Ah, the magic and wonder of the holiday season … It has even my fragile and anxious brain abandoning the logical, reasoning, and uptightness of the left side, and relying on a feast of senses–fresh evergreen, Christmas carolers, winter wonderlands, and eggnog–to fill it with the hope and joy absent the rest of the year. It all sustains me until December 26, when I wake up with a bit of a holiday hangover. But this year I’m going to keep Christmas in my heart well into the new year. Yes, here is how I intend to cultivate joy even when Santa has returned to his home in the North Pole.
1. Say thank you all the time.
Holiday cards are, for me, an opportunity to say thank you. The day after Thanksgiving I compose a list of the special people who have touched my life–former professors, college roommates, old colleagues and bosses–and in the weeks following, I express to them how grateful I am for their presence in my life, that they influenced me in ways they are probably unaware of. But why should I reserve this important gesture of appreciation just for December? Why not say thank you more often, every time I remember a certain person’s kindness or come across a lesson he taught me?
2. Go green.
Every plant I have ever cared for has died. I’m not a green thumb, except for the month of December, when I go crazy with poinsettias. I buy at least five for our home, and I give them away as gifts to teachers, neighbors, and special friends–a tradition my mom started when I was a young girl. I also wake up at 5:30 in the morning so I can grab 15 times of quiet time by the Christmas tree and smell the fresh pine as I sip my coffee. This year I’m going to try to hang on to my green thumb–to buy at least one plant that I can water year round–and nurture the life that it gives back to me.
3. Light up.
I think it’s the Catholic in me. I assume God can hear me better if I stick my face in a hot glowing body of fire. Sometime in early December, I pull out all of our candles and start lighting them in the morning during my meditation, at the dinner table, and sometimes in the evening. I am soothed in some weird way by the scarlet blaze. I love that the Christmas season is filled with light, symbolizing hope and the arrival of something good. So why not light up the rest of the year?
I abandon all diets in December. I have one loud, insistent sweet tooth, so I throw away the discipline after Thanksgiving and gobble up all the gingerbread men. When a neighbor drops by with a box of Godiva chocolates, I break the box open right in front of her and dig in. I realize I’m not going to get a glowing endorsement from the American Diabetes Association for my philosphy. But don’t we live according to too many rules today? American writer, Ernestine Ulmer was on to something when he said “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.” Think about this too: stressed spelled backwards is dessert. Coincidence?
5. Be generous
I’m thrifty by nature. Family members would argue TOO thrifty. Except for in December. During the holidays, everyone who has ever done me a favor gets a tip, a bonus, or a gift. When I walk past the Salvation Army guys ringing the bells, I’ll reach in my pocket and give them whatever I have. For some reason I believe during the giving season that I have more money than I do the rest of the year. I’m less afraid to hand it over. Because I trust that if I give it away, it will in some way come back to me. So for the other months, I need to fire the inner bean-counter in me.
6. Take time for coffee.
You’ve probably heard of the story, “The Mayonnaise Jar and Two Cups of Coffee”: A philosophy professor fills up a mayonnaise jar with golf balls and asks his students if it is full. They agree. Then he pours a box of pebbles into the jar. Again, he asked the students if the jar is full, and they all agree. Next a box of sand. And finally he pours two cups of coffee into the jar. “This jar represents your life,” he says to the students. “The golf balls are important things like family, children, and health. The pebbles are other important things like your job, house, and car. The sand is everything else.” One of the students raises her hand and asks about the coffee. He replies, “That goes to show that no matter how full your life may seem there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee.” And that’s not just true during the holidays when all of us are a little more generous with our time.
7. Hang onto wonder.
And to preserve the creativity and optimism of my right brain well after Santa’s visit, I am going to remind myself of the words of Francis P. Church, who published the editorial, “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Clause” in 1987:
The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world….You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond.