When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, Christmas was my favorite holiday each year. I loved the idea of having my birthday so close to such a wonderful celebration of giving and gifting other people. I have always identified with being generous and Christmas was a great way of expressing that trait.
All of that changed when during the Christmas holiday season in 1969, my parents began the process of divorcing. I was shattered that my life as I knew it would be forever changed. I felt some feelings that I had not felt in my young life and I did not like them.
The anger and sadness were more intense than I had ever experienced before. I was so accustomed to living in happiness that I had a hard time processing these new negative feelings on my own. This was way before all of the support for children going through emotional upheaval came into existence.
As an adult, I did my best to work through and overcome the impact of my parent’s divorce on me and my life. In my first long-term relationship, I celebrated my anniversary on December 23 for nearly 20 years. In many ways, it was a great way to create some new feelings around that time of the year for me.
I am grateful to my ex-partner who was kind enough to make the birthday, anniversary, and Christmas season a joyful and loving time each year.
This year many people are struggling with some big emotions about their holiday season not going off as they had hoped and planned. I know first hand from my experience as a child that life changes, and in some cases not for the better. Still, we have to go on with it in the best ways we know how to.
If people are struggling with the impact of outside forces for the first time in their lives around the holidays, I have three lessons learned that I can share with them.
The first is to live in the moment, and not in the cliche way that so many people subscribe to these days. I mean to really live in the present moment and see if for the gift that it is. Life can and does change in a blink, and not being in this moment might take away any chance we have of experiencing something for the first or last time.
The holidays bring with them a massive sense of stress and chaos, that many people avoid or deny is happening. What if it was the last holiday season with a loved one, would you really want to have stressful thoughts as your last memories?
The second is to seek first to control ourselves and then accept others as they are. The thoughts that some of us have to control people, places, and things never go well, and even more so during the holidays. No one is in any mood to be bossed around and sparks will surely fly when someone tries to control another person.
I remember my own experiences with attempting to control everything around me during the holidays in order to avoid feeling the sadness and grief of the memories of my past holidays. It never ended well and in fact, it dragged on some fairly lengthy conflicts over trivial and meaningless things. How would you like to be controlled in some of the ways you attempt to control others?
The third and final lesson that I learned the hard way, is to find my own joy during the holidays. So many of us are looking for a joyous and loving experience with other people during the holidays and we end up sabotaging ourselves and our intentions. It is not up to anyone else to make us experience or feel anything. With this in mind, I create my own experiences that bring me joy, after all, I know best what they are.
I started my own joy-giving tradition around my 44th birthday that has sadly been impacted by so many factors over the years. I would go to the hospital to see the babies who were born on the same day as me and to a department store where I bought gift cards for the manager to hand out to families with kids while they were holiday shopping. I made up such wonderful stories for those babies and their lives as well as those kids who had new clothes or toys unexpectedly.
In order to find these three lessons, I had to feel the heartache and pain of suffering through some sad holiday experiences and memories. It truly is a mindset that can move us beyond anger and grief into joy and gratitude.
As many people begin the holiday season with no idea of how things will turn out or how they will experience it, I offer my three lessons learned as a way to go into the season with an open mind and heart focused on giving ourselves the gifts that we think we need to receive from other people.
As with much of our lives, the holidays will be what we make of them and it is up to us to determine that for ourselves. I am grateful for the experiences that taught me that I can have the kind of holiday that I want and not the one in the movie or in the greeting card.
In following my three lessons for experiencing the holidays, I find it is kinder to me and brings me closer to the real reason for the season of so many holidays and my birthday.
Wishing you a holiday season of Your choosing.
This post is republished on Medium.