Part 1 – By Jessica Easton, M.A., Ph.D.

No sooner had I finished carving the pumpkin and looting the trick or treat bag, then the shopping malls, radio and television stations began to remind me that “there are only 50 more shopping days until Christmas”. As I stand in line at a local coffee shop, I hear the common grumble about how commercial Christmas has become. If find myself asking, “Whose Christmas is this anyway”, and “really, is this the Christmas I want?” It seems like even before I have a chance to decide how I want my Christmas to be I am being told what to buy, what to do, and what little time I have left to do it.

What is the true spirit of this holiday season for you? If you could be the architect of how you and your family constructed the holidays, what would be important? For many of us it would be about honouring family and friends and opportunity to connect, to share a meal, to share a gift from the heart, to create a time of intimacy with those we love. For others it can also be a time of the year when we stop the frantic pace of our lives and acknowledge our spirituality through our religious communities or in our own private rituals.

Holidays can also be difficult. It can be a particularly painful time of year, when we watch others around us surrounded by family and loved ones and feel the profound sense of loss of a partner, friend, colleague or child. Maybe, it is a time of year when we are far away from our country or communities and find that the holiday season creates a more poignant sense of loneliness. Whatever our circumstances, it is a season where memories both pleasant and painful can be stirred up inside us.

Be the architect of the season. I believe that the holiday season provides us with the opportunity to reflect on what is important to us and to choose ways to express these values to ourselves, our families and friends, and our community. We may do this by continuing or rekindling the traditions and rituals that we value from our families or our religious communities. I was raised by a Jewish father and a Catholic mother so Christmas and Hanukkah were a part of this season for me. However, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I acknowledged both religious traditions by serving matzo ball soup and fish on Christmas Ever. It allowed me the opportunity to talk to my children and friends about what the meal represented to me and to tell stories of the richness of my religious heritage. It created a time of intimacy for me with my family and had nothing to do with what we had placed under the tree.

So, think about what is important for you during this time of year. Consider ways that you may be able to reflect personal values through traditions or rituals. Make sure the next time you hear Bing Crosby singing, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere I go” that the Christmas you see around you is one of your own design.

Everybody wishes for a joyous Christmas holiday, but who actually achieves one? Previously, I promoted you becoming the architect of your own holiday season by encouraging you to create one not dominated by unpleasant conditions, commercial pressures, or unrealistic expectations. Here are five suggestions that you may find helpful in making this holiday seasons one of your best!

. The holidays are filled with unrealistic expectations for intimacy, closeness, relaxations, and joy. Although these are wonderful ideas, it may place an unrealistic pressure upon you to create this atmosphere for all of your family, friends, and acquaintances. Look carefully at the time you have available and evaluate who are the important people you want to see during this holiday and which events bring you the intimacy and closeness that this season promises to offer.

, have a hot cup of tea, and then make a more realistic decision about your holiday plans remembering it is your holiday too. Reevaluate your family traditions. Think about last year’s Christmas. What did you like? What was optional misery? A client of mine hated Christmas Day primarily because she spend it with her grumpy parents and siblings. When I asked her why she spent the day with grumpy family members she said, “It’s tradition and it’s expected!”. Upon reflection, she decided to celebrate Christmas Day with her husband and children and invite willing extended family members to her home on Boxing Day. What a success! Though her family was not comfortable with the idea in the first year, this Boxing Day event has become a cherished family tradition.

 If the season accentuates memories of a loss, include rituals that recognize this loss and symbolize your memories a special candle for a deceased loved one, a toast to a departed homeland, a tree ornament for absent family members or a Christmas scrap book full of pictures, cards, and letters of Christmas past to share with those you love.

 A wonderful way to enhance the spirit of caring is to give of yourself in a personal way. Last year a Christmas dinner guest was unable to join us until after his shift with BC Ferries. Realizing that a number of his colleagues were in the same situation, we presented ourselves at the Gulf Island Ferry Terminal singing carols to each arriving ferry on Christmas night. Their gratitude was symbolized by the Queen of Cumberland illuminating our musical antics with a brilliant searchlight and the Ferry horn wishing us well!

 You may find yourself on autopilot taking on too many activities and feeling exhausted. Ask for help. Set limits. Stop for eggnog. Go for a walk. Allow yourself not to do something. Engage in any activity that honours you and your spirit. The Christmas Holidays are a time in the darkness of winter to rekindle the spirit in ourselves and others so we can light our way into a new year. It can be a time of reflection, appreciation, and quiet reverie as well as a time of celebration, laughter and merriment. May this Christmas be one that you can call your own.