A Holiday Offering

Since life isn’t a Hallmark card or a Hollywood movie, the holidays are often a time when fantasies and expectations for how things “should” be jut up against how things actually are. And since the winter holidays also coincide with the shift in the Earth’s tilt as evidenced by the Winter Solstice, it’s also a time of transition. We’re transitioning from darkness to light and simultaneously celebrating – or not celebrating – Hannukah, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. The intersection of these events often creates an emotionally challenging time.

As transitions are, by definition, times of change, with each transition the loss and memories from the past filter up to consciousness. Loss triggers old losses and transitions trigger past transitions. You might be wrapping Christmas presents and feel a pang of loss about a Christmas past spent with an ex-girlfriend or with friends in another city. The natural response to these pangs is to think, “Oh, I wonder if I really want to move back to that other city or get back together with the ex.” Loss doesn’t require any action other than breathing into its presence. The emptiness of loss is filled with inhales and the allowance of grief. Embedded in the loss might be another layer of tears that need to come out. Let them out. Remind yourself not to fear the grief and attach false meaning to it. Like a crying child, it doesn’t need judgements or justifications; it only needs the comfort of your arms.

One of the mental blocks that prevents the natural emotions triggered around holidays and solstices from coming through is the injunction against feeling anything less than joy during this time. Like getting married and becoming a parent, our culture spreads the belief that you’re supposed to plaster a smile across your face right now and squeeze your emotional body to match the tenor of a greeting card. When you’re suffering under the overlay of “shoulds” and “supposed tos” it’s almost impossible to allow yourself to feel whatever you  need to feel. For many, the pressure to be happy is so extreme that it creates the opposite experience: misery.

What’s interesting is that while many people rationally understand the pressure and ensuing misery of the holidays, it’s still extremely difficult to extricate yourself from the cultural expectation of joy. Again, as with every other life transition, we tell people to feel happy at the exact time when they’re naturally feeling grief, loss, loneliness, vulnerability, and depression. It’s crazy-making, to say the least. And it’s the reason why I’m so committed to doing this work and continuing my attempt to raise consciousness about life’s transitions, from holidays to birthdays, from birth to death and every transition in between.

Here’s my offering to you: if at all possible, lift the expectation and allow yourself to BE however you need to be and feel however you need to feel. If you’re lonely, breathe into the loneliness. If a memory of your deceased father appears, acknowledge the memory, and instead of seeing it as something to avoid, view it as a gift in that it brings you into closer contact with a departed loved one. Let yourself cry if you need to cry and crawl under the covers if that’s what’s asked. There are no should or supposed tos; there’s only what is.

3 comments to A Holiday Offering

  • This is SO important! Thank you for articulating so beautifully something that everyone needs to hear.

  • Lizebeth

    Sheryl,

    Just had this discussion with my kids last week. They are already feeling overwhelmed by the pressures to “be happy” at Christmas. I explained that we set the expectations so high (spending a month in prep) that we’re guaranteeing ourselves some sort of disappointment.

    We’ve tried to simplify traditions or create new ones that make us feel good but don’t stress us out. We try not to put too much attention on just giving or receiving material gifts. And we always ask, “is this something we want to do, or feel like we HAVE to do because others tell us so?”

    And thanks to your work, I am myself becoming more conscious of life’s many transitions which allows me to help my family to navigate through them better. Sometimes it helps just to let my kids know, “this is temporary and is happening so whatever comes next can happen.”

    • So well said, Liz. I was talking about this with my friend Carrie before Christmas when both of our kids were counting down the seconds until the “big day” – and saying how important it is to talk to kids about the set-up of days like Christmas. “What goes up must come down,” and when you spend that much time preparing for anything – a wedding, a play, Christmas Day – there’s bound to be a let down or disappointment. Sometimes just talking about it and expecting it can actually bypass the let-down. Strange – but it seems that so much of our experience of life is connected to our expectations, and when we can keep our expectations in check, we can experience reality more directly.