Holiday Time: A Focus Exercise

Categories: Faith issues, Family, and Holidays.

{Insert Awkward Christmas Family Photo Here}

Do you remember that Folgers commercial from the 1980s; “Peter comes home for Christmas”?   Peter is the oldest son who just arrives home (because of a delayed flight or something) on Christmas morning and he wakes his family up by making coffee and everyone is so relieved to see he made it home.  It’s touching.  It gets at the longing for everyone in the family to be together on Christmas morning, and the sadness that was narrowly avoided for this close knit family.  But what about that poor sap who drove Peter home?  That means that guy isn’t home on Christmas morning with his family, which means nobody is making coffee or feeling happy there!  Its a sad moment for that guy and his family.
Its true that what we focus on determines how we feel.  In the past, I’ve written columns that have focused on stress management through the holidays, because the “hustle and bustle” of the season can indeed be a strain for everyone.  But I wonder if focusing on “stress management” is like trying not to think of pink elephants.  The more you try to NOT think of something the more you are actually dwelling on that very thing!  So this time I’m going to encourage us all to focus our attention and energies on truly enjoying the richness of the Christmas season.
As we age, the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day becomes a more complex experience.  As children, its pretty much a magical and hope-filled time of wonder.  Of course they have free time to fully enjoy that, because its the adults (usually) who are responsible for creating that magical time of year.  For older adolescents and adults, though, the holiday time becomes a more complicated mix of emotions.  For many of us, the holidays bring a collection of bad memories along with the good.  The traumas and losses in life become intensified during the holidays because they are juxtaposed with that planned experience of hope, wonder, and magic.
Someone recently expressed this complexity about her Christmas experience.  As a young adult, a close family member of hers died on Christmas day.  For the rest of her life, then, part of her experience at Christmas is a collection of warm remembrances of this person as well a strong sense of grief.  In the same way, many enter the holidays with painful memories of past Christmases in which a loved one was deployed, the family was economically distressed, there was a bitter family fight, separation or divorce.  Or, one or more of those things could be going on for you this christmastime.
When painful experiences or memories cloud our holidays, we must strive against being overwhelmed by them.  The holidays are a time of celebration, and we can do that if we honor the “reason for the season” and stay in touch with the meaningful memories and rituals that define the holidays for us individually.  This time becomes, then,  a rich and full experience of many emotions.  Focus on the possibilities for a robust (like Folgers) experience.  Reconnect with the holidays through the eyes of children.  Enjoy some meaningful family rituals without getting caught up in doing them perfectly.
If you are able to fully enjoy the blessings of the season, it is because you have allowed yourself to embrace the full and deep sweep of emotions and memories associated with this time of year.  Honor them all as part of your story, but choose to focus on that which brings the joy, peace, and merriment of the holiday celebration.  Remember those less fortunate, and take the joy and merriment to them as well.   I hope you can enjoy good times and good food with people you can love this Christmastime.  Happy Holidays.

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