Christmas mornings are soft and special they are filled with tender wishes and warm embraces evoking the image of flame lit evenings in front of fireplaces with family as the harsh world blusters against the door Let us not forget that this magic in the air has been inside of us all year and that we may choose to indulge in these wondrous feelings whenever we wish to and offer our love and gratitude each and every day.
Soften you heart and breathe deeply now is the time to rest in the warm security of our bountiful harvest To surrender to the stark contrast of the snow beneath an inky black sky to snuggle close together with the ones we love in warm stillness, in sweet silence Winter is a time to slow down to reflect on and rejoice in all the year has given to us to gather our blessings and give of ourselves Allow your heart to open to fill and be filled as we give thanks and gather together to welcome another new year
The heart that gives, gathers.Lao Tzu
From the first memories of having my own money as a child, I remember being anxious about spending it on anything. I was even praised by my parents for always saving nearly the entire amount of Christmas and birthday money I would get. Especially because my sister was the exact opposite and would spend all of hers almost immediately. Even as a child there was a sense of safety knowing that I had this money tucked away.
That mindset of prudence and frugal spending has stayed with me into adulthood. Any time I spend more than $20, I get extremely nervous about it. You can imagine how hard the holiday season is for me. I do prefer to spend money on other people more than myself, but still I get anxious about this annual splurge every year. For some reason, this financial anxiety has been particularly pronounced this past week. However, when I hear my friends and coworkers talk about money, it makes me realize just how fortunate of a position I am in.
Even though I am still straddling the poverty line, I am doing much better than the majority of the people in my area. Part of that is due to the fact that other than a recent car loan, I have absolutely no debt. I don’t even own a credit card. My education was completely covered by a full academic scholarship, while my other college expenses were taken out of investments my uncle made for my sister and I when we were born. I even have some left over that I seldom think about. Since graduating I have had steady work, although always at an extremely low wage. I only had to pay for housing for a year or two before being given the option to move into my grandmother’s old house after she passed. Besides utilities, I really don’t have many fixed expenses, so I have been able to save a good bit. I have also always been extremely fortunate to not have any major medical expenses.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that, despite constant money worries, I am doing incredibly well for myself comparatively. Even my middle aged coworkers all seem to be living paycheck to paycheck. I’ll hear them joke about only have $50 left until payday, hoping they’ll have enough money to fill up their car, or having to pay overdraft fees at their bank when their account was empty. Not once have I ever had to worry about these things. Not only that, I haven’t had to pay much attention when it comes to finances. I’ve always had the privilege of spending far less than I’m bringing in. I have my bills set to autopay and never have to worry that they will overdraw my account. I’ve never had to check my balance before making a purchase. Whenever I say I “can’t afford to do or buy something” it’s usually just that I can’t justify spending the money on whatever it is, not that I literally don’t have enough money. I hadn’t realized that wasn’t the case when other people say that.
With all of this in mind, I am trying to hold onto the energy of abundance that has always been a part of my life. I want to treat the holidays as an opportunity to celebrate that abundance and good fortune. I want to share this gift of abundance with everyone else in my life, especially those that are struggling. I truly believe the way to hold on to it is to spread it around. Happiness and generosity are far more important to me than some abstract number in a checking account. Besides, what’s the point of having a thousand dollars more if it brings me no sense of peace or security anyway?
Instead of continuing to anxiously look over my shoulder at all the big purchases I’ve made, I want those purchases to be a symbol of my many blessings. What a joy it is to be able to give to those I love! What a beautiful way to thank the universe for all that I have been given! The smiles and tender moments I will share with my friends and family are worth far more than what I’ve spent. I may not be able to afford a new house, grad school, or expensive furniture, jewelry, etc., but I can afford all of the things I need, most of the things I want, and the ability to be extremely generous towards the people that make my life worth living. And that’s more than I could have asked for. The more you give, the more you receive, undoubtedly.
I just returned home from yet another bout of Christmas shopping after my yoga class. It seems like I do this every year, but never learn my lesson. I start my Christmas shopping early to make sure that I don’t have to rush around at the last minute. I make a list, I get all the items on said list, but then, I continue to buy things randomly for the rest of the weeks leading up to Christmas. It has become something like a compulsion. I can’t stop myself. I am in a continuous state of oscillation between feeling like I didn’t get everyone enough stuff and feeling like I got them too much stuff.
For the majority of the year, I am the cheapest person you’ll ever meet. I very rarely buy any one item that’s more than $10. I spend the vast majority of my money on groceries every week. I don’t go out to restaurants or movies or shows. I don’t buy myself clothes or jewelry. Hell I even procrastinate going to the dentist because I don’t want to pay my new copay. I pretty much solely shop in the clearance section of any store. I honestly can’t remember the time I bought something for myself at full price. Yet when Christmas comes around I become blind to the amount of money I am spending.
The money thing is more just something I find intriguing. I’m not worried about the money. I have plenty to spend and I much prefer spending money on other people than myself. The bigger problem is my fear of what other people will think about how much I’ve spent on them. You see, I like to at least get something little for everyone in my life. I want to get my two closest friends at work gifts even though I didn’t pick either of them for our secret Santa, I want to get my boyfriend’s parents something, I want to get my friend’s husband something, my sister’s boyfriend and his daughter something, etc. I never think much of doing so, until I realize that they may feel bad for not getting me anything, or feel like they are expected to get me a gift the following year.
It seems like no matter which way I go, more gifts or less, I feel like I am going to make people uncomfortable. I think my anxiety/autism has a lot to do with my difficulties during the holidays. I’m an extremely affectionate person. Yet I honestly doubt most people in my life know that about me. Normally, I am too self-conscious or afraid of being vulnerable to express it. Christmas is the one time of year that I have a socially acceptable way to show the people in my life how much they mean to me. I spend a lot of time and thought on the gifts I get, trying to make sure it’s something the person will like and actually use. I write vomit inducing, heartfelt Christmas cards. I get much more excited to give to others on Christmas than to receive anything myself. Honestly, I don’t care about the latter part at all.
However, being the socially awkward person that I am, I have no way to gauge what is enough and what is too much. I don’t know how to find the balance between expressing my love and going so over the top that the other person feels guilty. I just hope that the people in my life understand that it is truly a joy for me to have an opportunity to give them tokens of my affection. It doesn’t matter to me if they didn’t get me as many things or spend as much money or even get me anything at all. In my mind these gifts have already been reciprocated in kind by their presence in my life the rest of the year.
I still remember giddily awaiting Christmas morning. Hardly being able to fall asleep. My eyes popping open at 4 in the morning, because that is technically Christmas. My sister and I would go wake my parents up at that ungodly hour. And to their credit, they were always good sports about it. They never got mad at us. Usually they’d actually drag themselves out of bed and let us start opening our presents even though the sun had yet to come up. I can’t say I would have reacted the same.
The strangest part is thinking that all that excitement was to receive gifts. Now that I’m older, I still have a sense of excitement for Christmas day, but the thought of what I’ll return home with is the last thing on my mind. I had heard as a child that it was a greater joy to give gifts to your loved ones than to be gifted things in return. But I had always thought that was just a thing adults said so we didn’t feel bad. I had no idea how true I would one day find that sentiment. Now being excited only to be given gifts is the side of the equation that seems absurd.
As I am about to give the gifts that I spent months gathering, making, and wrapping gingerly, I can’t help but be full of gratitude and love. Christmas is a wonderful reminder that even though it may seem counterintuitive, generosity leads to abundance. We spend so much of our lives saving and hoarding, being fearful that we will not have enough. Paradoxically, this draws that sense of “lacking” into our lives rather than keeping it at bay.
When we give and share what we have with others, the universe brings that same energy of abundance back to us. Christmas is a perfect example of that principle. We spend a lot of time and money before the holidays making sure we have just the right gifts for those we love. But are we not repaid for our money and effort tenfold by the joy we receive upon watching their happy faces light up? By their hugs and kisses? By the chance to share delicious hot food as we gather together in the cold?
The winter months seem like a time to hunker down, spend frugally, stay in, save up to survive. But what a beautiful holiday we have implanted right in the middle! A holiday that encourages us to go out, to spend time with our loved ones, to gorge ourselves on fancy foods, to give elaborate gifts. A reminder that we are all one. A reminder that because of this, our generosity will always find it’s way back around to us in some form or another. So we don’t need to be afraid. Give freely. Help others. Even when you may feel like you don’t have anything to spare. It’s always worth it.
I keep focusing on the wrong things. Then the wrong things become everything.The Front Bottoms
Last night I had a little, friend Christmas with my sister, our best friend, and their partners. It was a wonderful time. We had some drinks. We got super high. We exchanged gifts. We played games. And we shared delicious food along with each others’ company. Truly a night to be grateful for.
However, as I was driving home, I was angry. You see, I had a fancy mini bottle of Grey Goose Vodka that I was gifted at work. I had a few shots of it myself, and did bring it with the intention to share. However, my sister’s boyfriend was the only one who drank any of it besides the little I had. I have only met him once before this. He never asked before helping himself time and time again. And at the end of the night I made my way home with a practically empty bottle.
My head was swimming with accusations and indignation. The nerve! I don’t very much like this character any more! How rude can you be! I was fuming. But then I stopped in my tracks. Why on earth was I choosing to focus on that one small aspect of my night? It dawned on me that I always seem to do this. If even one little thing goes wrong, I fixate on just that. I ignore all the delightful parts of any situation in favor of a tiny imperfect detail. I am being ungrateful. I am taking the good stuff for granted.
I was so relieved when I remembered that I can choose where I want to place my focus. Yes, the vodka thing did happen, and it kinda sucked. But that was by no means the most important or significant thing that happened yesterday! I got to spend a Christmas-y evening with some of my favorite people in the world. I was given thoughtful, wonderful gifts. I was given good food, drinks, and drugs. I had a great time. I laughed and smiled more than I have in a long time. I got to watch the joy on my loved ones faces as they unwrapped their gifts that I put so much thought, effort, and love into.
What a difference attention can make. It can turn a wonderful night into something to be angry about. It can turn a banal day into an extremely stressful one. But it can also turn a tragedy into something to be grateful for. We can’t control what happens to us, but we always have the power to choose where we place our attention. And that is such an incredibly powerful thing.
This morning I woke up to the most wonderful gift I will receive this Christmas, the news that my coworker got her Covid test results back. She was negative. I am so relieved. I couldn’t be more grateful to know that I will be able to have Christmas with my family again this year. I was expecting to spend the holiday alone for the first time. I’m glad I held out hope and still wrapped all my gifts and prepared just in case. Sometimes we all need a reminder not to take these small moments together for granted. I know I am going to have an extra special Christmas this year now. Each second I spend with my family will be saturated with gratitude. I am so ready so soak it all in.
My grandmother was the main reason I was going to stay away if I had been exposed. I would never put her at risk. Yet, at the same time, I was also extra upset about having to stay away this year because of her. She is about to be 90 years old. Although she is shockingly healthy, I don’t know how many more holidays we will have together. I really didn’t want to miss a single one, even if it was to protect her. I am so glad that now I don’t have to. However, it still breaks me heart that I won’t be able to hug her and hold her tight when I see her this Friday.
My grandma understands that we are keeping our distance more than usual because we don’t want her to get sick, but I think it still hurts her. I’m sure it is hard for all elderly people these days. Loved ones want to keep away so they can live longer, but then we also run the risk of missing their final days, months, years on this earth anyway. I don’t know what I would do if my grandmother died even a natural death in these dark times. I might not be able to bear the knowledge that I wasn’t able to hug her, kiss her, hold her hand in her last days. God forbid she be hospitalized. Forced to spend her final moments making the decision of which single family member she would like to have by her bedside.
I don’t like to think about my grandmother passing away. But that grim reality gets closer every year, and eventually I will have to face it. This year has made that harsh realization clearer than ever. But sometimes fear, impermanence, uncertainty, make moments spent in happiness together all the more poignant. I am not going to take this Friday for granted. In the place of hugs, I am going to pour my heart out in warm words. I am going to write my love into each card I give. I am going to vibrate with an energy so strong, so grateful, so loving that it will touch everyone around me even if I can’t touch them myself.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas. I know I will.
Well it finally happened. I may have been exposed to Covid yesterday. I’ll probably have to go get tested. I may even have to miss Christmas with my family. I’m trying my best not to spiral into indignation and depression. I can feel my body tensing with the desperate desire to somehow undo what has already been done. Waking up with a mild headache this morning certainly isn’t helping. But this is an excellent opportunity for me to practice surrender. To practice breathing into the moment, into the reality that lies before me, a reality that I cannot change or avoid.
It is much more painful to recoil from unpleasant news when it’s presented to you, than to accept it. When a tree falls in the river, the river does not harden and smash against it. The river keeps flowing. It must graciously alter it’s course, flowing around the obstruction in its path. Today I will practice being like the river. I will keep flowing. The important thing is making sure my family is safe. It is a blessing that I live alone, so that if I have been exposed I can prevent infecting anyone else.
I have plenty of food and water. I have my sweet fur children here with me. I have endless ways to entertain myself. I even have a lovely bottle of Grey Goose now that I was gifted yesterday. I have so many things that I can be grateful for, even if I have to miss family Christmas this year. Even if I get really sick. I will surrender to what is. I will keep flowing around the fallen tree in my path.
If I must remain on my own this year, I will plan a wonderful self-love Christmas for myself and my babies instead. Thanks to technology I can even have a Zoom Christmas with my family for a little part of the day. Everything is going to be okay. I am strong. I am resilient. I will do whatever needs to be done. I will stay grateful. I will keep flowing.
Even though I am a summer person and generally prefer warm weather and sunshine, there has always been a special place in my heart for the Christmas season. I haven’t been religious since I was in middle school, but I’ve never lost my love for Christmas. It seems like it has lost most of its religious significance in modern times anyway. It is a heck of a lot more focused on consumerism and commercialism. However, for me, it’s always been about coziness, togetherness, and family. There is just something so inexplicably satisfying about being warm and safe and close to the ones you love when it’s so cold and grey and inhospitable outside.
Whereas spring and summer are full of activity and exuberance, the fall and winter months are more suited to the quiet stillness of going within. They are a time to rest and be mindful. A time to pause and reflect on all that we are grateful for. It is a time to hold your loved ones close and give thanks that we have all made it through another long year together.
My family isn’t really very affectionate. We don’t give tons of hugs and kisses. We don’t have many heartfelt conversations. I’ve always been envious of other families in that regard. I am an affectionate person, but I feel my ability to express that has been underdeveloped after living amongst such closed off people my whole life. For me, Christmas is an excuse to really lay my love on thick without feeling awkward about it. It feels like grand emotional displays are more acceptable during this time of the year. It gives me the courage to let myself be truly vulnerable. This holiday makes my heart feel so open.
I have a friend that always writes a lot in every card she gives you. They are always beautifully worded outpourings of genuine love. For years now I’ve made a tradition of this for myself. Every gift I give for Christmas has a least two parts: the physical gift, as well as a poetic verbal summation of my profound love and appreciation. My family has come to expect these tear-jerking messages each year. I always joke about the way people cry whenever they receive a gift from me. I’ve learned that no matter how wonderful your gift is, nothing can compare to putting your love for someone into words.
Even if you think the person already knows how you really feel, don’t hesitate to tell them whenever you find a chance. Kind words can mean so much. I save every heartfelt card I’ve received from my friend over the years. I read them over whenever I stumble across one, and they never fail to cheer me up and calm me down. I treasure them more than any physical gift I’ve received from her.
Writing a personal card for someone can also be a great alternative to buying a gift. Especially with the financial insecurity this year has brought, it’s comforting to know that you always have something you can give: your love. You may be surprised to find this warm gesture is even more significant than an expensive gift would have been.
I hope that you can also use this season to open your heart and share that deep well of love with the people around you. It is a beautiful thing to witness yourself learn to shift your focus from receiving gifts as a child, to giving them as an adult. It’s hard to decide which phase is better. The excitement of waking up to presents under the tree as a child was amazing, but I think I may prefer the soft, deep, reverberating warmth of being able to give to those you love even more.
In memory of the 56 billion each year, 153.4 million each day, 6.4 million each hour, 106,546 each minute.Carol Adams
When I started this blog, I intended to focus on veganism. I wanted to make a change in the world and help vegans in small areas of the country like me be successful. As you can see from the majority of my posts, I’ve all but abandoned that goal. I quickly grew weary of fighting what seems like a hopeless battle.
Yet I still have a small ember of that fire in my heart. I feel guilty about giving up on the billions of farmed animals that are alive and suffering at this very moment. I know that I should be fighting every day, every moment, with every breath I have. Even if it is hopeless. Even if I burn myself up in the process. Even if I lose my voice from screaming. Because who else will help them? What right do I have to live happily, to turn my head away, when they are still suffering?
When the holidays come around each year it gets more difficult to avoid these painful truths. There is a seemingly never ending stream of curious questions about what I’ll eat for Thanksgiving. Looks of mild disgust when I happily explain how yummy my tofurky always is. Looks of pity when they think about my holidays as a vegan.
I try to be a good example, give a good sales pitch. I try not to get annoyed when I have to answer the same questions for the 9th year in a row. That deep well of rage still simmers in my soul. Bitter outrage at the insanity, the inhumanity of it all. But after all these years a heavy sadness overwhelms that anger. A cold damp rain in my heart, threatening to extinguish that ember. A sadness about the ways things are, my inability to change this fucked up world, about all the lovely, innocent babies crying out somewhere in the dark.
There are very few things that can bring me to tears. Imagining the grand scale, the sheer magnitude of unimaginable suffering the human race inflicts upon these gentle beings is one of them. I spent my meditation today silently weeping for them. Saying I’m sorry, desperately wishing them some sense of peace, an end to their pain.
Maybe if I could shed these tears at the dinner table on December 25th I could finally get through to my family. Maybe I could show them the anguish I feel. The anguish they contribute to, are complacent with. The sickening absurdity of praying for peace on earth before carving up a corpse.
I know even that would not move them though. They would just think that I’m insane. Or trying to get attention. Because that’s how all vegans are seen. We are dramatic, attention seekers. We are arrogant, know-it-alls. We are despised and mocked. No one wants to confront their own hypocrisy, their own atrocities. And I can’t really blame them. It isn’t easy to live with this immense weight. This horrible knowing.
And so I prepare to share my table with death, with violence, with cruelty, with ignorance this holiday season, as I do every year. And I will swallow that pain with my red wine. I will pretend it’s all okay. I will close my heart to the bodies of my brethren laid before me with shame. Because I simply cannot bear to feel what I truly feel. I cannot bear to scream and fight anymore. And I am so ashamed. I am so sorry that I am not strong enough to save them.