Learning to Dance Again
I have this nasty little habit of hiding when things aren’t going very well. I close myself off to the rest of the world and sink low into woe-is-me bliss. And then when I just can’t take it anymore, when I feel like I am about to drown in my own misery, I panic and begin to call out for help. This has been me during every holiday season for the past several years. I dread its arrival, loathe its presence, and joyfully pay good riddance to its departure.
It’s not that I am traditionally a Grinch. It’s actually quite the opposite. I grew up loving the holiday season. It was always a big deal in my family. My brother and I both celebrate birthdays in December. I am a sucker for Christmas music. At any given moment this time of year, you can find me dancing in my house, Christmas music blaring, while I shamelessly sing at the very top of my lungs. I have always been inspired by the well-intentioned efforts of many to exude love and joy this time of year (though I’d like to see the world practice love and joy all year round).
Well… as my marriage began to slowly unravel, compounded with the fact that I was living out in the middle of nowhere with no family and very few friends to call upon, November and December had become a torturous, mundane time of year – far from what I used to enjoy back home. Not only did my holiday seasons in Nowhere Land lack joy and tradition, but it was also an incredibly lonesome time, especially after I became single. November and December became my annual depressing time of year. I spent an enormous amount of energy worrying about how I would get through Thanksgiving, my birthday, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Years. Forget love and joy… I just wanted the season to be OVER. And each year, on January 1 when it was all over – I would finally exhale and go on with my life, grateful that it was all behind me.
But you know what? Even though I may have had every justifiable reason in the world to feel this way during the holiday season, I made the choice to make it a miserable time of year. I chose to feel sorry for myself. And I chose to shut everyone out. I wasn’t aware that I had a choice. I didn’t know that despite the circumstances, I had the power to make this time of year what I wanted it to be. I wasn’t ready to see that. Everything I knew at that point in my life came from a very basic level of understanding – it hurt, I was lonely, and I missed family tradition. I had even convinced myself for many years that the holidays weren’t that important to me. Who needs decorations? What’s the point of gift-giving? People have turned Christmas into a shopping nightmare. But this was all just a cover – my way of “being cool” about it all. The fact is, I love to give. I love to put smiles on people’s faces. I love tradition. I love to decorate the house. I love Christmas parties. I love laughter. And I love that whole idea of mistletoe. I am a hopeful romantic. How can I not? All of these things have always been grounded in the love and family togetherness of my childhood years. And I want it all back.
So this year, my friends, I have decided to keep it real. Rather than being consumed with what I don’t have, or hanging my head because I no longer have a significant other in my life, or expending unnecessary energy on dreading the holidays, I have decided to take proactive measures. I am going to make this an exciting time of year. As a single person, I have free reign to recreate tradition. I can rewrite what November and December mean for me. I’ve never been into Santa Clause and Easter Bunnies, but I can create a fun, meaningful, loving time for myself and the kids in our own special way. Here’s what I’ve decided to do:
Haul out the Holly…Decorate!
Thank God for the Dollar Tree. Money is tight, but I still get to decorate the house! The Dollar Tree fits perfectly into my budget. The kids and I will make a special trip to pick out some decorations for the house as our big kickoff for the holiday season. Where else can you get Christmas stockings for $1? I’ve never hung Christmas lights on the outside of a house, but this year, I’m going to figure it out – or play damsel in distress and get a nice sexy, strong chocolate brother to handle that for me!
Find a Family Gathering
Thankfully, I no longer live in the middle of nowhere, so the drive to the big family gathering is just three hours away – just close enough to get there, and just far enough away to not have to stay for the weekend. If hanging out with relatives was not an option (like when I was living in Nowhere Land), I would have hosted a dinner at my house for other stray friends and neighbors who have nowhere to go. Another great option is through www.meetup.com. the worlds “largest network” of local groups. I am a part of a several groups from this website that are hosting Thanksgiving dinner for people who don’t have family in town. What an excellent idea!
Throw A Birthday Bash
It’s true. I’ll confess it. I used to be a hopeless romantic. I used to rely on other people to make me happy – and then feel broken-hearted and abandoned when they didn’t come through for me. So for past birthdays, I sat back and assumed that if my family and friends loved me enough, they would go out of their way to make my birthday special. This, my friends, made for some very lonely and disappointing birthdays. I think that this passive approach did nothing but inadvertently send a message to family and friends that I didn’t really care much about celebrating my birthday. This year, I decided to do something different. I’m throwing my own party. Simply mentioning to a few friends that I wanted to do something fun for my birthday got the ball rolling. Who’s not game to having a good time? So, I strung together some things that I would like to do (dinner, comedy club, lounge), sent out an invite, and voila! I’ve got a little birthday celebration! If people don’t know what you want, they can’t help you. If you want something, ask for it. Or do it yourself. I want to laugh and have fun for my birthday, so I’m doing what it takes to make that happen.
Host a Holiday Party
I love holiday parties. And I just got a new place. So, volunteering to host this year’s company holiday party is the perfect rite of passage for my home as I go from holiday season Grinch to holiday season enthusiast. And because it is usually a potluck, I don’t have to worry about spending the day in the kitchen preparing a meal for 25 people. If the idea of hosting a holiday party doesn’t exactly bring you joy, grab a friend and hit up as many holiday parties or festive events as the two of you can stomach together. At best, you get to get out of the house and experiment with cute outfits. At worst, you’ll discover that eggnog and fruit cake is just not your cup of tea. 🙂 I’m looking forward to this year’s company party. The excitement of the planning alone will keep me so busy that I won’t have time to sit at home and feel sorry for myself. I’ve got a party to plan!
Play With Your Food
I am a creative soul. Cooking and trying out new dishes is a great creative outlet. This year I am going to take a stab at some seasonal recipes that I’ve never tried, or that I’d like to perfect – gingerbread cookies, butternut squash soup, a pie I’ve never tasted – and prepare them with the kids. If any of these experimental recipes turn out well, we may package them up and give them away or enjoy them as a part of a holiday season meal.
Spread the Love
I’ve never been a fan of frenzied, fanatic Christmas gift shopping. I love giving gifts, but I cling tightly to the essence of what giving is to be about. I want the people in my life to know that I love and appreciate them, but I don’t believe that I need to break the bank and go purchase a new 3D flat screen TV to express that love and appreciation. This year, I will find creative and meaningful ways to give so that the gift is more about the expression of gratitude for the other person than it is about me. Some ideas include: making sentimental jewelry, cooking up a meal in a basket, or giving a massage gift card for someone who needs a break (see Groupon or Living Social for great deals). If my gift can make someone’s life a little easier, or make them feel a little better about themselves, I’ve captured the essence of what giving is all about – and that in itself is quite satisfying for me.
Lend a Helping Hand
I used to frown upon the whole idea of “charity” for the holiday season. My mantra has always been, “Why not just give and serve all year long? People are hungry in July and August, too.” But here’s what I’ve realized: the fact of the matter is that I still wasn’t lifting a finger in July and August. It’s like those folks who shun Valentine’s Day because, “we’re supposed to express love all throughout the year.” Well, these are often the very folks who don’t engage in gestures of love. Ever. They just complain because everyone else is giving candy and flowers and going to dinner on V-day, and they are not. They prefer to rebel. I don’t want to be that guy. So, this year, I have decided to roll up my sleeves and get the family involved with service. This is the perfect time of year to set the spirit of service into motion for the year to come. It is important to start somewhere. I want to teach my kids the value of giving back. We have been tremendously blessed, and we all need to be reminded that everyone is at different stages of the journey. Some are seeking shelter, some struggle with finding a meal, others simply want a reason to believe. If there is a way that my family can help, then we have a duty to do what we can. So this year, we will begin a tradition of stepping in to serve where we can – a soup kitchen, a toy drive, a turkey run. Perhaps, we will spend Christmas day serving others. And then, we will continue that tradition in a variety of ways throughout the year.
Embrace a New Tradition
I’ve dabbled with the idea of celebrating Kwanzaa, but have never really gone all out with it. In my former life, as a student life event planner on a few college campuses, I planned many Kwanzaa events for our students. I just never really got around to bringing that tradition home. This year, Kwanzaa is coming home. The seven principles (unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith) reflect my own life values and could make for great family conversation and planning for the upcoming year. I am going to embrace Kwanzaa as a new tradition for our family and finish it all off with a new a New Years day dinner – a culminating celebration of love among family and friends. There are many existing traditions to choose from, and there are many more that have yet to be created. Sky’s the limit!
This year, there will be no time for woe is me! If I am not proactive about my own happiness, I am simply leaving it all to the wind. With a new understanding that how I approach the holidays is my choice, I choose to go into this holiday season with purpose and with a plan to enjoy each day to the fullest. This year, I will get out my holiday shoes and dance again. I will blast the cheesiest of Christmas music and hang mistletoe in my living room and try ice skating for the first time. I choose to make this season what I want it to be. And I choose to keep love in my heart every step of the way.
What will you choose?