I recently led a class on preparing for the holidays. A dozen of us gathered to share our anticipations and our anxieties. As we talked we discovered that almost everyone there was struggling. Most were not really looking forward to the holidays.
In the stories were shared, most were dreading the holidays because they anticipated the sadness and loneliness that is part of them. Most experienced the holidays as times when they missed something or someone really important to them: deceased family members; children away from home; hopes for resources to do more than they were able to do; traditions that were no longer possible because of the changes in life or location.
Holidays are times when we seem to focus on accumulated experiences that can’t be replicated. (Or, more accurately, the memories of experiences that had acquired special meaning but can no longer be duplicated.) While our life is full of such experiences, holidays seems to be a depository for more focused and special memories. Hopes for happiness are exploited by a culture that uses our longings for belonging to sell us promises provided by its products. We experience the stress of trying to be in the holiday spirit.
But, I think that holidays are more than about what we have had and lost. I believe they are open times for the welcoming of new and interesting possibilities for the future. To welcome and embrace that open space for the future that has been given to us by the loss of things the way they were, we have to grieve the losses so they don’t control our way of looking at the holidays.
Grieving the loss of the world the way it was frees us to embrace the world that is coming. As you face the holidays and feel dread or sadness overtaking your spirit, take time to look at what has changed, to name that which is no longer a reality, to remember the good that you have received, to forgive the past for not being permanent, and play with new ways of celebrating, developing new traditions that affirm what you truly believe about the holiday’s meaning. Holidays are about relationships, loved and lost, and wherever we are, new relationships and new ways of expressing our life together are all around for us to explore.