Where Are You, Christmas?

I'm having a hard time finding Christmas spirit right now.  Is it simply because of all we've been through this year?  Quarantines, restrictions, shortages, joblessness, acrid politics, and this constantly-spreading disease are enough to bring anyone down.  It seems this situation has dragged on forever, yet it also seems like 2020 is speeding past.  December is here already, and it feels like it's come too soon.

the light of Christmas

That sounds depressing.

Frankly, I'm tired of my house.  I don't feel excited about putting up Christmas lights or other d├ęcor.  The thought of going shopping holds absolutely no joy at all.  Even with the bit of economizing we've had to do this year, I have everything I need, and so do most of the people I know.  My grandsons already have an abundance of toys.  

And for the first time in nearly 50 years as a singer, I have no concerts to prepare for or attend.  My calendar feels empty, and I'm someone who likes to keep a bit of white space in my schedule.

Minimalism tells us that less is more, and that having time and space to savor the moments, rather than being rushed and stressed by owning and doing too much, is the secret to contentment.  It's the little things that bring us joy.

So what are some of those little things?  I need them.

4 ways to find holiday spirit in a dark time

1.  Remember happiness.

At least some of my holiday melancholy is related to nostalgia.  Time passes, things change, there are losses.  This year it's even more different because we can't travel or gather together the way we usually might.  It won't be like this forever, but we may legitimately miss what we're accustomed to.

I took some time to think about my happiest holiday moments as a child and as a parent.  I remembered:

  • crafting simple Christmas ornaments with my mom and siblings while listening to holiday music on the hi-fi
  • my tall skinny father in a Santa Claus outfit that fooled no one
  • writing some Christmas stories and poems for a school project
  • rehearsing and performing a concert of medieval Christmas carols with some friends in college
  • searching for a Christmas tree with my husband and kids at McBurney's farm in the mountains
  • going to our church on Christmas Eve, guided by hundreds of luminarias lining the walkways
  • long walks in the forest after Christmas dinner
  • listening to Handel's Messiah in the living room lit only by the tree and some candles
  • playing Estimation with a large happy group of extended family on Christmas evening (we called it Up and Down the River)
  • a holiday trip to the beach

I can't do all of these things this year, but I can do some of them.  And simply remembering and thinking about them was a pleasurable experience.

2.  Give presents to people who need them.

I'm not against giving gifts, but I know there is nothing I can buy to show someone how much I love them.  No one should compromise their budget, schedule, or well-being to find the "perfect" present.  Love doesn't come in a box.

However, a gift that meets a true need is actually fun to give.  And when you take your eyes off yourself and think about those who have less than you, it's hard to be depressed.

  • My son and his roommate have received a washing machine this holiday.  Neither has been able to work full time this year, so when their old washer died, they couldn't replace it.  Jon and I are happy to be able to fill this need, and they were delighted to accept.
  • Several other family members will be receiving goats and chickens for Christmas – that is, we're giving gifts in their honor to needy families in other parts of the world.
  • My father-in-law passed away in October, and my mother-in-law is moving away from the home where they lived for 57 years.  I'm making her a scrapbook of family events in the house and on the grounds (nine wooded acres) with photos collected from her children and grandchildren.

3.  Eat less and savor more.

For most of us, the holidays are a time of over-indulgence.  Every publication features recipes for feasting and food gifts.  We consume too many sweets, too much fat, too much alcohol, or all three.

Yet 42% of American adults are obese.  We don't need any of this food, but when it's widely available, we eat it.  I can eat it without thinking, often until I no longer feel well.  I always regret it.  There's nothing joyful about overindulgence.

I'm going to prepare two holiday treats – my favorite and my husband's.  That's it.  We'll be forced to savor each bite because the supply is limited.  And we plan to eat healthy foods first, before we have any treats.

4.  Focus on the good.

Jon and I have a habit of complaining about bad drivers we see on the road.  Speeders, lane switchers, tailgaters – we moan about all of them.  It makes us crabby and stressed.  But there are always bad drivers, and our carping won't change that.  So we can continue to make ourselves unhappy by focusing on the bad, or we can drive as safely as possible and withhold comment on others.  

We always have this choice:

  • We all have fantasies about a cozy, happy family, but that might not be our situation.  Accept your reality and don't expect perfection.  I choose to focus on what's good – my brother who makes every gathering bearable, my niece's sweet new baby, the funny stories my husband always tells about his childhood.
  • The news and social media can sap every bit of optimism and hope that I have, but I can choose to limit my exposure during the holidays.
  • I know the crowds and the pushiness will hurt my spirit, so I can choose to purchase online, or in the small locally-owned shops in old downtown.
  • Shorter, colder days may bother some of us, but we can choose to enjoy the crisp clarity of winter and find comfort in firelight, candlelight, Christmas lights, and hot cocoa.

Finding Christmas spirit might be as simple (and as challenging) as choosing it.

Updated May 2023


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