Sunday, December 15, 2013

Seeking Peace and Simplicity During the Holidays

Holiday Craziness
Let’s face it: the holidays are extremely busy, and for many, it can be a very stressful time.  The intentions of the holiday season are supposed to include sentiments of gratitude, love, family, and faith, but with the push for shopping and a list of almost endless activities, it can end up as anything but those things. 

Peace and Simplicity Begins with a Thankful Heart
For those like myself, we are seeking a path toward greater peace and simplicity during the holiday season.  What I have been learning a lot about lately is that we must begin with gratitude in our hearts and minds if we are ever to truly achieve that peace and simplicity.

For the majority of us in the developed world, we have been very blessed to have much more than our basic needs met.  We have a bed to sleep in, a roof over our heads, often more than sufficient food to eat, and enough clean water to drink and even bathe in.  We have sufficient transportation, and can even indulge a bit in a little entertainment every now and then.  Sadly, for far too many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world, this is not true for them.  While for many of us, our lives are far from what we would consider to be perfect, we can still take a step back and humbly acknowledge that we are blessed in a number of ways, and that we should be thankful for what we do have.

Once we start to cultivate gratitude in our hearts and lives, we can begin to examine our values and then prioritize them.  To have any sort of balance in life, it is important to decide what is most important, and then decide if what you are spending your time and energy on is really that important.  If whatever you are doing is not ultimately supporting your values, then you must let it go.  This will free you to focus on those things that truly are the most important things to you- your family, friends, loved ones, your faith, your passions, etc.

Simpler Holidays
I’d be willing to bet that on the whole, what people remember most during a particular holiday season is not all of the gifts that they received, but the memories that were made and the times that were spent together with those they care about.  My advice is to keep it simple, cut out what isn’t most important, and instead focus on what matters most. 

So, what can a simpler holiday with fewer gifts look like?  Perhaps you could decide as a family or a group to limit the spending on gifts this year and focus more on making memories together.  Perhaps as an alternative, you might focus more on doing something special, such as Christmas caroling, sledding, or holding a holiday movie marathon where each person picks out their favorite holiday film and everyone watches them together while drinking hot chocolate and enjoying homemade holiday goodies.  You could pop some popcorn and make treats for the birds in your neighborhood, or bake and decorate some cookies and give them as gifts to some of your neighbors.  You could participate in the National Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count, share a special meal together at your favorite locally-owned restaurant or cafe, volunteer at a soup kitchen, or make some homemade Christmas cards and then take them to your local retirement home and visit with some of the residents.  Other options are to see a holiday presentation by your local high school, or attend a concert by your local orchestra or string quartet.  There are so many things that you could do as an alternative to focusing on gifts.  Be creative, start a new tradition, and make some memories together!

A Homemade Holiday
While it is not for everyone, homemade treasures made from crafts that you make yourself, or from items harvested from your garden can also make excellent gifts and can help to simplify gift giving during the holidays.  For example, this year I am going to give as gifts some basil seeds that I collected from my basil plants, some homemade dairy-free pesto sauce made from my garden-grown basil, some lacto-fermented pickles made from cucumbers that I grew, and some tomatillo salsa that I made from tomatillos that I also grew in my garden.   I will also be baking some homemade goodies and giving them as gifts in reusable decorative holiday tins.

The Season of Our Hearts
Memory making and gift giving aside, the most important thing during the holiday season is to remember why we are celebrating in the first place.  For myself and many others, this process of remembering centers on our spirits and God’s gift of His son to us.  For others, family matters most, and for others still, showing love to our fellow human beings and cultivating peace and kindness for a better world are very important. 

From my favorite holiday movie, “The Muppet Christmas Carol,”* I really appreciate a song entitled, “It feels like Christmas.”  There is a line in it that I really I love which says, “Wherever you find love, it feels like Christmas.”  As a later line in the song says, I believe that such a sentiment applies not only to this time of the year, but ideally should last all year long.  Love is what everyone needs deep down within their very soul, and it is what we all crave- genuine relationships where people are truly loved for who they are.  To me, that’s ultimately what life is all about- showing love to others now and always.  Taking the time during this season of the year to remember what it means can be a refreshing way to make the holidays more meaningful in our lives, and can serve as a valuable reminder of what’s most important.  I encourage you to make that your holiday focus this year, and where I believe true peace and simplicity in the season can be found.  

 Video of "It Feels Like Christmas" from the film, the "Muppet Christmas Carol."

May you and yours be truly blessed this holiday season!  

*If you’ve never seen it, I recommend that you rent it and enjoy the humor and the Muppets’ heart-warming portrayal of the classic story, A Christmas Carol.

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