So… it’s starting. Can you feel it? The ramping up that inevitably begins before the Thanksgiving dishes are even put away? I walked into Target yesterday and got punched in the face by Christmas. It did what it was supposed to do. My brain went on auto-pilot: what do I need to do, what do I need to buy? I could feel that familiar Yuletide anxiety start to creep in. Only a few weeks left!!!!!!
Now, I love Christmas. All of it—religious and secular alike. The twinkle lights, the decorations, the carols, the movies, Santa, snow—I’m a sucker for all of it. I’m pretty much Buddy the Elf.
What I don’t love, what I reject more every year, is the stress. The hurry, hurry, hurry, consume, consume, consume. The shoulds. The musts. The striving. The noise. And I don’t mean the noise of children playing or Christmas music—I mean the noise in our heads. All the rush here, race there, do the things, bake the cookies, eat, drink, spend, wrap. PROVE. EARN.
We careen through a season built for stillness and reverence.
We have a tendency to judge those people who manage eschew the madness. I mean, most good holiday movies have a character like that, right? We tend to chalk it up to being a grouch, or miserly, or having lost the meaning of Christmas.
I don’t know… I’ve always had a soft spot for His Grinchiness. I do love a curmudgeon. I think in many ways, the Green One was onto something. Listen closely to what he says- he’s not ranting about Christmas at all. He expresses dismay over “packages, boxes, and bags” and extravagant feasts. He rails against the “noise, noise, noise, noise.” None of that is Christmas. All of that is hustle.
‘Tis the season, all right. The season of HUSTLE.
These few months are when I hear more, “I have to” and “I need to” about things that are completely voluntary than any other time of year. This time of year, when we could be focused on faith and family, miracles and peace, we engage in the Hardship Olympics like it’s our job. Like it’s our calling. Like it’s the point.
I really began thinking about this a few weeks ago, in the lead up to Thanksgiving. This season is a particularly challenging time for survivors of childhood trauma. So much of our abuse happens within the family, and holidays often mean going home to the scene of the crime. Literally.
I did a podcast recently for Spiritual Charlotte and we talked about these very things.
We generally see an uptick in members of our community needing resources, feeling a lot of anxiety. To that end, I’ve been having many conversations about choice and agency and what is mandatory versus what is optional about the holidays.
Be ready, because I am about to blow your minds:
It is ALL optional. EVERY SINGLE BIT OF IT.
Every single event? Optional. Every gift? Voluntary. Every tradition? Discretionary. The percentage of ways you celebrate over which you have total agency? 100 percent.
All of that overeating, drinking too much, spending money you don’t have? Those are all classic hustle symptoms—and hustle is all about not believing you are enough. Hustle is the antithesis of stillness. It’s what we do when we don’t want to feel- and if we don’t allow ourselves to feel during this of all seasons, what are we even doing?
The holidays are not happening to you. You are not a victim of Christmas. New Year’s Eve is not a plot to undermine your sanity. Your holidays can be calm and bright, or they can be the fifth circle of hell. It truly is almost entirely up to you. The manic hamster wheel of consumption, busyness, and perfectionism is not mandatory.
Yes, if you start saying “no” people might not dig it. Actually, they are almost certain not to dig it. When you start setting boundaries and insisting on what you need for your own well being, people will be annoyed, frustrated, disappointed and perhaps even angry. Here’s the thing, though—
Annoyance, frustration, disappointment and anger are not terminal—that’s the big secret. They are all survivable conditions.
Now, obviously no one wants to upset or disappoint people they care about, but if nothing changes, nothing changes.
What I’m guessing, though, is that you’ll find the person putting the most pressure on you this holiday season is YOU- and that is GREAT NEWS, because you are, in fact, the only person whose behavior you control.
I just watched the new Gilmore Girls episodes on Netflix. There was a scene in which the divine Emily Gilmore is purging her house of belongings. She cites a book she’s been reading; Marie Konde’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. in which readers are encouraged to go through their belongings, hold each one in their hands and ask themselves,
“Does this bring me joy?”
If not, out it goes.
What if we did that with the holidays? What if we examined each tradition, each event, each “should,” and truly considered whether it brought us joy? What if we really questioned whether it deepened our faith, strengthened our connections, filled us up?
“I have to bake seven dozen cookies for Mikey’s class party.” Do you, though? Bet you don’t. Newsflash, Mikey would rather have a mom who bought cookies and is in full possession of her faculties and not a lunatic at his class party. Trust.
Now, if baking 42 billion cookies makes you happy, do it. If it doesn’t, don’t. If attending a bunch of parties fills you up in some way, fantastic. If you’d rather stay home in a Snuggie and watch Love Actually, do that. If the bustle energizes you, wonderful. If you need stillness and quiet to truly appreciate the season of light, then BE QUIET.
And I know some of you will say, “It’s not that simple.” It actually is. It is actually exactly that simple.
Your joy doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s.
And if while you are doing this holiday inventory, you find that some of the things you have always done are depleting you, making you angry and frustrated— if you’re more Joan of Arc than Buddy the Elf about them? You can bid those “musts” and “should” farewell, send them on their way, and say, “Don’t let the wreath-clad door hit you in the ass on the way out!”
You’re going to have the holiday you choose, one way or another. You can keep hustling. That’s an option. Or you can slow down. You can say no to hustle in order to say yes to joy. You can move through this season with intention and wonder. You can come out of the season filled up rather than running on empty.
You really can.