Now that we have that out of the way, can you believe that it is already December 1? Me neither. It's only twenty more blessed days until the winter solstice and the days again slowly starting to grow longer and then it is just a few days until Christmas. Despite having sometimes battled with holiday blues, this year I am excited about the season. I am not entirely sure what has elevated my mood this year, but it seems that a few things have conspired to make the holiday season a bit more welcome this year. As near as I can tell, it is a number of things working together to create the perfect (snow)storm.
- Gratitude: In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I made it a point every date to write down something for which I felt thankful. The list went from the ridiculous (on Thanksgiving, I was thankful that I wasn't a turkey!) to the sublime (friends, family, pets, music), but every day no matter how I felt, I wrote something, anything that engendered feelings of gratitude. And you know what? It worked! It worked so well that it is a practice I want to keep up. I think it really made me realize how much I have. I may not be wealthy, I may not have some traditional Norman Rockwell family experience, but what I do have are great friends who are family, cuddly rescued pets who think I'm the greatest thing since catnip and rawhide, a warm (if sometimes crowded) house, a good job, and the satisfaction of waking up knowing I will not end the day lounging in a roasting pan while some strange lady stuffs with my nether regions with bread, dried cranberries and chestnuts.
- Activities: This year I gave some thought to the coming holidays and made sure I had some events and activities planned to look forward to. I got tickets to Portland Revels (as of last year, my new all-time favorite holiday activity!) and a Sweet Honey in the Rock Concert, making sure I had some holiday events to look forward to early in the month. I also plan to be open to impromptu participation in some of the other Christmas festivities in my town and definitely will attend the Christmas Eve candlelight service at my favorite progressive church.
- Mindful gifting: I don't buy a ton of gifts each year. My mom and I don't really exchange gifts anymore. We probably spend more money buying presents for our dogs than we do for each other at Christmas. We usually just celebrate with togetherness, good food, some joint donations to our favorite charities and maybe tickets to a show or something like that, but it's been a long time since we've exchanged presents. For the gifts I do buy, I've never been a big Black Friday kind of shopper, but (with the exception of my adopted nephew, whose seven year old brain is convinced that there is nothing more precious on this earth than beyblades) this year I've made a really conscious decision to support local businesses, artisans, and the arts as much as possible in my gift giving. It really takes the pressure off. There are no huge crowds on Etsy, and, even if I do have to go out shopping, I can do so feeling good that I am supporting some worthy small business or organization instead of supporting the greed of asshat companies that tore employees away from their families on Thanksgiving just to work a sale that could have just as easily been had the next day or the day after that. It also makes it so when I do get out into the hustle and bustle of things, I can just enjoy the decorations and music without having a mission, because I know that my mission is at the little store down the street or the internet or the theater and then somehow all the stress parts of the hustling and bustling just roll off me.
- Décor & Flexibility: At my house, to tree or not to tree is the eternal question. I love big, fresh cut Christmas trees. The other human dweller in my home would be just as happy without a tree and if we must have one, there is always a push for something small and fake, which for me kind of defeats the purpose. There is an added element in that Teddy the Labzilla is in a phase of his adolescence in which his mission in life is to pilfer anything that's not nailed down. I am convinced that he must think his name is "Teddydropit!"His history of stealing shoes, hair brushes, underwear, flashlights, sweet potatoes and anything else he can get his paws on does not give me high hopes for Christmas ornaments. Somebody is getting coal in his stocking, and his name starts with a T. Sadly, he will probably try to eat the coal (eating things most people would think are non-edible being another cherished hobby) and a chase will ensue, but that is another story for another time. So, the plan for now is to see how we do with an advent wreath, lights and decorations on the mantle. If he passes phase one, then we will look into phase two – a tree. Either way, we WILL have something festive looking in this house, even if it's just a tinsel festooned labradoodle tied down with Christmas lights.
- Letting go & less stress: Somehow in a climate of layoffs (like many companies, mine started the year with them, there were more in the summer, and it's looking like there could be more in January), my work has become much less stressful. Part of this is due to my own learning to let go a bit and part is because I'm the only person left and have much less involved boss and more personal control over how I schedule my time than I ever did in the past. The net result: Work stress does not bleed out of my work time and into my personal life. After years of feeling frazzled by my professional life, this is a huge weight off my shoulders and one I've had to lift myself by changing some of my own attitudes about what is and isn't worth my emotional energy. It's only taken me almost eleven years with the company, but I think I've finally done it!
- Spirit of the Season: My spiritual beliefs run to the eclectic. There are some beautiful things about Christianity and the traditional celebration of Christmas. There are also equally beautiful things in older pagan and druidic traditions and the celebration of the Solstice. So, at my house, we are doing both this year. We have greens, advent candles that are, instead of the traditional white, pink and purple, a mix of foresty green and pinecone shaped to honor nature and the coming of the light. I am joining an Advent Reading and Discussion Group, but also spending time observing some different weekly Yule traditions. I did celebrate a sort of last minute, half-assed Alban Arthuan ritual last year, but this year I am being more intentional about honoring both. There are people who will say you can't do or believe both, but I say that anything that makes you feel closer to the spirit of the world and the coming of the light is a thing worth doing. Your path is yours and mine is mine and in my humble opinion, they lead to the same place anyway. There are many ways to reach the mountain peak and we all must choose our own.