Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Mindful Holiday Celebration

As an American, I am preparing for Thanksgiving.  On the surface, this is a holiday that seems quite simple:  we make a big meal, eat it with friends and family and honor the things we are grateful for.  But there are a lot of factors that complicate this holiday.

Firstly, it has some skeletons in the closet.  If you grew up in America, you were told the story every year about how the Indians and the Pilgrims sat down together for a big feast.  You were shown pictures of happy people, each culture on it's side of the table, which was laden with food.  I even remember being told that the Pilgrims were getting hungry, as it was nearing winter and they hadn't been able to get enough food, so the Native Americans saw they were in need and invited them to their feast.

With a little bit of digging, this story pretty much falls apart.  There are many different stories for where the roots of Thanksgiving originate, from an all out slaughter of native peoples, to a reformation of church holidays, to a harvest festival.  While Thanksgiving may only be commonly celebrated in a few countries, harvest festivals and celebrations of Thankfulness are much more common.

So, how do we go forward, celebrating a holiday with such a beautiful sentiment, when it is built on a lie (and potentially flat out slaughter)?  I think it is important to be aware of where our past lies, and to acknowledge the things that have happened in the past, but I also think that we shouldn't be shackled by the things our ancestors have done.  I feel we can take the spirit of a holiday and move forward with it.  For me, Thanksgiving is about being aware of the bounty in my life and being appreciative of all of the blessings I have.

Thanksgiving is a fairly traditional 'family' holiday.  While there are definitely other holidays that bring families together, Thanksgiving is pretty family-centric.  This can be problematic for many people who don't get along with or are estranged from their family.  In fact, this has led to a counter-holiday known as Friendsgiving.  Let me just say right here....I hate the name Friendsgiving!  I am a firm believe that family is who you make it....and friends can be family.  Thanksgiving might have originated as a family dinner, but most families also used to eat family dinner every night.  Thanksgiving was a bigger dinner, with more extended relatives invited, but it was also expected that people would more or less be civilized.  I don't think some families remember that, and family gatherings can be a time to bring up every slight or argument that has ever happened.

This is very much not in the spirit of Thanksgiving!  I really dislike the idea of compelled family events.  They say that you have to love your family...but you really don't.  If your family is horrible, abusive, distant or otherwise not a positive influence in your life, you are not obligated to them in any way....dinner or otherwise!  With all the focus on self-care lately, I think it's funny that many people don't make the connection that sometimes it is absolutely the best thing to do to not subject yourself to a toxic family environment.

Of course, it's not always as clear cut and simple as that.  Sometimes, we may love part of our family, but we have those one or two people who go out of their way to give us grief.  We may need to talk to the other people in our family, and make sure they are aware of the situation.  We may have to set firm boundaries:  either everyone is civil and polite, or I can't come.  If it is more than just words, if someone has caused you harm (physical, mental, emotional), you may need to make it clear that if they are attending, you won't be able to come.

I also think that more and more people don't live near their family.  We may not be able to spend holidays with our family, and yet we yearn for that closeness and community.  By all means, celebrate with your friends (just please, do we need to have silly words for it?).  When I was a teen, I had a lot of friends in the military.  None of them were near their families, and for many it would be the first year they weren't home for the holidays.  Some got to go home on leave, but some didn't.  I remember I was always allowed to invite one or two home with me for holiday dinners.  My mom didn't want people to have no where to go.

With Thanksgiving, more than any other holiday, commercialism has been trying to interfere in our holiday celebrations.  Sure, Christmas may be a bigger consumer holiday, because everyone is driven to buy more and for more people, but Thanksgiving is the one where the actual main part of the holiday (the big dinner on Thursday) is being ruined by sales and stores that are offering crazy deals and prices to lure you away from your family, away from your holiday and out into the stores.

I detest Black Friday now.  And I am a huge bargain shopper.  I love shopping, whether or not I have money.  I just like wandering around stores looking at stuff!  When I find things on sale, that is exciting to me.  The idea of Black Friday sales, even if you have to stay up to get the best deals at 12:01, has a certain appeal.  I have done it, several years back, and it definitely gave me that thrill of the hunt feeling.

What I abhor (big hateful words....this really upsets me) is that the sales are creeping further and further.  I saw advertisements for 'Black Friday' sales that started on Monday.  It makes me want to scream out loud!  It's called Black FRIDAY...that means it should be on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  And as much as the whole-week sales make me twitch, it's the ones that happen in the afternoon/evening of Thanksgiving day that really piss me off.

For most holidays, the stores are closed during the actual holiday.  Some select 'basic necessity' stores and of course things like emergency services are open during holidays, but almost everything else is closed out of respect for the workers and their desire to be home with their own families and enjoying the holiday.

Then there is Thanksgiving.  More and more stores are open all day Thanksgiving.  Not only does that mean that all the workers can't be celebrating the holiday, but it also means they expect everyone else to come and shop during the holiday as well.  It creates this sense of priority, as if shopping and saving money is more important than spending time with your loved ones.  And what makes it even worse, is the holiday effected is Thanksgiving...the one where we are literally giving thanks for our bounty.

In a perfect world, people would protest this incursion on our holiday, and they would stay home, and actually focus on what is important.  I understand that sometimes the sales mean the difference between getting that gift that you really want to give someone or not being able to afford it.  Trust me, I absolutely get trying to get the most out of your money.

But, I think this Black Friday thing is representative of a much bigger problem in our society.  We have shifted our focus from caring for each other and building meaningful relationships to buying other peoples affection.  We put so much importance on social status:  who has the most likes, who's gift costs the most, who gave the most presents...that we forget that it's not about all of that.  Why do we give gifts?  It's not because people need things.  Of course, we all need things, but most presents are things we want.  We give gifts because we want to show the people in our lives that they are important to us.

And we have become too busy to slow down and see that spending time with someone is a precious gift.  It is the most precious gift we can give!  We have a finite amount of time, and being able to stop, to really focus on connecting with another person, that is amazing! 

I am not opposed to gifts.  I love to give and receive gifts!  I'm not opposed to buying gifts!  I enjoy making things, but I also know not everyone does.  A truly thoughtful gift, whether bought or made, isn't a great gift because it was expensive, but because it represents how you feel.  It is a physical manifestation of what you feel for another person, that you are gifting them with, so they can know how much you mean to them. 

This is why I think it is so important to be mindful about our holidays!  When we take a step back from the bustle, the rush to get all the foods read, the desire to buy all the gifts at the lowest price, the need to please our family even when it makes us miserable, we find the holidays can be truly magical.

I love holidays.  They are a step out of everyday normal life.  We don't always do huge things, but we do things that are uniquely US!  We aren't doing turkey, but we have a nice dinner planned.  We will probably watch a movie.  It will be a simple thing, but it will be what make us happy, what brings us together as a family.

So I encourage you to take a pause this holiday season.  Stop for just a moment, take a big breath, and think about what is really important to you.  What would make your holidays absolutely perfect?  Look beneath the presents under the tree and think about what memories you want to create.  Consider all the things you do in preparation of the holidays.  Are there things that you don't even enjoy, that you could let go of to make your holidays better?  Think about little ways you can make the season better for all the people you care about, and all the people you encounter.  If we all focused on what was truly important...think about how wonderful this time of year could be!

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