It’s the holidays. A time of joy and excitement for many. Families come together. Festivities abound. Prosperous people share gifts to celebrate their abundance. Laughter, light, and good times are had by all involved.
Yet, this is not true for everyone. For many the holidays evoke a deep despair. Memories leap forward of families that are broken and in disrepair. Feelings of failure and shame surface over not having provided for those you love. For some even the basics of food, clothing, and shelter are painfully out of reach. Worst of all a toxic loneliness may fill every pore of your being creating a horrible sensation of lacking love. It is as if the simplest gestures of human kindness, a hug, a smile, a bit of holiday cheer, don’t even exist for you. All of this can make the holidays the very worst time of year. So, how does one survive? Especially when you live with stark realities that make this not a very pleasant time at all? You could ignore it. Or, wish it away. You might even try thinking positive. And, of course there is also that wonderful technique of listing and expressing gratitude for what you do have in your life.
But, even I know, with all my psychological skill and training, these techniques quite bluntly don’t always work. They don’t put food in your mouth. They don’t reunite you with a loved one you are separated from. They don’t remedy the fact that you are lucky at best to have any present to give to someone you care deeply about. And, try as you might they may still not ease the loneliness, grief, shame, and despair lurking about inside and all around you. That is why I believe it is best to wipe away the popular conception of this holiday season and dive deeper into what the holidays are really all about.
For this is a season of darkness and light. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is the time of the Winter Solstice, when days are shortest and nights last longer. It is natural for all to seem dark and bleak. In many ways it literally is. Yet, during this time of night, where pain and loss are often factors, humanity has created festivals of light. Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah. All bring the light in one way or another. By touching into the true spirit of these three festivals, light and love can be reborn in your life.
Let’s begin with Christmas. Rarely do we see the story that inspired Christmas on the television and in the movies anymore this time of year. And, even if we do, we can feel oddly disconnected from it due to the heavy emphasis on Santa Clause and materialism. Yet, Christmas is all about a story of those who had nothing. Of those who if they chose could linger in justified despair. Mary, pregnant with child. Joseph her husband, concerned with the fact that he had no understanding of how he was to provide food, shelter, or even safety for his wife and child to be. Two homeless, pauper, beggars wondering about in the night seeking a way to go. What in the world did they have to celebrate? What would lift Joseph from his shame of not knowing how to provide for and protect well those he loved the most? What would lift Mary from her fear of being forced to give birth in who knows what dark corner of this universe?
Ironically, the child they birthed in a stable with animals as the main witnesses to the event, would not grow up to a life of great prosperity. Eventually, that child would experience a brutal torture and death. How in the world could such a story inspire so much and become the very foundation of this Christmas holiday season? The answer is simple, but let me first reflect on two other holidays celebrated this time of year as well.
Hanukkah. Eight candles on a Menorah symbolizing a very dark time for a people long aware of suffering and pain. Despite a legacy of turmoil they remained devout to their faith. Of special meaning was the Temple — the place that allowed these people, the Jews, to come together to worship their God, read their holy books, and find peace and solace together. Sadly, as is all too often the case in human history, oppressive and abusive tactics were used by those in power and of a different faith. The Jews were massacred, Judaism was outlawed, and a statue of the Greek God Zeus was erected inside the Temple itself. Only years later would the remaining Jews find a way to win back their temple. The lighting of the Menorah is a memory of that victory, symbolizing as well the right to worship the Divine in a way that inspires one the most.
And, Kwanzaa. A modern holiday also involving symbols of light. Rooted in the African-American civil rights movement, it honors the history of a people who (like the Jews and Christians) had experienced hundreds of years of oppression and brutality. Only in very recent times has this oppression and brutality begun to be recognized and in very marginal ways been lifted.
Though gift giving exists in all these three festivals, gifts do not reflect the real meaning, or Spirit, of this time of year. So, what in the world is this holiday season really all about? Unlike the modern day emphasis where gifts and good times are used to insulate people from the pain and suffering of many in the world, these holidays invite us down a different path. They ask us to become more, not less, aware of the suffering all around us. They ask us to remember that there are many who do not have families to turn to. Physical or emotional separation has cut them off from what was meant to be a vital source of love. Others struggle for food, clothing, and shelter. Though they try to cope well with this, it is much harder to do so in the midst of a season that wants to emphasize only plenty and prosperity. As I write this oppression and cruelty still exist all around the globe, and far too few of us are truly experiencing love, compassion, peace on Earth, or goodwill. Yet, out of darkness comes light. It is not simply the light of hope that we are seeking to ignite as we light Hanukkah and Kwanzaa candles, or reflect on events that happened on a starry, starry Christmas night so long ago. It is the light of love that we are here to birth.
So, here are gifts of love I encourage you give at this time of year. I believe these gifts go far beyond “toys for tots” and canned goods and turkeys for hungry families.
The Gift of Family. If you are blessed with a close and loving family, decide to add one person into your family circle this time of year and share with them the love you feel. As you include them give them the gift of healing that I describe below.
If you are estranged from your family, reach out! You are not alone. If you feel suicidal (suicides increase dramatically at this time of year) call a suicide hotline. Here are two: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433), 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). If you are depressed, get help. Seek out a doctor if you need medication and can afford it. If you cannot, reaching out to others is even more important. If you are woman, find a way to talk out your feelings with someone. Use the numbers above to share your crisis if you feel no one is there. If you are a man, sharing your problems can evoke feelings of shame. Attempt to go beyond this and focus on finding those who can give you an action plan to help turn your life around.
The Gift of Healing. If you are blessed with a good feeling this time of year, remember this is the holiday of goodwill. Will yourself to share those good feelings by offering support to those who are filled with shame and fear at this time of year. Men tend to feel shame more than fear, especially over not being able to provide for and protect their families, as they would have hoped to. Women tend to experience fear more than shame, especially the fear that they will be abandoned and left alone in their struggle to cope.
If you are struggling with dark and negative feelings, acknowledge them. They are legitimate. Don’t try to wish them away. They are there to teach you. If you feel shame, find someone safe to talk to who can give you insight and offer solutions to help you lift out of your current life situation. If you feel fear, do anything to avoid being alone. Go to a church, synagogue, or mosque. Stop hiding and let other people see and acknowledge you. Find those who will offer you compassion and share your struggle with them. Let them support you, even if it just comes only in the way of a smile and a hug.
The Gift of Prosperity. If you are presently experiencing prosperous conditions at this time in your life, look at your habits of consumption. Ask yourself, “Do I really need everything I acquire?” Consider if you are using whatever you have in a positive way, or simply wasting what you spend money on because you don’t sufficiently use or appreciate it. Next, open your heart. Try to be more conscious of the people who are out there experiencing financial lack. Avoid simply feeling grateful for your own abundance. Consider that as a recipient of that abundance you are here to serve others and help them acquire more of what they need as well.
If you are presently experiencing an adverse financial time, strategize and get support. There are more options for help out there than you know of. If need be tap into social service resources. Consider debt consolidation. Look for work in a field that will help you make more money. Evaluate whether you think you are worthy of prosperity and get rid of any beliefs that may cause you to feel you are not. If you are part of a lower economic group, become politically active. Assert your basic rights to food, clothing, and shelter. You deserve it. T
he Gift of Love. And, here it is. The greatest gift of all. The gift this holiday season is really all about. Love is best shown through compassion. Compassion is the willingness to acknowledge and embrace the pain of others without triggering into your own emotional reactions of guilt, shame, and fear. Compassion helps people heal. Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa all help us remember that ultimately we are here to heal the suffering of others. That is the spiritual message of this holiday season. More than any other time of year, this is the season for contribution, not consumption. Contribute your love through a hug, a smile, a look, or a of simple kindness. Best of all, show you care by opening your heart and feeling empathy for your own suffering, and the suffering of others. Then you will know at the deepest level, what we are intended to realize at this most holy time of year.
Thank you for reading this article. If you have found this inspiring, or know someone who would benefit from it, I invite you to pass it along. Dr. Lisa Lovewww.doctorlisalove.com