Home for the Holidays?

This is an abbreviated version of Rev. Sue’s sermon from December 1 on surviving the holidays. You can listen to the full sermon here.

Oh, the holidays. Oh boy. Yippee! Oh wow! I can’t wait. Omg I want to hide under the covers. Most of us experience some of these feelings around this time of year. In fact, some of us experience each of these feelings—in cycles.

Holidays roll around switching up our schedules and redirecting our priorities. They bring us close to cherished loved ones and also, to difficult family members. My goodness the all of it! And in the past few years, in addition to all the regular “family dynamics and dramas,” our politically polarized times have the potential to make dinner conversations tense and even combative. Meanwhile, after our gatherings, Facebook and Instagram can give us a gander at how others seem to be having more fun and seem much happier than we feel.

I want to issue an advisory of sorts because we have just finished Thanksgiving and it is now December. You have the right to take care of yourselves, especially during the holiday season. You each carry great love in your heart. Make sure you give some to yourself. Put another way: please respect the inherent worth and dignity of each person; beginning with yourself.

The holidays are best handled when well-paced, particularly for those of us who are on the fragile side. I offer some guidelines:

  1. Keep expectations realistic.
  2. Remember “No” is a complete sentence.
  3. Stock up on some good books, bath salts and wood for the fire.
  4. Stay out of malls as much as possible.
  5. Don’t give up your exercise routines.
  6. Get enough sleep.
  7. Remind yourself that saving your sanity may be more important than seeing that mean uncle/brother/cousin who has always been a bully.
  8. Wrap your gifts in newspaper; easy to recycle. Kids love the comics.
  9. Give fewer gifts; ask for little (donation to HomeFront? UUCWC?). Encourage experiential giving: trips to museums and hikes, etc.
  10. Build in time, if possible, if your life permits, to help others during “the season– this will clarify your perspective.

When we take care of ourselves we have more to give to others.

I will never forget a young mother coming into the area where I was robing for a service one Christmas Eve. She had had enough. She said “I (bleeping) hate Christmas! The cooking! The cleaning! All that wrapping and decorating! I’m supposed to be some super-Santa fulfilling my kids fantasies, and somehow, I still have to work, buy groceries, get to basketball games, and do everything I normally am stressed out doing! What contortions do we perform to create fantasy Christmas?

I am sure many of you have absolutely incredible, large, fun-filled multi-generational family gatherings for most holidays and I am so grateful to hear that. Not bitter at all. OK, maybe a smidge. You might even take photos together in matching pjs, or flannel shirts and coordinated pants. You may be among the select few whose family feels like a “team.” You have each others’ backs and can finish one another’s sentences. If that is your reality, I do not intend to rain on your parade today or blow out the light of your candle.

For others of us, we have a carefully constructed choice-full family life. We guard our boundaries because we have been hurt, disrespected and perhaps left feeling unloved after too much holiday punch (not the good kind; the jabs and barbs that might as well been thrown directly at our solar plexus). For the unaccepted trans person, for the family of the child with an autistic spectrum disorder whose behavior is hard to explain and guaranteed to be awkward at the table if everyone is staring nervously at him, for the child who is adopted and sticks out like a sore thumb in the family photos because she doesn’t look like everyone else and not in a good way…. For the woman, who feels like a little, scared girl, every time her now adult-still-a-bully-cousin sits down to eat at the same table….for the anxious and depressed, for the fragile, for the sensitive, for the recovering from addiction, for the grieving, and for the not quite solid-enough among us: the holidays can be extremely triggering. As one in a position to give pastoral advice I say one thing now: Self-care and self-compassion must be a holiday priority.

It is not selfish to love yourself, to take care of yourself and make happiness a priority. It is a necessity. We have been given this one precious life. Try to be present to the joy that is around you. Time passes quickly. Breathe. All will be well.