7 Tricks to Ease the Melancholy of the Holiday Season

Thanksgiving

“Your heart’s strength is measured by how hard it holds on. Your self-worth and faith is measured by finally letting go. However, your peace is measured by how long you don’t look back.” Shannon L. Alder

It’s hard to not look back on your life or certain memories especially during the holiday season. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and it always gets me to thinking about the past even if I think only about the year that is almost ending. I think about family, the people I can still share the holiday with and the people that are no longer part of that tradition. I’m grateful for the memories of past family gatherings during the holiday season and I get a bit emotional when I dwell too long there but I find that as I get older I long for the new experiences to start so that I can add them to the list of things I’m grateful for.

A few times in my life I’ve been the host for Thanksgiving dinner, the most I’ve entertained at one time was for 23 people. Our family really isn’t that big but I never believed in putting a limit on how many were welcome to our table. We lived in a condo at the time and although it was a 3 bedroom unit the living space was small and so it was quite a feat to figure out how to seat 23 people for such a huge dinner. Funny that I was more concerned with how to seat everyone comfortably and not worried about what to serve and how to serve. My children were all under the age of 10 at the time so it took probably close to 2 weeks to prepare not only the menu and the seating plan but to prepare the house comfortably for those guests that were staying for an overnight .

The anticipation building in those 2 weeks was volatile. The kids were excited every day to count down to family coming over to their house. The smells in the kitchen radiated throughout the entire house for days on end. To this day my daughter associates certain foods that I cook throughout the year with Thanksgiving such as caramelized onions, sautéed apples, homemade bread, anything made with nutmeg, etc. Mmmmm…my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

“Hunger of the heart is much stronger than hunger for food.” Amanda Comer

I can’t help but think back to the craziness of preparing for Thanksgiving because the celebration is so different now. I definitely have a hunger in my heart to relive those crazy holiday times. I was busy, I felt purposeful and I felt needed and important. That is the magic and the power of family.

I have to admit right here that although it was a lot of work and I enjoyed the anticipation as much as the kids did not every ounce of it went smoothly or happily. I felt stress and I’m sure at one time I murmured to myself how I would like it if just one year we could be the guests and just show up to eat and schmooze.

“Family isn’t something that’s supposed to be static, or set. People marry in, divorce out. They’re born, they die. It’s always evolving, turning into something else.” Sarah Dessen, Lock and Key

Many years later, kids mostly grown, family moved away and/or defected I find myself melancholy about the holiday season for different reasons entirely. My soul feels alone. On the one hand I’m not alone because I am blessed to have my husband and almost all of my children still living at home to share in the celebrations of the season but the enthusiasm and anticipation is tempered to an extreme and I feel the emptiness of that. I don’t know, there is just something magical in cooking for more than just my immediate family; listening to different kinds of conversation; getting lost in someone else’s life for a while; listening to the children get involved around the table and really noticing them blossom into adulthood. It’s just the 4 of us now, no friends, no family and oh how I wish I could cook and bake and fuss over a house full of family now that I actually have the living space for them all to come over and spread out. Even with all the family members and their issues it would still be nice to fuss.

“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” George Burns

Life is funny that way. It is my “life is backwards” theory. The theory is that things that should be obvious and make sense, don’t. When we had hardly any space to entertain, people came over in droves to spend time. Now that we moved up a bit I hear crickets. When I felt overwhelmed at entertaining I wished it would not be so stressful and now I’d give almost anything to have just one stressed out, manic, family crazy, I-hate-you-but-I-love-you Thanksgiving. I’m sure you can think of a few examples of life being backwards for you as well.

But what I’m realizing as time goes by is that we are in a transition phase. I will have family to cook and fuss for again someday because the children will bring new people to my table and one day I might even become a grandma and then not only will I have someone to fuss over but I’ll have someone to teach and play with and pass on a part of me to. I can look forward with anticipation to that.

In the years since the “great big Thanksgiving” we have enjoyed a few Thanksgiving meals away from home like the time we spent Thanksgiving in Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. It was cold and it was a beautiful grayish day with the smell of snow in the air. If you have never been there in any season, please try to go around Thanksgiving time. The village encases you in the past and helps you feel what it was like to live around the time when the pilgrims came to America. During our day long tour, before our dinner reservations, it did indeed start to snow. It was probably the most beautiful snowfall I have ever experienced. The snow blanketed the outdoor sounds and made me feel more intimate and connected to my surroundings. As the snow was falling it seemed like it was just for effect. The roads home stayed clear but the village was awash in seasonal holiday cheer made ever more magical by the snowfall. I let myself get so caught up in the holiday lights and spirit, the smells in the air and the historic feeling of it all and the snow just brought more coziness to the village and the warmth of a good meal waiting for us by the open fire.

We have created new traditions within our little clan. I have enjoyed experiencing Thanksgiving in many different ways with our children. I try to find new ways to anticipate the holiday season and to try to hold on to the magic of it all. For example we started watching the movie Scrooge and also the movie Elf as after dinner family time entertainment; and while cleaning up from our large holiday meal we get ready for the winter holidays by playing seasonal music and singing out loud. That’s always fun because not all of us have a singing voice. I’m happy for having had the experiences of holidays of the past but I consciously now choose to look forward to what could be. I try not to let my heart get too heavy for what is missing.

If this holiday season finds you with a melancholy heart or a yearning for what used to be, here are some tricks that might help ease the pain:

Make sure you are getting plenty of sleep at least 2 weeks before the holiday. Sleep keeps your body regulated not only in its basic functioning but also emotionally.

“Also, I could finally sleep. And this was the real gift, because when you cannot sleep, you cannot get yourself out of the ditch–there’s not a chance.” Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

Follow a healthy eating plan. While this is something you need to do all year long, at least one month before the holiday reset your stomach and hormones by eating better before the emotional stress sets in.

“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.” David Mamet, Boston Marriage

As best as you can, try to do some physical exercise even if you go for a walk for 30 minutes every day before the holiday. Physical activity just for yourself is soothing, refreshing and empowering. It naturally reduces stress and sets your brain to a more positive way of thinking. Exercise increases creativity.

“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.” Ellen DeGeneres

At least one month before the holiday purposefully allow yourself to enjoy activities that make you happy. Enlist some friends if you can but it is okay if you go alone. Having happy experiences to bring to the conversation at dinner time will be a big boost for you and the people around the table.

“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.” Anne Frank

If, like me, your table will be short a few more people than you would like perhaps setting their pictures around the table as decoration would help. Include photos from holidays past and let the reminiscing begin. Before you know it laughter will take over and the trip down memory lane will feel like you traveled somewhere for a little while.

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, and the people you have loved.”Ansel Adams

Reach out to a trusted friend, mentor, coach, clergy or family member and talk through the melancholy you are feeling. Maybe ideas will pop up and help ease the pain and infuse hope. If talking to someone is not comfortable for you then consider writing out your thoughts just for yourself. Twenty minutes for 4 consecutive days does wonders for the soul.

“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” Albert Camus

Take time to force yourself to do relaxing things leading up to the holiday. Go to a spa for a massage, sit in a steam room or Jacuzzi, play soothing music while falling asleep, light candles around your space instead of turning on lights, burn some incense, meditate, anything to help create an air of relaxation and peace.

“A massage is just like a movie, really relaxing and a total escape, except in a massage you’re the star. And you don’t miss anything by falling asleep!” Elizabeth Jane Howard, Mr. Wrong

perspective change

I know it can be a tough situation at holiday time for many reasons but in the whole of each person’s situation is the truth that our own attitude and perspective can make or break the moments we experience. The undisputable truth is that when things get really dark in my life I always have the choice to be afraid and sad or I can choose to see the stars more clearly. I am trying to train my perception of what appears to be a negative and find the hope that lives in the positive.

I wish you all peace, happiness, renewal, and an abundance of reasons to be filled with gratitude this year. Thank you all for your support and friendship. Happy Holiday Season!!!

Call to Action

What are your Thanksgiving traditions?

How do you bring newness to the holiday?

Where can you try to see the good in the perception of bad?

If you are disconnected as a family this year, why and what does the disconnect mean for you?

Images by afieldofblessings.blogspot.com and simplereminders.com

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