I miss good ‘ole fashioned holiday spirit. These days is feels like the holidays are wrapped in shame and tied with a big fat ribbon of guilt. Even just a small sampling of recent conversations with my friends reveals that we’re all suffering from the same feelings of lack—there’s just not enough time to get it all done. For example, one of my girlfriends wrote, “I’m hunched over my computer, feverishly ordering yet more last-minute xmas gifts and pouring over my extensive end-of-year to-do list (gets longer, not shorter, why?)!” That was on December 10th.
How strange that we’ve been brainwashed to believe that any task checked off the holiday to-do list after December 1st is considered “last minute.” If you didn’t wait in line to buy your gifts on Thanksgiving, you’re already behind. We’re told that the only way to manage our stress is to get ahead of the game, but it’s hard to get into the holiday spirit on Halloween. It’s no wonder we feel riddled with guilt—perpetually trapped behind the eight ball, we’ve failed before we’ve even begun.
Somewhere along the line we must’ve gotten sidetracked; our efforts seem more focused on “getting it done” rather than on how or why we’re doing what we’re doing. Maybe the solution lies in the (perceived) problem—all of the things we’re anxious to check off our lists are actually the exact rituals that have the power to put us in the holiday spirit. What we’re missing, and I think what many of us are desperately craving, is bhavanam (feeling) and artha (purpose).
Checking everything off the list doesn’t matter nearly as much as doing half the things on that list with heart. Sutra 1.28 (tat japah tatarthabhavanam) teaches us that to repeat something with purpose and feeling opens the door for real connection. (Here, the sutras are specifically referring to the chanting of OM, but the practice of meaningful and purposeful japa, or repetition, can be applied to anything.) To me, this sutra captures the essence of spirit, holiday or otherwise. Going through the motions for the sake of getting it done leaves us feeling accomplished, yes, but also empty. If we’re not connected to the purpose behind all the running around, we’re missing the point. The holidays become just another event we’re meant to survive and before we know it, they’re gone.
All of this to say, holiday rituals present us with an opportunity to connect—to ourselves, to the act of giving and sharing, and to the lucky recipients of your efforts. You don’t have to go all out; keep it simple and meditate on each step along the way. This year I wrapped my holiday gifts with craft paper; it’s cheap and, most importantly, versatile—you can use it all year round for any occasion. While it wasn’t intentional, I ended up going with a “brown paper packages tied up with string” theme. I cut a few stray branches off my Christmas tree (seriously) and tied them with scraps of red ribbon (pieces that were just laying around, too short to really use for anything else). You could use any kind of decoration you want: greens, herbs (rosemary would be great), candy canes, cinnamon sticks, you name it. If you have children, they could draw, paint, or rubber stamp the paper. Throw on a holiday tag of your choice and you’ll have a simple, inexpensive, thoughtful presentation.
Wrapping gifts, baking cookies, decorating our homes . . . all of these activities are part of the big show. Instead of using these activities to put us in the holiday spirit, we’re shaming ourselves for not being perfect—for not buying and wrapping all of our gifts the week after Thanksgiving. I say, let’s cut ourselves some slack. Embracing the holiday spirit means putting your heart into everything you do, however big, however small. After all, it’s the thought that counts.