“Surreal” is the word that keeps coming to mind. Life has felt like an alternative universe for quite a while now, and it feels even stranger during the holiday season.
After a year of much sacrifice, reality is requiring us to forgo traditions we hold dear and distance ourselves from people we may feel we’ve already gone too long without seeing.
And many are navigating the season with a sense of grief—for lost loved ones, lost purpose, maybe even lost hope.
Maybe that’s not you. Maybe you are full of gratitude for everything you have, and now appreciate even more because of the pandemic.
That’s also me, on some days.
Some days I look around and feel undeniably blessed to have my health, my family, and all my needs met.
On other days, I feel the weight of these long, isolating months and mourn for lost time with people I love and the family celebrations I will miss with my parents and siblings, who all live together, across the country from me.
You may be in a similar position, oscillating like a pendulum between gratitude and grief. And you may be debating how to approach this season, logistically, mentally, and emotionally.
Whatever your unique situation, I hope this checklist helps you approach the weeks ahead safely, with peace, hope, and joy, wherever you can create it.
This is the big one, and the hardest one to swallow and follow. It’s been a trying year, one marked by loss and heartache for many. We’re tired of it all and want this pandemic behind us—but it isn’t yet. So as much as we’d like to throw caution to the wind and end the year celebrating with all the people we love, we all need to do our part to protect ourselves and the people around us.
Not the most exciting way to start this list, I know, but just figured I’d get this one out of the way!
If you haven’t already seen the CDC guidelines for holiday gatherings, you can find them here.
As I imagine you’ve experienced as well, different people hold vastly different perspectives on what constitutes “caution,” and some are willing to take greater risks.
For example, my extended family got together with at least four different households on Thanksgiving—including some who are regularly exposed to masses of people, some without masks—and they will do so again on Christmas. That’s a risk I wouldn’t be willing to take, but I’m also 3,000 miles away, so it’s a choice I don’t have to make.
If you’re considering gathering with family, it’s essential to clarify where everyone stands, what precautions everyone’s taking in their daily life, and what precautions will be followed on the day itself. Don’t assume you know how anyone thinks unless they’ve clearly communicated it, because it’s quite possible you’d be wrong.
This can be a tough one. When people make choices that may seem reckless to you, or they push beliefs you just can’t agree with, you may feel hurt, frustrated, or even outraged. It’s hard to separate a person from their choices, especially when it involves something as emotionally loaded as pandemic safety, and it’s hard not to take it personally if their choices seem selfish to you.
I have been here recently, and I took it very personally. I got upset, I criticized, I judged. What I didn’t do is change anyone’s opinion, or in any way better the situation. I realized then I needed to empathize with the people who see things differently than me. Even if I wouldn’t make the same choices, I needed to understand the feelings behind them and focus on that.
This doesn’t mean we need to condone decisions we don’t agree with, or in any way put ourselves at risk. It just means we accept what we can’t control and choose love over righteousness, however warranted it may feel.
Odds are things haven’t been easy for you. Even if you are healthy, have a job and a roof over your head, and haven’t lost any loved ones, this year probably took a toll on your mental health. I know it’s taken a toll on mine.
You may feel lonely, discouraged, overwhelmed, impatient, or even downright depressed right now. You may also feel frustrated to have to change your usual holiday plans, at a time when you could really use a little extra love, joy, and connection.
It’s okay to feel frustrated. It’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling, even if you know you’re fortunate. It’s hard to be far from people we love, especially around the holidays, and to miss the traditions we value most. Be extra gentle with yourself and know it’s okay if your gratitude is mixed with a wide range of complex emotions.
I know how tempting it is to live each day in resistance, especially when you’ve lost a lot, or when things seem unfair. I know how easy it is to get caught up in how things should be or were supposed to be or would be, if only…
What I don’t know is what you specifically have been through or what you’re feeling right now. So please know I am in no way suggesting acceptance is easy, or that I’d be able to do it easily if I were in your shoes.
I can only speak to the general idea of acceptance, and how it frees us mentally when we stop fighting reality. I know that when we accept what we can’t control, we’re free to focus on the things we can control and make the best of them.
I also know I feel better about the person I’m being, and ultimately better about life, when I come from a place of acceptance—even if it takes time to get there. I’m lighter, more present, more accessible to the people around me, and more likely to see opportunities where before I only saw unfairness.
As with everything in life, this is all temporary. Things won’t always be this way. These challenges, these feelings, they won’t last forever. We will eventually get through this and will be able to live more freely. Though life won’t be exactly the same for many, we will find a new normal and new reasons to smile as we adapt to life as it evolves.
It may be hard to see that now. It may seem like this earthquake of an experience will send shockwaves for years, and we’ll never find our footing again. But we are amazingly resilient as people. Odds are you’ve been through some deeply trying experiences in your life, and you’ve come out stronger, wiser, and maybe even enriched for having gone through what you’ve been through.
Trust that, odds are, you will not only get through this, you will have many more reasons to smile, and many more holidays to celebrate with the people you love. This one year will one day be a crazy story in all of our rearview mirrors, so long as we keep driving, cautiously, on this somewhat treacherous road before us.
One of the gifts of any challenge is that we need to be a little more creative, which can in itself be a source of pride and joy. If you’ve ever made a full meal on a day when you really needed to go grocery shopping, you know what I mean! My mother has a special phrase for this: “Not bad for a throw together!”
Think of this as your throw-together—your chance to do more with less, to find beauty in simplicity, to make the best of what you have and maybe even start new traditions.
I’m guessing you may have mastered the art of online connection this year. So now take it to the next level. How can celebrate in creative ways with people from afar? And how can you honor the people right in front of you, even if they’re only some of the ones you love?
As for me, I’m planning to focus on the excitement of my son’s second Christmas, since I think he’ll appreciate it more this year. I’m going to ask my brother to Zoom-watch A Very Brady Christmas with me, since we’re dorks and watch it every year. And I’ll Portal with my family on Christmas morning when they open the gifts I sent them, so it will be kind of like I’m there.
So here we are. At the end of a strange, painful year, staring down months more of uncertainty and potential stress and struggle. No one would fault us for looking back—it’s like there’s a massive multi-car pileup behind us; it’s hard not to gawk. And no one would be surprised if we anxiously looked ahead, worrying about the potential for more accidents down the road.
But right now, many of us are sitting safely in our cars, with heat and music and at least one person we love to play car games with and pass the time.
I realize this isn’t true for everyone. You might not have your needs met right, and you may feel unsafe in your home. If that’s you, please know there are resources out there to support you. You can find some here and here.
If that’s not you—if, like me, you’re relatively fortunate and have a lot to appreciate and enjoy if you choose to be present—make the choice. As best as you can.
If it’s hard, be good to yourself. Then try again. Try to see the beauty right in front of you, even if you have to look a little harder. Try to hear the magic in the music that’s playing even if you wish you could belt out the lyrics with someone who’s far away. Take some deep breaths, take an inventory of everything that’s going well, and then just let yourself be here, in this moment, enjoying whatever’s here to be enjoyed.
I think one of the gifts of especially trying times is that we’re reminded of things that are always true, but we often forget: That life is short, nothing is guaranteed, every moment with the people we love is precious, and each day is ultimately what we make of it.
I know it’s easier for some than others to make the best of the life they’re living, because life is different for all of us. But I also know when I remember these things, I feel a lot more present, peaceful, and alive. And that’s the best way to appreciate the life we’re currently living—to choose to fully live it.
To help us all be a little more mindful, I’m currently running a holiday sale for my newly launched Mindfulness Kit, which includes four aromatherapy-based products for peace and relaxation and three FREE bonus guides for daily calm.
For a limited time, it’s available for $29 (usually $45). I know many of you have already gotten a kit for yourself and for holiday gifts for friends and family. If you haven’t yet, this may be the perfect time to give it a try or gift it to someone who could use some relaxation and relief. I hope it brings a little serenity to you or the people you love!