There is a palpable excitement that builds a few days before the holidays. As fat snowflakes float above, illuminated by a streetlamp on a dark December evening, I feel the nostalgic sense of holidays past flood through me.

And yet, when expectation and busy-ness ramp up, the holidays can feel stressful and sometimes lonely. How can we lean into a gentle savouring of the holidays, knowing that the whirlwind can pull us off centre? I chalk it up to balancing planning with spontaneity, and keeping it simple.

Planning

If you tend to put off planning for the winter holiday or want to create time with those you love, consider planning a baking or cooking party where you can connect over traditional recipes or new ones. Setting this time aside to experience baking together can be both connective and nourishing.

Abiding Presence

Practical solutions like preparing can really help, but these are not a fix-all. In fact, I can see that they would only minimally change things without the ultimate dropping into the experience which is the essence of mindful living. Truthfully, my list-making, July shopping relatives are not less stressed or more enjoying of the season. Holiday magic comes from being lit up, and super present to the moment.

One of the hallmarks of mindfulness is being with what is. As the energy of the holidays ramps up to a frenzy, what does this mean in terms of mindfulness. Putting ourselves on notice to drop into the spirit of abiding presence even more this season.

Breathe

Whenever you feel the tension of to-doing, or a resistance to increased holiday traffic or extra engagements, take a few minutes to come back to the breath, and just be in the body. Busy-ness creates a heady feeling that life is spinning out of control. Just stop and give yourself a few minutes of nurturance amid the chaos every hour if you can. During those few minutes, take your mind completely off-line of worry or complaint. Be with the sensations of the body and with the enjoyment of the feeling of the breath as it moves through the body. I know you know this. Just give yourself the gift of a three-minute breathing break several times a day.

 Savour 

On your way home from work, school, the shops in the evening, slow your pace slightly, look around, and notice perhaps the crispness of the air, the sound of the crystals in the flakes of snow as they fall, or if you’re not in a place that is this quiet, perhaps the view of the fluffy flakes illuminated by a street lamp.

Notice any seasonal decorations, and honour the effort and intention. The large air-puffed Frosty the Snowman on a neighbouring lawn could remind you of the lightness of how children play in the snow.

Enjoy the smells and sounds and tastes of the season, get nostalgic if that’s what comes up. Let it all in!

Celebrate

Even if you haven’t celebrated actively for many years, try leaning into the holiday season by choosing a few activities that make celebrating meaningful to you, and planning to make time to enjoy them. Here are a few suggestions for resuscitating a meaningful season.

  •  Baking is therapeutic – the sense of mastery in actually making cookies or tarts, the nurturing smell of sweets in the oven!
  • There are so many free concerts over the holidays. I love the multi-faith winter concerts that preschools and primary schools often put on. Even if you don’t have children, find out if you can join friends or relatives for a school event. They might not think to ask you or consider you would be interested.
  • Find a place to sing. Consider singing along with a local choir or arrange a sing-along of holiday songs that resonate with you at your home. Singing really does make you feel better. Collective singing and chanting have been proven to release oxytocin, the bonding, feel-good hormone.
  • Consider heading out to a community tree-lighting ceremony, or other communal festivities.
  • If you’re without family for the holidays, you might want to find ways to volunteer with an organization to help others and have fun doing it, whether it is distributing food baskets, helping to prepare or serve a community dinner or joining a group to sing at a retirement residence. It is a perfect time of year to join a group or to volunteer at a meaningful one-time event.

There are so many satisfying ways that communities come together over the holidays. Enjoy!