Family Holiday Magic
In many ways, Winter and the Holiday Season in my family were so beautiful in my youth.
The house was decorated impeccably, with sweet holiday baubles everywhere you looked. My mother would make the most delicious Christmas Day brunch with sticky buns and egg casseroles. My father would take us out to cut a Christmas tree, and then string beautiful colored lights upon it before I and my 4 younger siblings, 3 sisters and a brother, got to decorate it with ornaments gathered through the years.
My sister and I, who rarely got along most of the year, somehow found connection and sisterhood during the holidays. It was as if a magical spell were cast over us for a few weeks. We’d make snow forts in the piles of snow left by the plow that stopped plowing our road just past our driveway. We would cross country ski down the part of the road that remained unplowed during the winter. We enjoyed hot cocoa and lots of indoor fort building too. I treasured those times.
We’d all wake up early Christmas morning to see what Santa had left in our stockings that my mother had lovingly made and hung by the fireplace. The excitement of digging down to the bottom of our stockings to see what we’d find was nearly uncontainable. We might find a music CD, some candy, a book, or some mittens.
We could smell the brunch, and my parents had already started drinking Baileys Irish Cream with coffee.
My grandparents on my father’s side would come over for brunch and opening gifts. With a large family, gift opening was often complete chaos. First the gifts would get handed out from under the tree until everyone had a pile in front of them, followed by the tearing of paper, screeches of joy, and fashion shows to model new outfits.
The Joy of Giving
As I got older and started earning my first real income with my co-op jobs in college, I found tremendous joy in either making or buying gifts that I knew my family would love. One year I made giant teddy bears for all of my siblings, while another year I’d visited a massive outlet mall while in Florida on Thanksgiving swim team training, and found something I knew each of them would love. My brother was the one whose joy I remember the most. “Mom! Look what Kim gave me!” he would yell out. I treasured the joy on his face, and can see it to this day.
I wish I could show you the movie I see in my mind. Perhaps this video will offer some of the magic, as I’ve set this article to images:
I created my own holiday decorations, sewing dolls, crafting ornaments, and making natural decorations made with Nature’s gifts of evergreens, crystals, pinecones, and other treasures.
Longing for Meaning
As I got older still, and started my own family, I longed for something different for the holiday season, but didn’t really know what.
While my childhood holiday season was memorable and joyful, it also felt like it was too much and too empty all at the same time. Thanksgiving would be filled with way too much food, and I’d often find myself sick from overeating. For Christmas, we all felt how it was too much for my mother, as she would seem so exhausted and stressed out by the time Christmas brunch was over, sometimes for days prior, and would often retreat to her room for the rest of the day or evening while the rest of us enjoyed conversation, games, or movies.
As for the feeling of being too empty, that was more about me and my longing for deeper meaning in relation to the holidays. Surely this season was about more than a man in a red suit, the hustle and bustle of shopping, wrapping, parties, drinking, and the post-Christmas let down that seemed to happen after the festive day was over.
While we would have a Sunday school Christmas pageant a week or two before Christmas, and my mother would have us pause before the Christmas morning festivities to add the baby Jesus piece to the ceramic nativity her mother had made years prior, we had no other symbol or understanding of a deeper meaning to Christmas beyond Santa Claus and this baby named Jesus.
I didn’t grow up with a religious family. I was required to attend Catholic Church School on Thursdays and Methodist Sunday School each week, but we didn’t speak of or practice any kind of religion in our home.
My experience of Catholicism was that the priests and nuns never seemed happy, the teachings were rigid, formal and difficult to understand, and I was a sinner for not being perfect. While I know there are many who had a beautiful Catholic upbringing, most I know who were raised Catholic feel like they’re still recovering.
My Methodist experience of Christianity was better. The minister and Sunday school teachers seemed happy, and the small town church felt cozy and safe. Still, I often felt like I was going through the motions of tradition and dogma with no real understanding of what it was all about.
I wanted to create a holiday season that was an immersion in the beauty my mother created, without all of the stress. I wanted deeper meaning to help me find greater joy and peace.
Finding Meaning in the Holidays
The alternative school I sent my boys to helped me begin to find this deeper meaning at my oldest son’s first Advent Spiral Garden. We sat in a completely darkened room as an angel in white came into the room with a single lit candle. She moved through a spiral of evergreen boughs to the center, lighting a central candle at the heart of the spiral. Each child got to walk the journey to the center of the spiral to find their light.
My son began with a sweet beeswax candle he’d dipped himself in his kindergarten, placed upright in a hollowed out red apple he held tightly in his little 3 year old hands. Then he walked the evergreen garden, spiraling into the center to light his candle, all the while being guided by the beautiful angel dressed in white. Upon lighting his candle at the center of the spiral, he journeyed out from the center, determining where in the spiral garden he wanted to place his light.
By the end of the ceremony, the entire Advent Garden was lit with the candles of the children, symbolic of the lights they were bringing into the world, found in the depths of their being upon journeying with their angel to the center of the spiral.
This evening left me in tears. I didn’t turn any lights on upon coming home. We lit candles and let the magic sink in, reading stories by candlelight, singing, and sitting quietly by the fire. I’d never experienced anything so magical during the holiday season. This was a huge turning point for me.
I didn’t even know what Advent was, and decided to learn more. I discovered deeper meaning to the Advent wreath. While the traditional Christian meaning of the four Advent candles were about hope, faith, joy and peace, and also indicative of prophecy, the journey to Bethlehem, the shepherds, and the angels, I was thrilled to learn of another expression of the candles that I could relate to even more.
A New Spirituality
My whole life, Nature has been my church, my sanctuary where I feel closest to Spirit. When I learned of the idea that the four candles were indicative of the Kingdoms of Nature, I was overjoyed. Now the Advent wreath represented a church I felt truly at home in, and each week of Advent became a celebration of the Mineral, Plant, Animal, and Human Kingdoms of Nature respectively. To this day, I light my Advent wreath, tuning into the Nature Kingdoms and celebrating each in deep gratitude and reverence.
Advent is a truly special time in our home, now including other traditions we’ve created over the years to honor the coming of the light, which is ultimately what Advent is about. I spend time journaling, and imagining my own inner Advent Spiral toward the center of my being to gather a bit more light from the Essence of my Divinity that I might bring into the world and share in the coming year.
I also love to honor the Winter Solstice, a day that has been celebrated in Indigenous Wisdom for millennia. I first experienced a candlelit tree at a Winter Solstice celebration, and now each year we turn off the electric lights and light real candles on our tree, first on Christmas Eve to express gratitude for the year past, and then again on New Year’s Day to set intentions for the year to come.
We get a fresh Colorado Balsam Fir each year, decorating it with meaningful ornaments, enjoying its light, and sometimes even making pine needle tea from its branches.
Since connecting with these deeper meanings behind the holidays, I’ve continued to learn more about the various wisdom traditions that have celebrations honoring the coming of the light. Advent, Hanukkah, Diwali, Santa Lucia Day, Martinmas, Solstice, Imbolc, and more are all festivals of light celebrated at various times throughout the Winter season, honoring the light found in the darkness, and encouraging us to find our inner light and shine it brightly.
A New Way of Celebrating
My teachings and life coaching are very much about bringing holistic awareness into our lives, aligning with Nature, and finding empowerment within. Finding deeper meaning to the Winter and Holiday season offered a huge shift in my own experience of these things.
Now my Winter and Holiday season begins with preparing healthy, wholesome foods that nourish us for Thanksgiving. I cook for a couple of days, each dish prepared with so much love, and set out as an offering to life itself. Loved ones join us around the table in deep gratitude. I still overeat a bit, but with foods prepared from scratch, I never feel the level of “Thanksgiving hangover” I felt growing up.
I strive to get holiday shopping done before the crazy rush and sales, and my gift giving is simple.
I’ll never forget taking my boys to go ice skating and see Santa. While sitting on Santa’s lap, my boys each asked for one simple thing. I think they wanted toy trucks that year. Santa said to them, “Is that all?” They each nodded, received a candy cane, and hopped down. After the boys left his space, Santa said to me, “Wow, I don’t get many kids who ask for so little.” My boys were so happy to ask for one special thing. They didn’t even think about asking for more. I didn’t tell them that only one thing was enough. They just knew that one thing was enough, and didn’t want for more. That moment brought me so much joy to know that I had indeed created a holiday experience for my family that was about living in alignment with deeper values, and not concerning materialism and the constant need for more.
We spent early years building our own snow forts, sledding, taking walks in the snow, and making holiday crafts.
I began journaling during the Holy Nights from Christmas Eve to Epiphany. I didn’t know what Epiphany was either, and later connected it as being a day of gifts, a day of realizations and opening, and a day of moving into the new year with fortified Divine light to share with others. I chose to launch my coaching practice on Epiphany, expressing my gifts as a way to support others in the world.
Journaling became a critical element for me that I’ve been doing now for many years. I even created my own Sacred Nights of Winter Journal to share with others in hopes of helping them to enjoy slowing down, creating peace, and generating a guidebook for the Soul to take them through the New Year.
Honoring the Winter in New Ways
These darkest nights of Winter are like a pause in the year. It’s as if time stands still for us, giving us a chance to hear our Soul’s longings if we’re willing to listen. This simple ritual of journaling for 13 days and nights in the year eliminated the post-Christmas let down I used to feel, and fully immersed me in the deepest meaning of the holiday season. Many have said it removes the post-holiday depression they used to feel, and helps them connect with more of their True Self.
I often go for evening walks in the snow, enjoying the hush of the blanket of white around me, and the stillness of Nature and Her creatures. There’s a song I received in Nature meditation years ago that I love to sing on my walks, reminding me of the patient love of Mother Earth waiting for us to see and care for Her.
These many ideas, celebrating Advent, the Holy Nights, Festivals of Light, Solstice, and Nature, have generated a far more holistic holiday experience than anything I had growing up. I feel a deeper meaning, with great care and love. Best of all, while I do stay busy creating my annual journal and the holiday magic in my home, I also create plenty of quiet time for myself that allows my holidays to be low stress and truly magical.
May you find joy and peace in the simple things.
May you find new rituals and traditions that truly have meaning for you and nourish your Soul.
May your Holiday and Winter season be filled with a new level of magic and enchantment that helps you bring more of your Divine light into the world.