Saturday, November 27, 2010

How To Holiday?

A friend of mine made a very simple and profoundly true statement that has been ringing in my mind since hearing it: Holidays amplify all feelings. Whether joy, sadness, stress, excitement, peacefulness, annoyance. . . the list could go on and on. . . this time of year is unlike any other in its ability to take human emotion and ratchet it up to unprecedented levels for many. Why? Why is there so much pressure, so many expectations, so much hoopla over what at its core is a season that is meant to be about sharing time and making memories with the ones you love?

It would be easy to blame Hallmark, blame consumerism, blame any other outside target. But the truth of the matter is we are the ones who put pressure on ourselves and end up creating stress. I think for most people, we do it from a place of love, but sometimes it manifests as sheer madness even with the best of intentions. We have notions about how our holiday celebrations should look and feel. We can become inflexible trying to make things just so and end up alienating the very people that we simply want to draw close to us. These are the times when many people acutely feel the absence of loved ones lost or come face to face with the significance of other major life changes. Holidays can be a mine field that one must traverse with great care, lest you stumble inadvertently on an emotional trigger that could bring up untapped feelings in you or someone you love.

In my case, though I definitely did not grow up with it, I seem to have this overtly strong desire to create traditions around the holidays. Admittedly, I can get a little crazy on this subject. Coming from a small, Jewish family, there was no tree decorating, no massive holiday gatherings, nothing present year after year with the exception of cooking a seriously kick-ass Thanksgiving dinner. My father loved food, loved to cook, and I loved to be in the kitchen with him preparing for that meal in particular because there was tradition involved. Making "our" cranberry sauce with orange juice and a splash of Grand Marnier. Trying out some scrumptious stuffing recipe that he concocted since that was the favorite side dish of both he and I. Preparing a meal, whether for our little family, or on some occasions, a larger crowd of close family friends, was an act of love and a definite tradition. I can't recall him ever articulating those words, but looking back now and reliving those times, I feel it. And I know without a doubt that this is the driving reason why I always feel so strongly compelled to celebrate Thanksgiving with an absurd amount of food in the company of the people I love. It is the one tradition that I can continue, though, come to think of it, every single year of my adult life that I've honored it, this tradition has morphed and changed.

I remember hosting my first Thanksgiving my last year of college because I couldn't go home for the break. My table was full of a random assortment of friends that were also around, as well as my father and brother. Then there were a couple of Thanksgivings spent in Chile, adopting an American tradition to my Latin home, family and friends. Back stateside, I spent a few years once again joining forces with my dad in the kitchen, cooking for our family, expanded by my ex-husband and a variety of friends. Last year, with my father gone, no more husband and my mother in Vermont with her best friends, I flew to California to be with my brother and sister-in-law for Thanksgiving. This year, with my mother and brother each in there respective Thanksgiving spots once again, I cooked at home in the company of my best friend, my boyfriend and their little ones, then joined my adopted family for a huge dinner. Talk about variety being the spice of life!

Taken from one perspective, this may not look like much of a tradition at all, seeing as how my Thanksgivings have constantly evolved year after year. But looking carefully, looking with my heart, I see that the key elements of a tradition have always been there: food, friends, family, love. That is all I need, and it is more than enough to fill my heart. Instead of focusing on what's "missing" from my holiday traditions, if I look at the essence I see time after time that it's all there. Keeping that in mind, being grateful for what is instead of what isn't, that is the best thing I can think of to combat holiday stress and instead amplify the positive emotions of gratitude, joy and celebration. I'm still going to miss my dad. In all likelihood I'm still going to get mildly compulsive about wanting to create more traditions. I'll probably still feel moments of stress and provoke the same in those around me (sorry, babe. . . I'm trying!). But I have the ability to step back, take a breath and refocus on what really matters, which will invariably leave me feeling abundant and blessed. That is how to holiday.

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