By Dr. Bev Snyder
What do the holidays mean to you? For people of faith, this is the time of year filled with the religious significance of celebrating Christmas. After all, the word “holidays” comes from “Holy Days” and originally it referred only to days of religious significance. Now, however, it has come to mean any special day of rest and relaxation or time away from work. In the same way, our “Holy Days” have become a broader, secular celebration that may
mean different things to each of us. Given our culture’s materialistic focus, it can be a really
challenging to find meaning in the holidays. We are urged to do more and spend more to make this the “perfect holiday.” The increased demands that bombard us this time of year make it particularly challenging to find time for the rituals and traditions that give our holiday meaning, yet it is vitally important that we do so. I offer the following suggestions in the hope they will help you and your family find meaning in all of your holiday’s celebrations.
Luke 2:10 - 12 "And the angel said to shepherds out in the field; “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you this day in the city of David, a Savior has been born to you, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: You will find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
1. Prayer: Set aside time each day for prayer and reflection or to engage in a conversation with God and express your gratitude for his many gifts. Amazon.com has many prayer books and devotionals for just this purpose and these can provide helpful guidance.
2. Music: Celebrate in ways that are most enjoyable for you. If you love music, go caroling or attend a Christmas concert. Read or sing your favorite psalms or Bible passages. Be sure to attend a Christmas service where you can enjoy the special seasonal music in community.
3. Decrease the focus on materialism and consumerism: Give and ask for gifts that reflect your values. These could include hand-made, personalized items that often mean more to the recipient than store- bought things. You may choose to give or receive an experience such as tickets to a theme park or event that you can share with your loved ones. You may also ask that a donation to a charity be made in your name. Of course, there is nothing wrong with buying each other gifts to celebrate Christmas; just be sure the gift-buying and giving enhances rather than overshadows the meaning of the holidays to you and your family.
4. If you have children, teaching them about the meaning of your family traditions and their religious significance will deepen both their understanding and appreciation of your faith. Kids often love being involved in preparing special foods, lighting the Advent wreath, and singing seasonal songs. If you celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah in your home, this is an excellent resource for children: http://www.amazon.com/Daddy-Christmas-Hanukkah-Mama-Selina/dp/0375860932
5. Volunteer: For those in need, the holidays can be especially lonely. Please consider volunteering you time or donating to a local charity such as a food bank or soup kitchen. Doing so puts your faith in action and will actually make you feel better. Research has consistently shown that acts of altruism increase personal happiness and a sense of purpose.
6. Connect: For those of you who feel alone this time of year, my heart goes out to you as I know how isolating that may feel especially around the holidays. Please know that although you may have lost someone close to you and/or feel lonely, there are people out there who really want to connect with and support you. Stay close to your church friends and others who care for you, both near and far away.
7. Remember the hope found in God’s promises:
The 7 Promises of God:
I will be with you.
I will protect you.
I will be your strength.
I will answer you.
I will provide for you.
I will give you peace.
I will always love you.
Consider how awesome our God is to provide these promises for us! They offer a place of refuge, of unconditional support and unceasing love. What a mighty God we have! Tap into that strength.
8. Take comfort in God’s Divine Peace:
According to many Biblical scholars, here are four characteristics of divine peace:
1- Divine peace comes only from God
2- Divine peace surpasses the mind
3- Divine peace guards the heart and the mind
4- Divine peace is only available in Christ.
We do well to remember these characteristics as we search for peace in times of rush, stress and chaos.
9. Learn to love others well:
Unconditional love is never easy; but with a little bit of practice, it's reachable. One thing to remember is that love is not how you feel, it is more about how you act. ... Emotions come and go, but it is what you do that counts. Then, adapt your love to others. This requires discipline to meet another’s needs rather than your own. Practice giving unconditionally to yourself, then you will know how to do this for another. Love can sometimes be uncomfortable but there is no better way to live. Center yourself in a core of trust and reach out with loving
kindness to all you meet. Learn forgiveness. This is more for you than the other person because when you are in a state of resentment and unforgiveness, it is impossible to connect fully with God. Show love to those whom you think don't deserve it. This also requires a good bit of discipline because judgement gets in the way of feeling generous. Essentially, it requires a mental decision, not a feeling to do this. Try it the next time you see a homeless person asking for help on the street corner.
I hope you find these ideas helpful and I wish you and your loved one’s peace, love, and a meaningful holiday season. Merry Christmas! The Wednesday night Mental Health group begins again on January 6 th for one week and then we shift to Thursday night on Zoom at 6:30. Join us for free and confidential support on your journey to strong mental health and a hearty new year! Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
Counselor and Coach