Holidaze or Holidays: Which do You Prefer?

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”

Oprah Winfrey

“Don’t let the sun go down without saying thank you to someone, and without admitting to yourself that absolutely no one gets this far alone.”

Stephen King

Did you know that there are 18 holidays celebrated worldwide from the first of November to mid-January? Almost all of them are a celebration of light! Among these are: 

  1. Diwali, the Festival of Lights
  2. Kwanzaa, celebrating the Seven Principles and Cultural Values
  3. Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, depicts a miracle in which one day’s worth of oil to rededicate the Second Temple after a successful uprising lasted for eight days – enough time to purify more oil for the temple.
  4.  St. Lucia’s Day in Sweden. St. Lucia, an early Christian martyr, is honored as the bearer of hope and light during the darkest time of the year. 
  5. Dia de Los Muertos, during the first two days of November, celebrates family members who have passed away. They light candles and leave the deceased’s favorite foods for them to enjoy.
  6. Las Posadas honors the journey of Mary and Joseph as they sought shelter and warmth from the cold, dark night. And the appearance of the Star of Light to guide people to the Christchild. 

While cultures worldwide appreciate the life-giving qualities of light, many of us go through these days in a “daze” of frenzied action. At these times, the experience of  “light” can seem like a faraway dream.  

Here’s how a colleague of mine put it:

Leslie: “ I always try to get through this holiday season without getting too stressed. I spend too much on presents and preparing for parties. There are family gatherings I need to arrange, all on top of my full-time job! Plus, by January 2nd, I’ve usually gained a bunch of weight from all the munching and brunching! I’m exhausted and stressed by the end of it all. Yes, I do have fun with my friends and family, but I sure wish I could get through the holidays with more peace and less worry.

You might have a different story than Leslie’s regarding the Holiday Season. While some people experience the “Holiday Stress-O-Meter” at a level of 8 out of 10 when it comes to stress, your score might be lower. 

However, look for a bit: do you experience at least some stress now? For example, I’ve read surveys where participants report that they wake up on January 2nd with a “spending hangover” and dread seeing their credit card bill. They know they’ve spent a lot of money but don’t have many satisfying memories to show for it.

Given the above, let’s look at the holidays differently. Below are some ways to bring a sense of sweetness and ease to this particular time of year. To do that, we’ll look at a couple of questions.

  1. First: what lights you up during the Holiday Season? All the holidays I listed celebrate the light that lives inside us. That’s really what they point to, no matter what culture we look at.

But how do you find this light? We can take a cue from Oprah’s quote above. What are you thankful for?  Right now, can you list one or two things that warm your heart and nurture your spirit about this time of year? Even the tiniest spark of gratitude will prompt you to look for more. Try it and see for yourself!  Each morning between now and January 2nd, list at least one or two things for which you’re grateful. And watch your heart begin to light up!

The reason this works is that your heart loves to be grateful. It’s in your essential nature.  And gratitude releases your inner light. If you have difficulty getting started,  I suggest you watch Father David Steindl-Rast’s piece on Gratefulness.

To prepare for the season, I’ve suggested that clients watch Brother David every morning between now and January 2nd, before sitting down to write their two examples of gratefulness. As Oprah says, when you do this, you’re automatically training yourself to be grateful for what you do have! And, in turn, what you do have will grow!

  1. Where have you brought light to other people?  You begin to fill your “contribution” tank when you practice being grateful. When this happens, you’ll naturally want to give something that helps someone else experience their inner light.

Gratitude and contribution go hand-in-hand. I have a friend who serves Thanksgiving dinner to homeless families at a community center. He does this every year. He told me one day as we walked along the Sacramento river, watching a flock of wild geese taking off from a local park:

Jim: Most of my family lives just outside Chicago. Here I am in California. It used to be that every year around this time, I got lonely. I haven’t always had the time or money to visit them. So I decided to serve meals at a homeless shelter. I was blown away by the pure joy I felt just being there. Everyone was having a great time. It was Thanksgiving. Instead of feeling depressed and lonely, I had this warm sensation in my heart. I promised then and there to get involved in doing the same thing during Christmas. That was six years ago. Today I can hardly wait until this time of year when I can give my time to help others feel appreciated instead of feeling lonely and alone. And I’ve made some friends who do the same thing every year! It makes me so happy to hang out with them after we’ve taken care of everyone else.

Does Jim’s story open up possibilities for you to be generous? Where might you contribute your time and support to help make other people’s lives better?

We’ve looked at the beginning steps to experience your inner light through a gratitude practice. We’ve touched upon the practice of contribution and how it gives you the heart-warming experience of lighting up other people’s lives. In a later article, we’ll look at other ways of creating a holiday filled with joy and times you’ll remember and cherish.

Please remember this: there’s no need to experience the “daze” of stress. There’s no need for frustration or loneliness during this “Season of Light.” It simply takes learning ways to bring the experiences of gratitude and contribution to our life and the lives of those around us.

See you again soon!

“The heart that gives thanks is a happy one, for we cannot feel thankful and unhappy at the same time.”

Douglas Wood

All my very best to you and those you love,