morning. There was love in their hearts, but it was mixed with the need for external validation and to prove themselves. There was thoughtfulness, but it was mixed with consumer frenzy and buying into the false dream that everything in our lives is ok because we do what everyone else around us is doing. Even then, I felt how misguided this was.
Now my husband and I take our three kids to an island for Christmas. He still buys gifts but being away has certainly shifted the dynamics. When they were very young, we would hold Christmas before we left. They would open gifts and play with them for a day or two and then could choose one or two to bring along with us on the plane. By the time we returned home, the gifts that were left behind had already been forgotten and hardly seemed to matter.
As our children got older and the gifts got smaller, we started bringing gifts down with us. They would begin opening small things on the Winter Solstice and open one thing each night at dinner until Xmas morning when they could open whatever remained. This spread the enjoyment out over 5 days and seemed less of a frenzy to me. They got to experience one thing at a time and I loved that. It was my favorite way to celebrate the season because it honored the older celebration of solstice with the return of the light as well as Christmas.
We own a home on the island that gets rented out when we are not here, so it is very much a home holiday for us. Our 18 year old son doesn’t remember it any other way. We always have a tree on island and our most meaningful decorations and stockings stay down here now. What I like best about it is that we avoid the frenzy. We begin to slow down and relax the minute we land at the airport. Things just move at a different pace. I find it a more thoughtful pace. Here I meditate daily with the sun and the ocean. Here we sit and laugh together at dinner. Here we spend our days in the company of our family and that is the very best holiday gift I can imagine.
Wherever you are in this spectrum of love and compassion and anxiety and loneliness, I wish you peace and health during the holiday season. Let’s feed the hungry children across the world, be kind to our neighbors and strangers alike, work together with love, and tend to the needs of others. That is my greatest wish for us all. This morning as I sit with my coffee, acutely aware of the privilege I have—this home, the means to fly my whole family away, the gifts my husband will give us, a table full of food, the list of my good fortune is truly endless—I reflect on how I can be a better person. I reflect on how I can change the world starting with myself and my family. I hope in some way, great or small, I can bring more Love to this planet.