Christmas in October

One morning last week, as the darkness unfurled into first light and the night’s dreams still lingered at the edges of psyche, my younger son asked, “Why are there Christmas decorations in the stores already?”

Without thinking I responded, “Because people are afraid of the sadness and darkness that arise this time of year so they focus on the next holiday and the season of lights.”

“Why does this time of year make people sad? I don’t feel sad!”

A lover of winter and snow, our younger son celebrates the change of seasons. But as the minutes of light decrease daily I can see the melancholy descend on the other members of our household, as well as in many of my clients. As the twilight hour approaches, I sometimes see the loss embodied on my older son’s face, as if a cloud has crossed over his normally sunny disposition. When I see this, I put my arms around him, put my hands on his heart, and say, “Let’s breathe into the loss, sweetheart. Let’s take a moment to breathe it in.”

I’m always aware of the loss of light and turning of the seasons, but this year I’ve been particularly aware of the layers and nuances of feelings that arise during the twilight hour. One evening a few weeks ago I found my way to the Jewish prayer for evening, called the “Maariv Aravim”, and decided to memorize it. In my courses I discuss turning to poetry and prayers as powerful ways to change the channel in our minds so that instead of perseverating on the lower vibration of a fear-based thought we focus on a poem or prayer, which, because it emanates from higher mind, helps us tap into a higher vibration. Sometimes our minds just need something to do, and memorizing a poem or prayer circumvents the default tendency for our minds to chew on a worry and instead trains it to savor and turn around a piece of art.

Poetry and prayers are closely linked as they both arrive from a source beyond conscious mind, a source that, when we listen, can both transport us into a higher realm and remind us of what is most deeply human. The imagery in this evening prayer is particularly beautiful. Here are a few lines:

Holy one of blessing your presence fills creation,

by whose word the evening falls.

In wisdom you open the heavenly gates,

thoughtfully altering time and changing the seasons,

and arranging the stars in their heavenly courses. 

You are creator of day and night

rolling night away from darkness

and darkness away from light.

When I say the prayer with presence, my soul opens instead of contracts through twilight, and I remember that prayer, ritual, and breath are totems that carry us across the thresholds of transitions. These are ancient technologies, as Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi refers to them, that were created in wisdom to help humans manage these vulnerable breaking points so that, instead of falling into a pit of sadness, we can rise into a higher consciousness and connect to our version of God (whatever that is for you). Prayers are an amulet that can transform the emptiness into fullness; worry into faith; sadness into joy.

Our mainstream culture offers other technologies, which are really just ways to distract from the feelings of grief, loss, longing, and vulnerability that can be more pronounced this time of year. Our culture pushes consumption, eating, and socializing to an extreme throughout the year, but never are these methods of distraction more in our faces than during the holiday season (which apparently has already begun). We live in a culture of distraction, and one of the primary ways that we distract is to consume. There’s no doubt in my mind that the arrival of Christmas decorations and paraphernalia in October is, at least on one level, an intentional attempt to divert the melancholy into consumption. “Don’t think about your pain!” the decorations shout from the aisle. “Buy me instead!” “Don’t feel your longing!” the temptation to attend and plan party after party shouts. “Look at these great invitations instead!”

What would happen if, instead of consuming, we turned inward and allowed ourselves to feel the grief and longing? What if we trusted that we can handle our pain, that it won’t overwhelm us, and that we have a free and ancient set of tools that can carry across these thresholds? We might spend a little less money. We might socialize a bit less. But we would also feel more filled up inside. As Douglas Abrams writes in The Book of Joy, “To linger in the longing, the loss, the yearning is a way of feeling the rich and embroidered texture of life, the torn cloth of our world that is endlessly being ripped and rewoven.” (p. 113)

I invite you to linger with me during this season of change and loss of light. And tell me what happens.

48 comments to Christmas in October

  • Frances

    Hi Sheryl. As I’ve said many times before, reading your new post on a Sunday night is one of the highlights of my week and one of the more positive rituals in my life. I didn’t think I was really connecting with this week’s post until I read “We live in a culture of distraction, and one of the primary ways that we distract is to consume.” I’ve been doing a lot of this lately; spending hours searching and scrolling for clothes as my body has changed through Intuitive Eating. It hasn’t been a fun activity, but a helpless one. I also recognise my tendancy to shop and shop and SHOP for the perfect Christmas gift. I want to be more present in winter this year, so I’m going to try and turn my attention to cosy, nourishing activities and enjoying the weather on walks. Thanks for sharing this. X

  • Ravenna3

    Funnily enough I was reading an old post about your birthday and realized that the dates matched up!. I hope you had one full of welcoming and growth. Thank you for this post also, it was a lovely one, speaking so much truth to the cultural avoidance that many of us here are teaching ourselves to swim against.

  • Gen

    What about yoga for during this time?

    • Yoga is wonderful anytime. But keep in mind that we can use almost anything as a way to distract, prove and avoid or as a way to turn inward and become curious about what’s happening inside. Mindset is everything.

  • Sarah

    I love this! Transitions have been on my mind a lot this week. It’s birthday week for both my boys and the first week we’ve seen winter weather. My boys have been alternately excited and melting down. I feel like I can’t even begin to feel like it’s the beginning of Christmas! Crazy! And why must our culture graze over thanksgiving!? Far and away my favorite holiday! Thanks for your words!

  • Don

    Hi Sheryl:

    I am very grateful for your newsletter and reflections on the changing of the weather and light. It hits me on many levels and turns the volume up on my depression, anxiety, and many unresolved life issues and the loneliness i felt as a kid so many years later. However, your perspective is a wise one; perhaps we don’t need to run from these feelings, but embrace them and perhaps even benefit from them.

    Take care, and thank you again. Don

  • Marlene

    Amen! Beautiful. Xoxo

  • Katelyn

    Without thinking I responded, “Because people are afraid of the sadness and darkness that arise this time of year so they focus on the next holiday and the season of lights.” I completely resonated with this statement! It gives a very different but insightful interpretation of these crazy holiday times that no one in our culture ever thinks about, including myself. Love this!

  • Rachel

    Thank you. Just recently I was thinking about how much emphasis has been out on Halloween and how the build up to 31st seems to start earlier each year. I thought about how our culture seems to have a need to focus on the next big event to constantly distract from being still. For some reason Halloween makes me feel uneasy. Thank you for your words, greatly valued

  • An extremely important post!You express what our society and each individual in my client circle- including me!- feels all year and especially at this time. An astute and concise summary to track individual feelings of loss isolation and longing. Thank you

  • HopefulForHope

    hi Sheryl,

    In the last few weeks I have found myself doing what you talk about here: searching for just about anything to distract me. I know I do this a lot but it really hit me one day a few weeks ago when I noticed I was searching from amazon to other online stores, almost frantically, looking for a new bed frame, décor, whatever… to fill me up. I kept feeling that I “need” this or that and I finally stopped myself and was like WOAH. It had never hit my life it had in that moment and I was thankful for it.
    I know those things are just distractors, and although they may satisfy for a few moments, what I need is something deeper.

    I know I have some grief to go through but I keep thinking “how do I access this grief?”
    I can easily convince myself that it’s not there and my intrusive thoughts are really my “truth” but I know the extent of my thoughts that are so irrational just cannot be truth. but I don’t know how to sit with my grief.

  • Rachel

    At last, I am allowing myself to process the grief that I carried but avoided for so long. It reached a point, especially after experiencing 3 deaths in my world this year, that I couldn’t carry it any longer. I never realized how much the grief blocked so much love and the beauty in life from fully reaching me. I am still peeling back the layers of that onion, and am seeing more flickers of light than I have in years (that, and it alternates with sadness and pain at times). It has not overwhelmed me like I thought it would, but it has been an awful lot to work with and I hope this work is worth it.

  • Alina Mankin

    This post resonated with me quite deeply. The past few weeks have been very difficult, anxious ones and my intrusive thoughts have ramped up accordingly. It’s like my brain can’t handle the deep grief and melancholy of this time of year and it so it obsesses over things it thinks it can control. When I read this, I felt a huge sense of relief. As the weather changes and the light diminishes, I feel the passage of time acutely. I fell into a depression this week between Halloween and daylight savings and attributed it to something being wrong with my life — an attempt to literalize a pervasive sense of uneasiness, the uncertain pulse beneath everything. The sense that it’s all slipping through my fingers. On Sunday morning I woke up and was sitting with my dog and cried over how precious she is and how she won’t live forever. At the time I didn’t understand where this was coming from and it felt a bit melodramatic (as my dog is healthy and not even old) but now I see it as contacting the grief of impermanence on the dawn of daylight savings. Thank you as always for helping me see things in a soulful, true light. xo

  • P

    Dear Sheryl,
    Thank you for this amazing article.
    I’ve been going through an anxious phase lately and you’ve helped me make some sense of it. I am going through many transitions – a birthday, I am pregnant (for some reason this 4th pregnancy is causing me a lot of anxiety and fear), and I’ve been feeling especially anxious at night which is why this blog resonates with me so deeply. I’ve also been pressured to put my kids in day cares which I agreed to trying but have decided (again) it’s not the life I believe in and want for my family.
    But when all of these things trigger anxiety in me, the one thing in common is the impermanence of things, the things we love. How death is certain and coming. It just terrifies me!!!
    Breathing in feelings as you’ve mentioned in the past is the only thing that’s helped me deal with anxiety. I breath in and acknowledge the fear (of birth), or sadness (of leaving my parents to going back home – on another continent)… I cry… I feel like it heals me for the moment. But I hate it. I hate that all these things won’t last forever. I hate that there is pain and loss and separation in this world. It pains me so deeply. And when the anxiety creeps up, these thoughts freak me out to the core.

    • Nobody likes impermanence and death, P, and those on the highly sensitive spectrum hate it even more! What I can tell you is that the more you breathe into the feelings, feel the pain, focus on gratitude, AND devote yourself to a spiritual practice, the less you will dwell on the impermanence and the more you will experience the beauty and richness of life in this moment.

  • Cassie

    Hello Sheryl–

    Thank you so much for this article. Is there a poetry or prayer book that you (or anyone else) recommend? I totally agree with what you said about how this can give our minds something to do/something to hold onto when we are swirling in fear. I’d like to start trying this, and thought maybe a book could be helpful.

    Thank you so much.

  • LightAtTheEnd

    Very beautiful inspired post that resonates a lot.

    Wondering if you can offer anything on how to not be too judgemental of family members that appear totally caught up in the materialism, consumerism ‘Christmas in October’ train! I’m working on trying to be more tolerant, and understand that not everyone is aware of their ‘sadness’ when replace it with shopping and it’s not my job to show them of this. They are happy doing it. For some people (my mother in law) shopping fills them up…! whilst for me I feel how low my energy is in shopping centres and how I need to counteract it with a beach walk!!!

    I am a little shameful to say that I can’t help but feel so frustrated by consumer culture and know that I judge others for getting totally caught up in it…I want to scream ‘do something creative’ ‘go get a hobbie…’ ‘but that realise it is one for many…

  • Anne Marie

    Hi Sheryl,

    I’m experiencing a weird thought pattern and am wondering what insight you can give me. My almost fiance and I have been discussing kids lately, in depth, and we’re on the same page about when to have them, how many, how to raise them, etc. I felt a deep sense of peace knowing that we’re on the same page with this important topic.

    Well, a couple of days ago I got to thinking about motherhood, and I started to get a little scared…about not getting the alone time I need, about possibly not liking it, about having to look after someone all the time. Are these fears normal? And now my anxiety is hanging its hook on whether I’ll change my mind in the future, and what if we run into problems.

    I just find it really strange how my mind went from feeling peaceful about this topic to fearful. I’m wondering if it is a fear of the unknown that’s really bothering me.

    We’re planning to be engaged in the spring, and no matter what the hook, I still find myself really scared, even though there’s nothing to be afraid of–no real red flags. I’m scared of the possibility of something going wrong, that there aren’t any guarantees.

  • Carlos

    Hi Sheryl, before I say anything, I would just like to ask if no one else but Sheryl can reply to this, I would rather only have her comment on this post. My ex gf and I had been together for a year and I had constant phases of doubt about our relationship but always managed to fight through them and come out fine and continue on in our relationship. The first time happened within the first few months of us talking and it resulted in a break up which we ended up coming back from. This was in February, and we had continued talking and eventually came back together even stronger. But then last month she started going through the same doubts, which ended up in another breakup, but this time she initiated it for the same reasons I did. She had other things going on and she didn’t want to end up hurting me by making me wait to see how she would feel at the end of it so she ended the relationship in hopes of not hurting me. I had just recently started reading your posts so I felt that I had a new hope for myself as well as the relationship, but when she broke up with us it killed alot of my confidence and optimism for us. But now she realizes that she made a mistake and she told me even from the beginning that she wasn’t sure if a breakup was the right decision, she felt from the beginning it wasn’t right but she did it out of fear and doubt. I truly trust in her and fully believe her when she says that it was a mistake since from the beginning she felt it wasn’t the right decision and had already immediately been regretting it. It’s just now Im not sure whether or not I should be considering accepting it and trying again with her since she accepted it for me in February and give it another shot or if its not worth it? I’m reading all your posts on love and how the media portrays how we’re supposed to have instant satisfaction, so Im wondering if this is part of early difficulties and it can result in great growth and learning or if I’m mistaken. Again, I would appreciate if only I only get a comment from Sheryl.
    Thank you so much for your advise

  • Ashley

    Wow what a poignant piece. I never thought of the holiday season in this way, it makes so much perfect sense. We are a culture that distracts ourselves from pain through consumption, hit that nail on the head

    This time of year does give me a sadness, a melancholy but I find it beautiful in its own way. I think Sheryl you would be into
    Japanese culture’s Wabi Sabi aspect, where life is accepted as transient and changing and there is a sadness and loss in the change but even then there is beauty in that feeling of solitude and loss.

    Thank you always Sheryl, I will find myself some poems to recite, what a beautiful idea.

  • Eric

    Hi Sheryl, would you mind suggesting some blog posts for men to read? Some posts are hard to relate to from a guy’s perspective…thank you!

  • August

    Very poignant as my office building just put up their Christmas tree today and I am so sad (and angry!!) that this holiday that I love is being forced onto me when it’s barely even cold outside. The way the world and the media can’t just let us have a period of ‘nothingness’ in between holidays is my #1 pet peeve. I wonder if it will get so ridiculous that people fight against it but at the moment when I do so I come across as a Grinch! Feeling very frustrated right now at my lack of ability to put the world to rights.

  • Bee

    So lately I’ve been feeling okay. & in work ive been having training with another guy from another store. This guy is married, he may be a few years older I am not sure, he seems like a nice guy, very chatty and got a lot of humour. He helps me a lot with work.. the other day he was over at our store and he was speaking to a customer for me, he was telling the customer that I would go out and do a home measure for them (I design kitchens) and as he said “my colleague bianca here will come out and measure” he winked at me. & since then my head has been in overdrive.
    “Why did he wink at me” “does it mean he likes me cause he winked at me” “was he flirting” “do I like him” “do I fancy/have a crush on him” “when he winked at me did I feel anything” “do I look at him and make him think that maybe I like him”
    It’s basicslly ridiculous how much it goes round and round in my head. These thoughts bother me more than it bothered me when I had the whole “do I love him” thoughts because it’s making me feel like I’m being unfaithful to my partner. I don’t want to like anyone else, fancying someone else scares me because I don’t want that to happen. I know sometimes you can’t help if you end up liking someone else but I’ve only ever met this guy like 3/4 times, I don’t have a connection or anything with him, I don’t even want to, I’d choose my boyfriend over him/any other guy any day.

    Is this normal? Is this another form of rocd / anxiety?
    I just worry “what if you do like someone else” cause I don’t want to lose/leave my partner, he is still the person I want my life with 🙁 I hate the idea of liking anyone else.

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl,
    This is my journal today. Whats your insight? Why do i miss my old self so much? Will angela come back and stay?
    Today I felt not the best no anxiety but i felt like i wanted to put myself back into what i remember i was in not wanting to i just remembered. Yesterday was such a good day, and i think i didnt want it to end. That i was affraid today itvwill take me back where i was. There just unwanted thoughts that latched on today. I came a long way i was so brave and strong that i feel so proud of myself. I am not going one sytep back its ok i can handle it anyway is my attitude view because im a fear warrior. I am not in any fear like b4. I am in a good place. I loved my old self back yesterday. Its how i wanna feel all the time. It was like i pushed myself back to be my old self again. I have missed the old angela so so much. I welcomed her so excitedly yesterday. I am today the way im suppose to be i have healed i know my root causes. I dealt with it. So i can and i am ready to be the woman i am suppose to be. I want to be me witjout doubting myself. Its simple and I am in the right place with the right person man my husband Sunny. I always wanna feel happy in my own skin, without judgement. Just simply and easilybe me, even if i dont have good days. Itsok im human i just wanna be the normalhappy, cheerful me who loves life. Everyday is precious i wanna enjoy my life not struggle with how im feeling. Life is hard as it is. It truly is just to go to work and be positive when ur not feeling 100% is challenging. It has been for me the last 5 years. Even b4 then when i was depressed.

    • We have great days, Angela, and then we have harder days; that’s just part of being human. It sounds like you’re setting yourself up with an expectation that says that you have to feel cheerful and happy every day. I don’t think that’s humanly possible! When we make room for the full spectrum of human emotions, we find a lot more peace.

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl,
    Yes totally agree, i do set high expectations for myself for feeling good everyday. Its not humanly possible.
    What I was mainly trying to express is that I feel I lost my old self. Yes, I have grown as a woman in this journey. I still feel Im not connecting to the world around me as i think I need to be.

  • Bee

    So lately I’ve been feeling okay. & in work ive been having training with another guy from another store. This guy is married, he may be a few years older I am not sure, he seems like a nice guy, very chatty and got a lot of humour. He helps me a lot with work.. the other day he was over at our store and he was speaking to a customer for me, he was telling the customer that I would go out and do a home measure for them (I design kitchens) and as he said “my colleague bianca here will come out and measure” he winked at me. & since then my head has been in overdrive.
    “Why did he wink at me” “does it mean he likes me cause he winked at me” “was he flirting” “do I like him” “do I fancy/have a crush on him” “when he winked at me did I feel anything” “do I look at him and make him think that maybe I like him”
    It’s basicslly ridiculous how much it goes round and round in my head. These thoughts bother me more than it bothered me when I had the whole “do I love him” thoughts because it’s making me feel like I’m being unfaithful to my partner. I don’t want to like anyone else, fancying someone else scares me because I don’t want that to happen. I know sometimes you can’t help if you end up liking someone else but I’ve only ever met this guy like 3/4 times, I don’t have a connection or anything with him, I don’t even want to, I’d choose my boyfriend over him/any other guy any day.

    Is this normal? Is this another form of rocd / anxiety?
    I just worry “what if you do like someone else” cause I don’t want to lose/leave my partner, he is still the person I want my life with 🙁 I hate the idea of liking anyone else.

  • Lili60

    Hi Sheryl ,
    Thanks againfor such an insightful post..as we are getting close to the holidays I am about to travel with my 4 months old infant..we just booked our trip and I have started have alot of anxety whether this is agood choice we are going to the middle east from the UK to see family..Ive heard from pyschologists that traveling and change (as in time and place of sleeping )is not good for babies under 2..on the other hand a friend said change and transitions are good for babies they become strong..we are also plannig to do another trip in easter..do you have any advice about this? I am anxious and having lots of different thoughts about this matter.

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