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Keeping Conscious Through the Holidays

The holidays have always been a fluid, dynamic force in my life. One year to the next was never consistent. When I could argue nothing in my life was changing, the holidays would always swing in to prove me wrong. This time of the year has a certain weight to it. Regardless of belief or religion, there is something about this last week of December that carries with it a sort of boiling down, a reduction of the self. It burns off the excess and gets to the core of who you really are.

There were the first years of newly divorced parents in my childhood as we split Christmas Eve and Christmas Day between my devout Catholic father’s side of the family and my semi-devout atheist mother’s side of the family. At least one person would end those nights in tears. In the following years we lost a grandmother. I lost my religion. The other grandkids and I left for college. The holiday break became a time of frantic hoping that I would pass that chemistry class or find that summer job. Another grandparent left us. And then another grandfather battled chemo right through the gingerbread and Christmas lights only to pass away in the spring. I left Pennsylvania and moved across the country to Colorado. My mom moved to a new house. My aunt and uncle moved across the state. Last Christmas we celebrated and mourned the final year in my grandmother’s house that had been a staple in my family for decades. 

This year, we will celebrate the holidays split between my mother’s house and my grandmother’s new house near Pittsburgh just before a handful of us fly off to Florida to enjoy some much-needed warmth. It will be the biggest change to our holiday routine yet.

As such a sentimental person, my mother is always surprised how little I cling to things like traditions or familiar places. When she moved out of our childhood home, I barely registered it while my brother lingered with conflicting emotions for almost a year. For me, when the routine changes, I look for the people who made those routines so endearing. Not the food or the places or the traditions that surrounded them. In moments of drastic change for the people around, I didn’t want to be resistive.

I recently heard a talk about finding the path of least resistance as you move through life. About how not to be reactive to stressful or uncomfortable situations––that you find the least resistance when choose to react with joy rather than other emotions. 

When it comes to the holidays and especially when it comes to family, I think it is important to find the path of least resistance and spend some time there. Of course that means something different for everyone. For me it means being open to spending the holidays in a different way every year. It means setting down my activist tendencies for a week to just enjoy the people in my life that love me. It means forgiving any family members who have hurt me and spending time trying to learn from them rather than teach them. During the holidays, I try not to react to my anxious need for control. 

For others, the path of least resistance might be not seeing family––it might be choosing not to visit in-laws, or old friends and old habits. There might be trauma or sadness or anger that simply should not be opened at this time.

As you wrap up the week and delve into the end of this heavy month, take time to find your own path of least resistance. While your holiday plans may already be final, the way you react to them is not. 

“…if the doors of my heart ever close, I am as good as dead.” – Mary Oliver, Landscape