Growing up, one of my father’s best friends was a man from Venezuela. Year after year, my family attended Los Posadas celebrations at his home. Posadas celebrates the journey of Joseph and Mary and lasts for nine days, culminating in Noche Buena, or the Holy Night of Christmas Eve. I was obsessed by their elaborate and beautiful crèche that sat on a large table but spilled out onto every available surface in the room. Guests were invited to add to the tableau in any way they felt celebrated Posadas. The fragile porcelain Jesus was attended at the manger by an orange troll doll, while a tiny Santa Claus sat in the poinsettia beside a plastic taco with googly eyes. There were homemade tamales, empanadas, a spiral ham, endless Jarritos for the kids. And, every year, a nine-pointed piñata, a paper mâché star filled with candy and hanging from a tree limb. One at a time, the children would be blindfolded and handed a stick. The adults would spin us around thirty-three times, one turn for each year Christ was on earth. Then they would set us loose and we’d attempt to break the piñata and release the candy.
My brother Ian – such a boy – thought beating something with a stick was hugely entertaining. But as much as I loved Posadas, I dreaded the piñata, found it frightening and unsettling. Lost and blind, I reeled, unbalanced and off-course.
A lot of us are feeling that same sense of disorientation this season. While the holidays are a time of such joy and connection, it can also be a time of discomfort for those who are grieving or suffering from anxiety or depression. My husband’s mental equanimity relies on a solid routine, and our lives have been anything but predictable lately. Getting out of our routine can leave us feeling untethered, as if life spun us around thirty-three times and then let us go. Everything that moves us toward balance – our meditation practice, healthy sleep patterns, daily exercise routine, and healthy diet – is replaced with late nights, large crowds, too much sugar, extra cocktails, couch sitting, air travel, and awkward chitchat with people we only see once a year. Add to that the blinking lights and the hellscape of Mixmas Radio – If I hear that stupid Chipmunks Christmas song one more time I swear to God I am going to lose my mind – and the result can be less than holly. Or holy.
Now I personally love the holidays. Bring on all the cozy fires, warm socks, Hallmark movies, and bourbon-spiked hot chocolate. But we should be mindful that this can be a overwhelming and stressful time of year for others. And if our loved-ones feel off-balanced, so will we.
My family has found that navigating this season is easier when we do two things. The first is mapping out a plan to turn overwhelmed into overjoyed, to ask ourselves if we have the necessary resources – time, energy, and mental presence – needed to be grounded and grateful this season. We have an annual Ho Ho Ho/Oh No No meeting to help manage expectations and decide what is energetically (and financially) feasible for us. So ho ho ho to hosting game night with our closest friends, but oh no no to that party given by a friend of a friend. Ho ho ho to ice skating, making a gingerbread house, or caroling. But oh no no to all three. Planning helps us have a little more structure and organization, even though we know going in that we will be a little over-fed and under-rested this season. Sending regrets for some events helps us be joyfully present for the events we choose to attend.
The other thing is in making our mindfulness practice non-negotiable. For me, that is at least five minutes of daily meditation. For David, it sounds like binaural beats as he drinks his morning coffee. And for Izzie, it looks like practicing legs up the way while she breathes. Mindfulness helps remind our brains that feelings of disorientation come, but they are temporary and will also go.
This two-pronged plan helps us stay on course. It doesn’t stop the spinning, but it at least allows us to peek from beneath the blindfold to feel more oriented.