Did you know that December is one of the busiest times in hospitals? Not only do more health issues occur due to overeating, or injuries as a result of shoveling snow or slipping on ice, but many of the health issues are connected to stress and family dramas. The emotions are flying high: overwhelm, anger, sadness and grief, just to mention a few, are triggered, and our emotional state affects our physical health. Sadly, one of the stress factors is gift giving itself. It can be stressful to run around getting gifts for several people and to juggle the financial expenses which can put us over budget or even into debt.
On December 13, my friend Dhebi DeWitz and I offered a free webinar to address the emotions which are triggered at this time of the year. One of the questions that came in during the holiday webinar was how to handle receiving gifts from people and having to reciprocate when your budget is limited. That was such an excellent question!
Is it possible that we have forgotten what our holiday celebrations are about? Do our children really need a pile of toys? Or do they need family members who are present, who listen well and connect from the heart? And as far as gift giving is concerned, ask yourself for a moment what the best gift is that you have ever received. For me, a few homemade and personal gifts come to mind which really stood out: a well written and thoughtful card which told me how much I meant to somebody, or something self-made.
There is a whole long list of things we could come up with to create meaningful gifts: baking, knitting, crocheting, stitching, sewing, jewellery making, drawing, painting, making soaps, and so on. I received a wonderful mix of bath salts for tired feet beautifully put together in a jar from a friend this year and I know there will be more self-made presents under the tree.
Gifts neither need to be expensive, nor complicated to make. It just needs to come from the heart. One of my daughters just gave her Christmas gift to her boyfriend. It’s a jar full of Hershey kisses; to each chocolate kiss she attached a note which tells him what’s wonderful about him.
One of my clients, a beautiful and conscious young woman who was born in Russia, shared with me how they had very little back home. The grown-ups felt grateful when they had the ingredients to bake a cake and to bring oranges home. She remembers going tobogganing with her siblings and friends. Winter holidays still mean oranges and tobogganing to her.
Have we perhaps fallen prey to the idea that our holiday celebrations need to be grand and extravagant? Have we forgotten what the magic of Christmas truly means?
Three years ago, a friend of mine, who is the amazing mom of a little son, posted on Facebook about her decision not to lie to her son that Santa exists. She was struggling with the concept of tricking children into believing a mystical figure is real, basically lying to our children when we are trying to teach them to be honest. She also had trouble—and I can empathize—with the concept of calling somebody “good” or “bad”, when really there is just an undesirable behaviour the child might display. Telling the truth—and not to potentially jeopardize a trusting relationship with her son—was more important to her than to fully join in the Santa tradition. She caused an avalanche of replies, some quite heated as everybody had an opinion on this.
A couple of weeks ago, I was asking my friend how she has handled this fine balance between not lying to her son while allowing for the magic of Christmas. She shared how their experience is different: her son does not make a long list of material things he wants. There is also no threatening him to behave well, or have presents taken away. Christmas feels fun and easy to her while other parents with young kids that she knows are more stressed about struggling to get what their child asked for to keep up the Santa myth. This year, she is planning to have one gift under the tree with no name on it to make it a fun mystery for her son who the present is from.
So what exactly causes this magical holiday feeling and where does it come from? Is that feeling of hope and belief in goodness tied to Santa and extravagant gifts? Or is it the belief that everything is possible? The exciting feeling that there is magic? The unwavering conviction that life is a fantastic adventure full of amazing surprises? The deep trust that there is Love all around?
I grew up—and with me a whole nation of Germans—never believing in Santa. Christmas was still magical and exciting. It was a time of joy and surprises, a time for family and being present with each other. I remember my parents most of the time feeling pressure to be productive—my father at work, my mother as a homemaker—except for occasions like Christmas, when they actually sat down with us. We had a big winter scene puzzle with 200 pieces we would do many years in a row, or we would play one of the two family board games we had. I still remember how good it felt to do these activities together. On December 24, the Christmas tree was finally put up—with real candles on it, no less—and there was magic alone in the lit tree.
Germans celebrate Nikolaus Day on December 6th which goes back to the same historical figure as Santa Claus: Nikolaus von Myra, who lived at the beginning of the 4th century. On the night of December 5th, children put their polished shoes out in front of the door. The next morning they are filled with treats, with oranges, nuts and chocolates, brought by “Nikolaus”. People might jokingly say that “baby Jesus brings the presents” on December 24 but even children know this is just an expression.
My older daughter, who was five when we came to North America, never believed in Santa. She played along for the other children her age, but actually felt proud to know the truth and to be treated like an adult. Growing up in a multicultural environment made it easier to not be a Santa believer. However, she certainly completely gets what the spirit of Christmas is all about. She is one of the most giving, caring and non-materialistic people I know.
Santa is a mythical representation of a spirit we want to encourage: generous giving and love. At Christmas we can open up to feeling that Love is all around. And life IS a fantastic adventure full of amazing surprises. We can experience that excitement at any age. We are not slaves to our feelings. At any given time, we can change our perspective and decide to feel and live the magic of Christmas, simply with oranges and tobogganing, or our own personal versions thereof.
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Angelika, Belief Change Coach & Workshop Facilitator