Finding gratitude, even in the midst of change
Covid wasn't the first time that Thanksgiving turned out differently than what I may have wanted. For me, it marks the passing of two family members a decade apart. Those passings were obviously difficult, but they also gave me an unexpected gift. One that's impacted every holiday since.
And that gift is...? Gratitude.
Yes, even in the most difficult times, gratitude is your saving grace. And, when it comes to holiday traditions, it can also be the means to ensuring that no matter your circumstances, you're able to find peace and happiness through its practice.
Understanding the place of gratitude in your holiday decision making
When a holiday tradition like Thanksgiving rolls around, there are expectations about how you'll spend that time. A change in circumstances means having to adjust and consider new options. How you perceive those changes and your decisions about them, will impact both your feelings about the holiday and of yourself.
In a rare set of circumstances, 2020 created a globally shared experience of adjusting to creating new types of experiences. Many were unable to physically enjoy time together. That invited an opportunity to examine what you actually enjoy, what you want to ensure happens again, and what you might be ready to let go of, or adapt.
If you'd taken the time to do that, then the practice of gratitude had a chance to take hold. It has a remarkable way of waking you up to what really matters.
For instance, if you'd been silently wishing that you no longer had to host a meal for twenty, your gratitude might consist of "I'm so grateful for a quiet dinner with my immediate family." Or conversely, it might be, "I'm so grateful for our large family and how technology made it possible for us to gather remotely." Or even, "I'm so grateful for our large family, the fun we have when we're together and how great it will be to see everyone again."
Perspective is everything
One of the many gifts of gratitude is seeing things as they are, and choosing your experience of what is.
For instance, what if this year, you're not able to join your family for Thanksgiving, or other holidays? Or perhaps, you choose not to. A Thanksgiving meal for one, or two, is only lonely and sad if you decide it is so.
If your day isn’t going to be consumed by travel, cleaning, and cooking, then how about looking outside of yourself to see how you can make a difference in the lives of others? Again, likely not in a traditional way, but one in which you can create just as strong an impact.
Whether it’s someone you know or someone you don’t (seniors in nursing homes, women’s shelters..) consider the types of things you can do that would brighten their day. An unexpected note in their mailbox, a floral arrangement, or ordering special treats from a local bakery.
Call me a rebel, but I think there's something to be said about changing some of your holiday traditions from time to time. Any number of things can and do change as time moves on. Children grow up and may move away. Parents age and yes, eventually die. Jobs, houses, locations, everything changes.
Whether you are joining in or creating your own way of doing things, isn’t it better if new ideas can blossom? Blending old and new, much like what happens within families. Siphoning out what's really important and letting go of those things that have become an unspoken burden.
Don’t get me wrong, there are things that I love to do or be a part of if the opportunity arises. That’s not always possible, so it is up to me to create what I want. My mantra has and will always be “People before things” and frankly, traditions are things.
Traditions shouldn’t be so firmly set, that not participating in them leaves you feeling sad and depressed. Nor should they be used as a place of judgment with right and wrong indictments of those taking part. Instead, opportunities exist to create a new version of how you spend your time.
I grew up in a large family, married into a large family, and with children of our own, became accustomed to big celebrations. Life changed, as it does for everyone.
Some changes I created, but mostly, it's been the natural evolution of life. My options were to either try to hold onto what was, surely causing myself and others grief and heartache. Or, to accept, embrace and create new opportunities.
As the year winds on and more holidays come your way, you'll be presented with memories of what was and options for what could be. If you take the time to write down what you're grateful for from the past, it will help you decide what's right for you now. Then you'll be in a better state of mind to decide which traditions are truly important and which ones might be ready for an update.
Have you changed any traditions or ways of doing things? In the past, or in the months to come? Please leave a comment. Who knows, you might just have the spark that creates a whole new tradition for someone else.