‘Tis the Season for Social Dysfunction
(Photo courtesy of Louise Barr)
I always look forward to the fall holidays starting with Halloween and the weeks that lead up to them. I love the cooler weather, the changing leaves, less daylight, fires in the fireplace at night. I love the idea of sharing loving time and space with friends and relatives in ways we don’t during the year. It is so much more satisfying now that I’ve taken the leap and given up the toxic relationships.
For years I moved through the motions of inviting everyone in my circles to gatherings, saying yes to all the family functions and parties to which I was invited. I felt busy and included and loved, but it was all dysfunctional. I wasn’t enjoying myself. I was spending time with people I didn’t like and didn’t like me, trying to fit in, wishing I wasn’t so different from others, pretending to be someone I wasn’t. One year, several years ago, I decided enough was enough. No one owes me anything and I don’t owe anyone anything. We are all on this planet as individuals to feel good, to move toward the people, places, ideas and things that allow us to come alive and move away from the people, places, ideas and things that take us away from that feeling.
Saying no I won’t be able to attend or choosing my guest list carefully feels effing good. I love the flow of holidays on my terms. My wish for everyone, everywhere, is celebration that feels like celebration, joy that feels like joy, love that really feels like love. I am learning all the time about what love feels like and won’t fake it anymore.
Not just good- effing good! Love it. Like the rest of my life, my view on holidays and our familial traditions continues to evolve. And, almost as a metaphor for my life, my feelings about holidays have transformed into a bold appreciation for what is really important to me and supports my personal growth. While it is magnified by the several frequent get togethers traditionally celebrated by gatherings of family and friends in the fall and winter months, this change really applies to my life all year round. But this has been a particularly difficult thing to rethink. The holiday season is so loaded with obligation and guilt that most of us couldn’t separate it out if we tried. It just is. Once again, it was my children that spurred me to reconsider obligatory holiday gatherings and relationships. I relish our moments together and it became painful to be doing anything that was ‘going through the motions.’ I am a mentor for choice, power, and joyful living. I want to embody that for all of us. Shift.
That said, the mindset of doing what was expected of us was virtually impossible for me to upgrade until we moved thousands of miles from family and friends and had the time and space to figure out what we would create on our own. That doesn’t mean distance is necessary, certainly. My experience is that, in the absence of time and energy to put toward a new version of tradition, we defaulted to expected familial tradition and interactions. We felt disempowered but it was our own doing. The space gave us breathing room- a new sense of power in our lives- choice in who we would engage and how we would spend our time, even the hallowed holidays. We also realized that they’re just days- an awakening. Why that particular day? This discussion touches so many other areas of life!
The way the whole rethinking began for us was due to my sister’s courage and clarity. I was still in the dissonant throes of Christmas preparedness when she called and told me she really wanted to end gift giving. At first I took in personally and was offended. As time went on and I gave it eons of thought, it made so much sense and I was grateful she’d taken the first step. Gradually, one step at a time, we said the same words to each other, to relatives and friends. Now there are so many more enjoyable ways to share special time with others – without the stress and obligation. We can get much closer to REALLY enjoying ourselves now. Cooking special or elaborate meals together doesn’t feel like ‘one more thing’ but something we can plan for and really look forward to. We have genuine time to attend special musical or theatrical events without feeling worn out; eating out at no longer feels like stretching ourselves financially. There have been many upgrades associated with the elimination of Christmas gift giving but most important for us has been that we’ve learned how great it feels to give when we feel like giving and not withholding it as we await the ‘big day.’
And, guess what? I found that I really DO enjoy friend and family gatherings. I attend because I am excited and want to be an active participant in the lives of those people. I choose my partners in conversation and exchange energy and love. It was a matter of choosing how I spend my time, money, and heart energy. When I gave up thoughts of obligation and expectation and really focused on creating traditions and relationships that felt worthy, that’s when I got real clarity. I exercised my ‘no’ muscle with a clear heart- no guilt. I stopped using money and gifts as expected annual trade items or some kind of token to encapsulate an entire year of ‘I love you.” I opened to the joys of the seasons to share with my family- homemade gifts, decorations, evening drives to look at holiday lights, cuddling under blankets and reading books about holiday magic.
There has always been something extremely anti-climactic about the holiday season. So much preparation and expectation go into creating the perfect holidays. We attribute it to our children but I have found that my children don’t need or want that kind of burden. They are most fulfilled in presence, joy, and simplicity. We don’t wait all year to buy them presents so that needn’t be the focus.
I would encourage anyone feeling burdened by the upcoming holiday season to use the comments section of this post to discuss. ‘Peace’ and ‘Joy’ needn’t be reserved for the holiday cards we send (if we even send them!). We all deserve to seek and experience joy and preserve our health (and budget!) this holiday season.
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