The One Question to Ask Yourself During the Holidays

Nine drummers drumming, a drum roll please. The big question, the ONE you need to ask yourself this holiday is…Why?

It really is the magic question, especially this time of year. Your answer can bring clarity, reduce stress and guilt, and make your entire holiday season more meaningful. For every task you “need” to do to prepare for the holidays ask yourself why.

Why am I sending Christmas cards? I asked myself this one as I was picking up fifty custom picture cards from Costco. My answer was to touch base with friends and family–most of whom are now on Facebook. So, they’ve seen pics of my family all year and they pretty much know what we are up to. Hmmmm. If I cut the list down to the ten or so people who are not on Facebook I would probably have time to make them some sort of homemade card with a sweet note and pictures. Sounds so much more fulfilling and a much better use of my time.

Why am I putting up a Christmas tree? I asked myself this a few years ago. Our family travels every Christmas to visit family. So I used to put the tree and unravel the lights and put the ornaments on,struggle to keep the dog’s tail from knocking the ornaments off then we would…leave. It seemed even sillier when we would return from our trip after new years eve and I would need to take it all down in addition to all the other post-trip tasks. I had some guilt when I packed it off to Goodwill, but I reminded myself that someone else would get so much more enjoyment out of it than we were. Now I go for a little garland and a few lights (’cause the lights are the best!) and it looks just as festive to me.

Which has brought me to the big why. Why are we doing this at all? Our family isn’t religious so celebrating Christmas is as odd as if we just picked some other religion’s customs and decided to randomly adopt them. I wouldn’t get a menorah just because I like candles. I feel like that would diminish the importance of the symbolism for the Jewish religion. Last year, after asking myself this question, I started to focus more on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. After looking at some of the customs I felt like they made sense to me. To celebrate I thinly sliced an orange and dried it in the oven. It made the house smell wonderful and when I hung the dried slices in the window they were a bright reminder of the longer, sunny days to come. I’ve actually always liked the shortest day. I’m not a winter person and I love the idea that on that day we turn a corner and little by little start moving back to more sunlight and warmer days. The new custom felt so much more personal and significant.

What customs do you follow that you’ve never questioned? Are they still valid? Do they add to your family time or detract? Do they help you connect with friends and family? Are they significant in your life? Comment below and let me know if asking why changes anything for you.

P.S. I’m still going for less (see last week’s post). I’ve been tackling my closet and the junk drawer. The growing donation pile reminded me that this is also a great time to get last minute tax deductions for donations. They can make a huge difference come tax time and someone can enjoy the things you no longer need–win/win!

Celebrating Light and Warmth and Peace and Quiet

One of my favorite days is coming up this Sunday, the winter solstice. I’ve never formally celebrated the shortest day of the year, but I’ve always done a little happy dance in my mind that, little by little, the days will now start getting longer. 

I’m not exactly a fan of winter. Around our house I am known as the human popsicle. When the temp hovers anywhere near freezing my hands and feet turn to ice and I feel a chill all the way to my bones. I can lay under a huge pile of blankets and still have icy hands and feet. 

I am a huge fan of sunlight and warmth and spring. Longer, warmer days mean more time to go to my favorite park and walk. Spring means flowering trees. The early ones are the best. I’m thrilled every time I spot a burst of color in all the brown of a just-budding forest.  

So this Sunday I am planning, for the first time, to celebrate the day that marks the turning point back toward light and warmth. I feel a little crazy taking this on. Christmas obligations are barreling down and threatening to run over me already. The news this morning was one frantic reminder after another how many days I have left before I must skid to the red and green finish line, sweating and breathing hard, holding the appropriate number of gifts and cards and dressed in the my ugly sweater, bearing huge trays of homemade cookies and party food, ready to produce a feast for my family. 

Christmas craziness is actually another reason I want to celebrate the solstice–I’m going to declare a one day moratorium from the frenzy and chaos and noise. I’m creating a little celebration where anyone is welcome, but no one is obliged to join me. I’m going to string a few little twinkle lights across a window because they always make me smile. I’m going to add a few springs of pine because the smell will remind me of how great it smells outside. My one project for the day will be to thinly slice and dry and orange in the oven. When finished the house will smell like sunny citrus and when hung in the window the slices look like sunny stained glass–well worth the effort.

Then, the best part–quiet. When everyone else is asleep I’ll plug in my twinkle lights and lay down and watch them. Around midnight, when we turn the corner toward spring I’ll do that happy dance in my mind and I’ll think about the year ahead and all the things I am looking forward to. If it’s a clear night I’ll find a few wishing stars to pin my hopes on them for good things for my friends and family and me.

Whether you decide celebrate or not I wish all of my readers a calm, peaceful longest night and many warm, sunny days to come.