Gloom we have always with us, a rank and sturdy weed, but joy requires tending. --Barbara Holland
And we’re off, as a sprinter to a starter pistol for the holiday season. In anticipation, perhaps you try to jolly yourself by buying all your favorite magazines which display picture perfect Christmas spreads that simultaneously excite and then diminish your Spirit before you even turn the page. No one used to love curling up with a fresh pile of monthly magazines and a glass of cheer better than I, but I have given them up, especially the “Best Christmas Ever” editions in an annual effort of self-nurturance. Why? Because I know from personal experience, that they are not true, Babe. And that is why I feel I must bring a little full disclosure and “Joy to the Girl” this month and that Girl, is you.
“Christmas comes but once a year. Don’t ever say that to a cookery journalist,” the renowned English food writer Elizabeth David (1913-1992) begins her classic holiday essay collection Elizabeth David’s Christmas. “Cookery journalists know different. For them, three times a year would be nearer the mark. First, around mid-August, when they must work on the recipes, at any rate if they contribute to a glossy monthly. They’ll probably be color photographs to cook for and supervise as well. The next round comes about the end of September when the articles have to be written and something original—well, anyway, different from last year—dredged up in the way of advice about when it’s all cooked for real, although not without notes being made for next year’s stint. In between the delivery of the monthly article there will almost certainly be another couple of Christmas pieces to write, for a weekly, a wine merchant’s newsletter, a Sunday, a daily.”
I have to confess that annually re-reading Elizabeth’s depiction of Christmas through the New Year makes this one of my favorite holiday rituals because her wry and truthful insights always triggers a smile and nod in agreement to this ultimate confession:
“If here and there in my account of a cookery journalist’s Christmas a note of desperation is clearly audible, I don’t make apologies. Christmas, at any rate, the way we are supposed to celebrate it nowadays, does tend to unbalance people, particularly those people responsible for the catering, the cooking, the presents, the tree, the decorations….Commercial interests being what they are, however, we are unlikely, in any foreseeable future, to be spared the annual orgy of spending, the jammed streets, the frantic shoppers in the stores, the whole circus of…the season of the Great Too Much…[which has] also become the Great Too Long. A ten-day shutdown, no less, is now normal at Christmas.”
There we have it in a gilded nut shell game: the season of the Great Too Much for Great Too Long. Not to worry. Doesn’t it feel good just to acknowledge the truth?
Back to those glossy magazines: Is there a woman with soul so dead, that never to herself has said: “I wish my life could look like it was out of a magazine once.” Well, it can, Babe, if you have a home décor stylist, a wardrobe and prop stylist, a hair and makeup artist, a photographer and a slew of assistants, for a two day shoot which will appear as a spontaneous Christmas article in a year. I’ve been very flattered to have been featured in two glossy Christmas magazine spreads and while it is fun to gaze back in astonished amusement, I’ve always felt a bit guilty about keeping this secret; rather like the signs on rear view mirrors that read “objects may appear larger than they really are”, those glossy magazines should come with the warning, “No perfect lifestyle pictured in this month’s issue is real” and then we’d all be on the same page.
You see, our continuing problem which few magazine articles deal with honestly is that real life is a series of repetitive crises that arise every day sucking all the oxygen out of our emotional bandwidth. It’s been this way since the first Nativity. Can you just imagine for a moment the irritation felt by Joseph and the exhaustion and trepidation of his young wife Mary, as they packed the donkey for the mandatory tax trip to Bethlehem? You can just make out the very human grumbles, if you put your ear down close to history: “Of all the times to have to go and pay taxes, a pregnant wife and no money…the Romans, well, just let me say, this would not have been my plan had I been asked.”
Most days this is what I truly love about the human experience—that we all share it. The rest of the time I’m trying to cope. Still, nothing we’re doing or facing or fearing or worrying about is original. Somewhere, at some time, some woman has pondered in her heart whatever troubles us. When I can stop the centrifugal motion that has me swirling in anxiety long enough to put the kettle on, I can take a deep breath and ask Mother Plenty first for grace and second, joy for the girl.
Learning to live in the present moment is part of the path of joy. When I was writing Simple Abundance, I was doing that every single day for five years in the compartmentalized space it took me to write every meditation. I was so focused on the good I had to find in every day that there were no distress notes. The miracle of SA is that because I was so committed to it being a happy book for both of us, even though that period of my life was difficult and fraught, there isn’t a sour note in it or between the lines. Blessed be the Great Creator.
Looking back, I understand now that the book knew so much more than I did (creative projects always do), I just had to get out of the way of Spirit and show up for work. And because I had only so many hours in the day to write, I couldn’t allow myself the luxury of a bad thought during that time. Let me write that sentence again, so we both understand what I’m trying to say: I could not allow myself the luxury of a bad thought. If I was feeling sick or depressed or frightened, I'd say: “You can think about that tonight. Not now.” And of course, after spending a day focused on Gratitude, Simplicity, Order, Harmony, Beauty and Joy, all I wanted to do at the end of the day was give thanks for my curated contentment.
So let’s forget the reality of the rest of the world for a moment which is always doom and gloom. Many of us unconsciously create dramas in our minds—in part because we’re copying or reinforcing the constant dramas playing out in the 24/7 "Breaking News" culture we exist in. I’ve gone cold turkey on the news.
For when we create dramas in our minds—about our finances, our health, our children, our grandchildren, our relationships, our work; when we set ourselves up to expect the worst from every situation, our brilliant subconscious never lets us down. Trust me, Babe, few of us have the ability to go from zero to 100 and the ecstasy calibration, but imagine a tragedy (or see someone else’s nightmare playing out before our eyes in real time on the television) and we’re already there, ready for personal close-up. And we know that when we expect the worst from a situation it becomes a self-fulling prophecy. Inadvertently, we become authors of our misfortune.
This holiday season I would love for us both to learn how to stop the cycles of drama and experiment in trusting the flow of life and the goodness of Spirit. What if for the next 28 days, we were determined to experience a contented, drama-free holiday? Whether our children are going to be with us or not, whether the money seems tight right now, whether this is a “first” holiday after a death, divorce or displacement, let us ask for serenity and contentment.
This is how I’m starting: each morning I’m praying for one day’s portion of Grace and a respite from crises. I’m asking for “Joy for the Girl” and I’m giving thanks already for my holiday miracle—I’ve got several that give me tingles and there’s a holiday miracle with your name on it as well, Babe. I’m writing my letter to Santa (we have been so good this year!) and my prayer list to the Great Giver. Let’s suspend our disbelief and take that leap of faith. Begin today recording in your Gratitude Journal, not just what you’re grateful for today, but all the wishes and prayers you yearn to come true tomorrow. First the gesture, then the Grace. After all, what we do we have to lose but misery and lack? Sign me up, please.
What are your five happiest holiday memories? I’d bet they are all sensory ones. The fragrance of pine, oranges and cloves; hitting the high note in “O Holy Night”; lighting the menorah; the first bit of warm gingerbread; the twinkling lights; an ornament long forgotten hanging again on the Christmas tree; the appreciation of sending and receiving a beautiful card with a special message; a secret Santa gift from the one who loves you best, baby. Weave together all those colorful threads and you have a warm, beautiful tapestry of contentment.
Once upon a time you believed that Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa was the most magical time of the year. It can be again. I believe the real holiday miracle is that it allows the mystical child slumbering in each of our souls the chance to be reborn every year, awakening a sense of wonder that even eleven months of grown-up doubt, derision, discouragement or disappointment can’t snuff out. All that’s required of us is that we take tiny steps to believe.
Believe in what? How about starting with the notion that whatever you can see, hear, taste, smell, touch and wonder at which brings you contentment this time of the year is a wink from the Universe that you are loved and cared for, and that everything is going to be alright, maybe different from what we hoped or prayed for, but alright. Babe, I have no monopoly on faith, I just know that when I believe, even if I’m not sure just exactly what I’m believing for, I’m better. I pass it on for what it’s worth.
“Time was, with most of us, when Christmas Day encircling all our limited world was like a magic ring, left nothing out for us to miss or seek; bound together all our home enjoyments, affections and hopes; grouped everything and everyone around the Christmas fire: and made the little picture shining in our bright young eyes, complete,” Charles Dickens reminisced in a charming essay, “What Christmas Is, As We Grow Older” written in 1851.
“Therefore, as we grow older, let us be more thankful that the circle of our Christmas associations and of the lessons that they bring, expands!...Welcome, old aspirations, glittering creatures of an ardent fancy, to your shelter underneath the holly! We know you, and have not outlived you yet. Welcome, old projects and old loves, however fleeting, to your nooks among the steadier lights that burn around us. Welcome, all that was ever real to our hearts.”
Welcome, Joy to the Girl!
Sending dearest love and blessings on our contentment and courage,