This is the darkest time of year. In Seattle today, the sun rose at 7:42am and will set at 4:16pm and the daylight will still grow shorter over the next two weeks. This naturally leads to a time of turning within, silence and contemplation. The old ones refer to this time as “the time for telling stories.” Our internal, ancient selves feel a pull towards hibernation and solitude.
For thousands of years different types of people have celebrated the return of the sun on Dec 21/22. People come together to generate warmth and community. This was a time of Yule, hygge, celebration. But mostly the season was a time of natural darkness; nature was still and tranquil and there was less work to be done.
Compare that to today’s hyperdrive version! I saw Christmas decorations up within hours after Halloween. People are rushed, harried, exhausted. People are stressed and over spending. Some folks are caught between daily invitations while others are feeling lonely and left out. The high expectations of the season can magnify any feelings of depression and grief. Combined with travel, cold/flu season and pressure to visit family and you have the perfect recipe for anxiety, tension and drudgery.
I’ve had several clients tell me, “I can’t wait till January 2nd and this is all over.”
It doesn’t have to be this way. You have permission to recreate a winter time that is healing and rejuvenating. Reflect on what is important to you and how you want to feel during this time. Some people are going to need more while others need less.
Let’s start with any easy one. Is there something you’ve done every year and you hate it every year? Even if that means not going to your sweet grandma’s on Christmas Eve. “Grandma, I want to let you know I’m mixing things up this year and I won’t be attending. I do love seeing you and would like to make time to see you, just the two of us, in January.” OR “Family, I won’t be attending, I appreciate the invitation and I’m making a new choice to spend my holidays in a new way.”
How to handle all the family pressure and expectation? You must make a choice to put your sanity first. If your family is important to you (that’s not the case for everyone) make a point to visit them at another time. Hold your ground. “I want to see what it feels like to simplify and downsize, I hope you can understand, I must do what is right for me.” Of course, there will be some family members that will be dramatic and turn this into ‘you don’t love me, if you loved me you would come to Christmas.’ You can't please everyone!
Do you need to simplify? Focus on what you love, leave the rest behind!
Decline invitations that feel like obligation or a threat to your sanity
Minimize your decorations – only choose your favorites, or rotate through the years if you have several favorites
Give gifts of time or experience instead of shopping for gadgets
Renovate your expectations. Stop trying to recreate the perfect Christmas you had OR never had
Allow more time to drive – road rage and distraction is on the rise during this month
Don’t go overboard with food, sweets and drinks – holiday hangovers will drain your energy
Get some fresh air. A 7 min walk will do wonders. It doesn’t have to be Cross-Fit!
Go to bed when you are tired. (I know, mind blowing concept!)
Schedule one or two days with zero plans. Allow yourself to wake up and choose one
thing at time. Gaze out the window, nap, read. Some folks call this “being lazy” which is bullshit and a great topic for another post.
Re-direct conversation if needed. “That’s a great topic, let’s pause this conversation for now and set up a time to talk more.” “Thank you for asking about xyz, but its my preference not to discuss it at this time.”
Create a new tradition of inviting people over for tea and reading books or playing games
If your depression and anxiety worsen during this time, schedule extra self-care. It’s the end of the year – you might be able to really take advantage of your insurance and get acupuncture or massages. Spend time in nature. If you have the energy, volunteer. There are many facilities around that organize volunteers for community meals and present drives for low-income parents. Or go out for a day of “Doing Good Deeds” rake your neighbor’s lawn/shovel snow, buy someone’s coffee, take the grocery cart back for a person, leave quarters next to toy machines at the grocery store, give out warm socks and a chocolate bar to the homeless.
On a final note – pull yourself out of the consumerist trap by making time to learn about historic solstice traditions that came before Christianity and Judaism. Learn about winter traditions from all around the world. Most of all, remember that this time of darkness is meant to be healing and rejuvenating so that we store up energy for spring growth.
Embrace the darkness, it is a gift for our future selves.