Refocusing on Joy

There are many things that I look forward to during the Christmas season: listening to Christmas music, anticipating family gatherings, admiring beautiful decorations, and inhaling delightful scents of the season. However, I also get caught up in all the busyness, stress, expectations, and to-dos that accompany this time of year. This holiday season can produce all sorts of extremes: happiness and melancholy; get togethers and loneliness; peace and stress; quiet times and busyness; joy and bah humbug. It’s almost impossible to not be overwhelmed by the all-consuming intensity. This is why I recently tried to identify things that help put me in a celebratory Christmas mindset: festive decorations, pine-scented candles, and lefse, to name just a few. When thinking through this list, it became clear there were a few things that offer more and inspire a true Christmas spirit: music and family traditions.

For me, this season is ultimately one of joy, peace, and love, despite the seeming ubiquitously-present stress and chaos. It’s hard to always stay focused on the truly important aspects of the season, but I’ve found it worthwhile to prioritize the components that produce meaning and help remind me of what’s important. Of course, we all experience this time of year in unique ways, so the significance and focus may vary for everyone.

Music, I’ve discovered, helps ground me in the true meaning of Christmas. I find that music transcends time and inspires, comforts, and speaks to me in ways that nothing else can – it often facilities my most powerful emotional and spiritual experiences. Music is a huge part of the spiritual experience of the season for me. Whether I have the opportunity to enjoy my favorite college Christmas concert in person or simply listen to songs from previous concerts, cranked up to a volume that appropriately encompasses me completely, I always come away feeling refreshed. I am intentional about making sure music is a part of this season for both myself and my family.

Then there’s my family’s simple tradition of Little Christmas Eve that helps remind me of the joy, love, and peace that surround me. This tradition, which has been celebrated by the family for several generations, is focused on a meal of rice pudding that has a single almond hidden in it. The meal is eaten in semi-darkness, with candles spread around the table for minimal light, so there’s an almost magical feel to the setting. The goal of the meal is to discreetly discover the almond in your bowl and wait until the end of the meal to let everyone know. The entire family practices the art of deception; we guard our bowls of rice pudding while simultaneously doing our best to keep an eye on everyone around the table. We all participate in playful accusations of suspicious behavior while attempting to conjure alibis asserting our innocence. When the person possessing the almond (finally) confesses, a gift, usually a board or card game, is brought out and we clear the dishes and play a game together.

I love this Christmas tradition because it’s a time when the entire family is gathered together in a very focused and relatively low-stress setting. We can all be a part of this meal, kids and adults. We share stories, tease each other, reminisce about previous Little Christmas Eve meals, and just enjoy each other’s company – there’s a sense of true joy that’s shared during this time.

I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on previous holiday seasons and consider what stands out as a positive light through it all. Whether it’s a tradition, specific music, particular food, or a holiday gathering – whatever it is that helps ground and refocus you during this season of joy and stress. Then pursue those moments and experiences that remind you of what’s truly important and provides meaning during this season.

Wendi, her husband, and their two kids are currently perfecting their best “ya sure you betcha” accents, having recently relocated to northern Minnesota. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters and a member of the podcast Moms Who Wine.

*photo credit: personal photo*

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