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3 Ways to Create a More Meaningful Holiday Season

The holidays are a time to be with the people you love, spread joy and cheer, and feel a sense of peace. Unfortunately, creating a meaningful holiday season doesn’t always happen in the middle of the hustle and bustle. And what about after the holidays are over?

That said, holiday stress is nothing new. Frantic mobs in the malls, juggling obligations with opportunities and even nostalgic traditions can get overwhelming. In 2020, it was even worse for many people who could’t even pay basic bills or get together with family or friends.

This year, and every year, it’s essential to make the most of the holiday season. That includes finding as many ways as possible to make it meaningful. When you’re able to do that, you can enjoy the season much more and get through it with a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.

So, what can you do to create a more meaningful holiday season?

1. Using Gratitude

This time of year is the season of giving, but how often do you actually show gratitude? That means so much more than just saying “thank you” for any of the gifts you might receive. Instead, use gratitude daily and take a few moments to really reflect on the things you do have in your life.

This past couple of years has been incredibly challenging for everyone. You may have had to deal with job loss, illness, the death of a loved one, grief, or loneliness. Sometimes, it can be hard to find things in your life to be grateful for — but they are there. Most of the time, we speed though life pursuing what we don’t have rather than acknowledging what we do.

The sooner you can start to recognize them, no matter how small they might seem now, the more appreciative you’ll become. That can make not only the holidays more meaningful but every day of the year. (and the bonus is, with regular practice, it can benefit your stress level and health, too)

2. Acts of Kindness

Instead of receiving this season, consider what you can give. Again, that goes beyond handing someone a present (although there is nothing wrong with that!). A meaningful holiday season can be found in simple acts of kindness.

From raking your neighbor’s yard to buying a cup of coffee for the person behind you at a cafe drive-through, little acts of kindness can go a long way.

Because this year has been so hard for so many, it can be the little things that make the biggest difference. You never know what someone might be going through and how much your moment of kindness can change their perspective and cause them to “pay it forward” to someone else. If there was ever a time to start a kindness change, it’s right here and now.

3. Service to Others

Being kind doesn’t mean merely buying someone something. Your small acts of kindness could (and should) trigger a desire to serve others all season long.

So very many people are in need throughout the holiday season. And even more so if the months that follow. This year rings true more than ever, mainly because people have lost their jobs or are dealing with loneliness or sickness.

You can make a real difference in someone else’s life through acts of service. Volunteer your time as often as possible. Work in a soup kitchen or a local food pantry. Volunteer at an animal shelter, or deliver groceries or medication to the elderly who can’t leave their homes. Ask a local church, temple, school or community center how you can help them.

Not only will acts of service make you feel good this holiday season, but it can genuinely open up your eyes to how many people need assistance. It can inspire you to do more throughout the year, not only around the holidays.

If you want to create a meaningful holiday season, these are just a few ways to get started. However, the best thing you can do is look into your heart and consider how you can take care of others. Now, more than ever, the holidays should be less about the chaos that typically surrounds them. Instead, take a step back to appreciate what you have, and think about helping others.

For more help creating a meaningful holiday season amid a grief-filled year, please contact me today or visit my page on Counseling for Loss to learn more about how I can help.

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A Gratitude Exercise For the Holiday

Shepherds, Angels and Wisemen; a gratitude exercise for the holiday


The holidays, regardless of which one or how you celebrate, are typically bursting with nostalgic looks back at memories from days past. While this can be beautiful and warming to the spirit. It can also be a way to enamor ourselves with things more distant and leave us forgetting appreciate the good things we have had most recently. In a year like this one, an actual exercise or practice of gratitude may be more needed than ever.

Because the nativity holds a special place for me in reflection this time of year, I like to use subjects from it. You can rename the three subject titles however best fits your family’s traditions,  beliefs or practices.

And yes, this can be adapted for use with kids as well. It can be a great way to share a practice of acknowledging what we have and hold dear in life. And adults can be an example by participating and sharing about ourselves as well. Might make a nice new family tradition?

So, here we go.

First, get some paper or use your journal. Yes, keep it ‘old school’ and hand write this. (it matters in several ways – including brain/memory). Find a quiet and comfortable place where you can sit with your thoughts and put them to paper without much distraction.

Shepherds;

These are people from your same walk of life, your neighborhood, old friends, coworkers – people who come from familiar territory; even if they have different roles, tasks. They are diligent, reliable and fierce defenders of your goodness. And, they support you and honor the ‘real’ you in some manner.

Write down the names of 3 people who have been shepherds to you in the past year and a few examples for each of them of how you have benefited from their presence in your life; how you have felt their support, love and camaraderie.

Angels;

These are people whose presence in your life has come to a conclusion this past year or a significant change. It could be a relationship that ended, it could be the result of a change of residence or career, or even someone who has passed away. The presence of them has added to your life, your learning, your appreciation or in some other way. Big or small, they have impacted your life and you will remember them.

Write down the names of 3 people who have been angels to you in the past year and few examples for each of how you have benefited from their presence in your life and why that matters to you. (Try to focus on ones from the past year. It’s sometimes easier to jump to larger losses of the past – try to refrain from this and focus on exits from this past year).

Wisemen (and Wisewomen);

These are the people who are very different from you. They may hold different careers, have different lives, perhaps have different faith traditions and cultures. Their lives are very different from yours and yet they have served as a guide to you; knowingly or unknowingly. They have gifted you a very different perspective. They do not challenge or dismiss you, but their presence has brought something new and unexpected into your way of living life. They may inspire, invite or share – but in all their action, they honor who you truly are.

Write down the names of 3 people who have been wisemen/wisewomen to you in the past year and a few examples of what their presence in your life has brought you; what you have learned, how you have changed or grown.

Finally, to bring this exercise into full resonance, share your answers for this year with someone else – talk about it. Elaborate on your responses and talk about the gratitude you hold for all of these people and your experiences. Put into words, aloud, how you are a better person for it. How your life has been added to by having them in it.

To really stretch – you can also opt to contact those people whom you can from your answers and let them know that you appreciate them being in your life and some of the ways who they have been to you in the past year has been impactful.

At bare minimum, when you complete the written exercise (not typed – handwritten), put it down for a while and come back to it a few hours later. When you do, read it out loud – not just the answers, but “One of my shepherd this year was _____ because she/he __________, _________ and __________. I am grateful for them and my life has grown in ways such as ______________________ and __________________.” (or something similar).

Don’t forget you can change the titles ‘shepherd’, ‘angel’ and ‘wisemen’ to whatever subject titles best fit your spiritual beliefs and practices.

Handwriting, reading and hearing are all different paths into memory. Discussion with someone else adds layers to this as well. Gratitude must be practice for the brain to learn to seek it out. The more we visit gratitude in our thoughts, the more readily and frequently we are to recognize the other things to be grateful for. Things that have always and will always come through life – if we only see and acknowledge them.

Peace, health, happiness and prosperity to you and your loved ones this holiday and in the year to come.

Pace’ Tutti –
Ben

 

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Making Christmas More Meaningful with Befana

Since I was a child my family has always celebrated Epiphany and the arrival of Befana; the old witch who in Italian tradition flies on her broom filling children’s shoes left by the door with little surprises; sweets for those whose behavior was good and little lumps of coal and twigs for those who were not so kind or gracious in their actions. But as I got older, the legend of Befana became more important as a way of making Christmas more meaningful. So, I’d like to share our version of it with you.

The Legend of Befana

The story goes that a special baby had been born under a very bright star in Bethlehem and people from many towns and villages were making their way to see him. As it happened, three very learned viziers; sometimes called counselors or wisemen were passing by Befana’s town on their way to Bethlehem.

Befana was beloved in her town as a kind and generous strega (think good witch, wise woman, etc) and was especially fond of caring for the children. One of the children in the town passing by told her of the excitement and bid her to follow. But Befana didn’t want to show up empty-handed and decided she would bake some sweets to take first.

More people passed by her home, calling to her as they hurried by so she would not miss the chance to come. But at her kitchen window, Befana waved them on with a smile and she rolled and baked her breads and cakes.

Day after day, the people going by called out to Befana at her kitchen window as she worked. Each time she smiled, waved and them and said she would be there – she just had a few more things she wanted to get done.

Hurry Up, Befana

Finally the house was clean, all the baking complete and she had them wrapped her many wondrous treats in a clean cloth and tucked in her basket and was heading out. The skies were moving to evening and getting darker and only a few people could be seen in the distance on their way to Bethlehem.

But Befana realized she had not swept her doorway. What if someone came by and her house was messy? She put down her basket and swept the doorway, the porch and all the way down the little stone walkway in front of her home. Done. She decided to bring her broom thinking she could help with the cleaning up from all of the visitors. Now she was ready. She grabbed her basket and her broom and stepped into the road.

Befana Is Finally Ready

But all was silent. The town was empty. There were no people to be seen and now it was well into the night. Had she missed her chance? Maybe she could find a caravan or group of others – perhaps she could catch up?

She ran in the direction of she had seen people go earlier. She ran and ran, desperate to make it. But Befana was not so young anymore and she had no idea where she was going. She refused to give up and continued to run.

Eventually her body could take no more and she sat down under an olive tree, in tears. Befana realized that she had let things that were not very important, keep her from attending to things that really are. She felt devastated.

Grace and Opportunity for Befana

A multitude of angels who had gathered for many days in the skies above Bethlehem were heading home – one of them saw Befana crying beneath the olive tree. The angel recognized her as the compassionate woman she truly was – who had cared for so many others in her town for her entire life. The angel extended a gift of mercy to Befana – in the form of an opportunity.

Befana would not go to Heaven just yet. She would live on – able to do what she loved to do – she would be able bake throughout each year. And then, on Epiphany, she would travel the skies on her broom, delivering treats to all good children, until the day Christ returned to the world. Then she would be able to visit him, completing her heart’s desire and be released from the mortal world. It would be hard work and not necessarily what she might expect, but it would be a chance to amend her mistake through a service of love.

Befana smiled and gladly accepted.

Why do I love the story of Befana?

Because it is a story of many different things to many people. For some, it’s a story of forgiveness. For others it’s story of the promise of redemption and of making amends. It’s a story of service and second chances. A story that reminds us to pay attention to the wondrous things in life – those precious things – the “big picture” and to not get caught up in our attachments or desires; trying to control the little things or be overly concerned with how we might appear or be judged by others. And for someone else, perhaps a story reminding us to listen to the people (and the moments) in our lives that call out for our attention and to not take them for granted.

One particular aspect that I love is that the story of Befana doesn’t have a villain. There is no bad person who “gets what they had coming” – there is no winner compared to a loser. It’s a story of a good person – a kind and giving person – who gets caught up in the mundane, the “busy work” and ends up being distracted from the bigger picture and consequently, makes a mistake. She had the best of intentions, is regretful and tries her best to plough through but cannot do it on her own. Then, from an unexpected source, she is extended an opportunity to amend – not just a cavalier wiping of the slate – but a true chance to act towards making it right.

Make The Holidays More Meaningful

I have been in Befana’s shoes at various points in my life; focused on what details I thought were important and needed my attention – only to discover I was missing something greater and far more precious. At times I had friends and loved ones try to get my attention – to hurry up and not miss the moments that were passing by. And still, I did not listen., But I have also been fortunate to have had many “angels” along the way – from places and people I never would have expected. And in their grace, found a path back to connect with the more precious and dear. Call them angels, wise men, good friends, mentors, sponsors, whatever you want. I call them gifts and I am truly grateful.

A Meaningful Christmas Challenge for You

In celebration of epiphany, a time of realization and discovery – look at your life. See your successes and the things you do have – the cup half full. See the struggles that you overcame, the times you could have stumbled but didn’t, the mistakes you made and yet still you are here today. And then, take a step back and consider the people who helped you get here – helped you through, supported you, loved you, befriended you, believed in you, supported you – whether in big or small ways. Consider making this holiday more meaningful but starting a tradition of reaching out to some of them and letting them know how grateful you are to have had them in your life. Celebrate gratitude and reflection this 12th Night – take the road of a truly Wiseman (or Wisewoman).

Pace’ Tutti and Buon Epiphania!

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