The Joy of Doing it Differently: Releasing Worn Out Traditions, Creating New Experiences

For years, I traveled north for Christmas—packed up my partner, kids, dog and a car full of gift-wrapped presents and hustled the I-5 corridor from Portland to Seattle.

The trip was no over-the-river-and-through-the-woods… everything about it was stressful! Traffic on Christmas Eve was difficult, at best. We were cooped up and restless in my mom’s tiny one-bedroom condo. And we were stuck in the city, instead of the nature we loved. And yet, I gritted my teeth and did this trip for 29 years because it was my family tradition.

Until last year, the Universe stepped in and simply said “no.”

Early that fall, I’d had two (successful) surgeries for cancer. But I was still in recovery, and by the time the holidays rolled around, the Universe started informing me, at first gently and then persistently, that I wasn’t up for the trip.

What? Not go to Seattle? Not do the family trip? Really? Yet every time I asked for guidance, the answer came back loud and clear: No. Not this time. And so, after a very long family discussion, we opted out.

For the first time ever, we stayed home in Oregon for the holidays. We cooked a little food, and opened a few of gifts—inexpensive, silly things. We decorated our tree. We slept in late, and took long winter walks in the woods, and at night we bundled up in blankets on the porch and watched the winter stars move across the sky.

It was low key, it was real, it was absolutely us…and it was one of the best Christmases ever.

Since then, I’ve let go of all the old ideas about how the holidays “should” be, and begun to recreate them as truly authentic celebrations—genuine expressions of gratitude for this amazing human journey. I’ve recognized the holidays for what they really are: holy days, outside of any religion, that ask us to go quiet and still as we give thanks for our lives. A beautiful time, filled with deep appreciation and joy.

I’ll admit, it wasn’t easy. It took a very active releasing of the cycle of overabundance in all its forms—food, gifts, socializing, family, tradition and group thought—to allow this lovely clarity to shine forth.

In fact, stepping into this way of living authentically can be quite difficult at first—it may require letting go of tradition, from what the mainstream dictates. It might mean something as big as deciding not to visit home during the busy season. Or, it could be as simple as choosing to not indulge in holiday foods, so your body—and you—feel better. Or giving only a few, inexpensive gifts. These decisions are yours to make.

When you allow yourself the freedom to create your holiday your way—not the one dictated by mainstream society, or handed down from your ancestors, but yours alone—everything about the season shifts.

Gratitude, which might have seemed the furthest thing from your mind in that cycle of “must dos” and mainstream stress, becomes alive in you again.

Most importantly, you begin to understand that overabundance isn’t actually what you need—after all, you don’t really require a cup that’s overflowing.

You just need a cup that’s full.

Ten ways to jumpstart a holiday filled with gratitude

1. Travel outside of peak season, if you travel at all. Booking a flight Christmas day instead of Christmas eve is an entirely different experience.

2. Limit gifts to small, inexpensive tokens. Or gift “experiences” instead.

3. Make a bucket list of what you really love about the holidays: walking in the snow, sleeping in, watching Frosty the Snowman. Do these, and let the rest go.

4. Graciously decline invites that no longer fit. A simple, “I’m sorry, we can’t make it” is all you need.

5. Sleep, rest, be still. It is winter.

6. Play cards, catch, dolls… connect with younger ones and your younger self.

7. Sing.

8. Revisit the holidays as holy days. Go to church, if that feels right, or a spiritual service in your community. Celebrate winter Solstice as end of darkness and arrival of light.

9. Give hugs, the best gift of all!

10. Get emotional, feel it all and celebrate, in your heart. Life is a miracle.

bookSpiritual teacher and intuitive Sara Wiseman is author of six insightful books on spirituality and intuition, including her new book, Living a Life of Gratitude: Your Journey to Grace, Joy and Healing. She hosts the popular radio show Ask Sara, and is a top contributor to DailyOM. She has released four healing music CDs with her band Martyrs of Sound. Visit her online.

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