Yesterday we put up our Yule tree, which is always the moment each year when I feel I’ve entered the season. So I’ve decided it’s time for my annual “I’m a Pagan who loves Christmas” post.
This isn’t going to be about “tradition”, and the subsequent nifty list of all the ways Christmas comes from Pagan roots. Nor is it going to be about how the holidays have lost all meaning because they’ve become a consumer orgy. Those posts are well represented, and don’t need another contribution from me. This post is about the one quality that has always defined the winter holidays for me, and has kept the wonder and magic alive through a wide range of circumstances: Good Will.
Good Will. Boy does that seem in short supply these days! People are stressed. Broke. Uncertain about their futures. The world seems filled with hate. It is so easy to throw up our hands and give in to cynicism. People suck, so why bother with anything?
And yet. We can make choices about how we shape our world, even if they are small. They needn’t cost much money, or time. They can be simple acts, humble and without fanfare, that nonetheless bring a sparkle of Good Will to the recipient, thus increasing the overall spirit that the holidays were meant to invoke.
Here are a few ideas that will make you and those around you feel good even when you are broke, strapped for time, and discouraged with humanity in general.
1.) Remember the true spirit of giving:
Giving does not have to mean going into debt so that you can pile all the cheap plastic crap from China your shopping cart can hold onto every person whos name you remember. Giving doesn’t have to involve spending money at all. Giving of your heart, your imagination, your attention, will be far more meaningful to your loved ones in most cases. You can write a blessing or wish for a loved one on nice paper, with colored pens, in your best handwriting, and roll it up into a scroll. You can write them a song. You can bake cookies. You can decoupage pretties onto a plain notebook to make a special journal. You can paint a rock with “I Appreciate You”. You can give them a small candle with a card that says “As this candle burns, remember my love for you”. You can even just take a moment to look them in the eye and tell them you love them. Any talent you might have can be turned into a simple token of appreciation that lets someone know you are thinking of them with kindness.
2.) Include those who are alone and sad
We’ve all heard the reminders that the holidays can be a lonely time for people. Perhaps they are estranged from family, or their partner has died, and all the warm, fuzzy talk of family and good cheer only triggers the lack of these things in their life. Know someone in this situation? Invite them over. Bake them some cookies. Invite them to tell their story. Let it be okay if they aren’t brimming over with good cheer. In this situation yourself? (I know I have been!) Can you organize a gathering for folks who are in a similar situation? If that seems like too much, or you don’t have the space, can you volunteer at a homeless shelter or retirement home? Giving to others what we want for ourselves often increases it in our hearts as well.
3.) Create a Festive Atmosphere
One of my favorite parts of the winter holiday season is the tree! The idea that the world is a cornucopia of abundance and plenty is an ideal I hold dear to my heart, and I believe we can create this world by learning to live sustainably, and working to create societies that benefit all its members instead of just a few. However, if you don’t have room or money for a tree, or just don’t like the idea of trees being cut, you can create this feeling in a variety of different ways. You can collect pine branches and cones; wrap small candles with sprigs of holly; boil clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon to fill your home with fragrance; cut snowflakes out of printer paper and hang them around your house. You can write blessings and wishes on these snowflakes and put them in a pretty bowl for guests to select, like a holiday fortune. Pinterest is our friend. Search Pinterest for “Holiday Decorations DIY” for a truly abundant selection of ideas for creating festivity. You can even host a craft night, and invite your lonely friend.
4). Practice Kindness
If ever there was a good time to remember that practicing random acts of kindness does not have to be relegated to the “tired cliche” bin, but is in fact, always in style, the holidays are it! Good Will exists because we bring it! Pay someone’s parking meter. Buy the eggnog latte of the person behind you. Open the door for someone with a heavy load. Pick up a thing they dropped. Buy a homeless person a sandwich. Or just say something kind to them. Send a card to this little girl.
5.) Give the Gift of Attention
Is your mom always rubbing her neck? Give her a massage from you. Sister seem stressed? Ask why, and then offer to help. You can present your offerings in the form of a pretty gift certificate, so your recipients have something fun to open. You can gift a few hours of house cleaning, or a home cooked meal with with plenty of leftovers. When we give the gift of our time and attention, we help our loved ones feel seen and supported, often without spending a dime.
6.) Send a Love Letter
Write someone a letter telling them all the things you appreciate about them. Or simply, some good things you are wishing for them. Perhaps the lonely fellow who lives in your apartment building. (Bonus: Invite him to craft night! If he isn’t creepy).
7) Question Tradition
Are you really obligated to make a huge dinner for relatives you don’t relate to? Who decided this? Can you change it? Take a year off? Ask someone else to host? There may be reasons why you can’t, but often we find ourselves doing things out of habit, never even questioning the status quo, and a few minutes of reflection may reveal that there is more wiggle room than we had assumed. When we are doing things out of obligation rather than joy, we are missing the point, after all.
These are just a few things off the top of my head. I know how easy it can be to get entrenched in emotional baggage around the holidays, and forget that we can shake our holiday routines up a little if we want to. We are only limited by our imaginations, and I hope my list sparks your own list, that we all continue to inspire each other to sprinkle the faerie-dust of love, connection, support, empathy, and Good Will into this big old sometimes-scary-and-sad-but-always-breathtakingly-beautiful world!
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