A Mindful Winter Season

This year, the holidays have descended early and are in full glitzy swing. Part of me sighs, “Can we please just make it through Thanksgiving?” while the other part of me is celebrating. There's no denying that I love this season. I love the memories I have associated with it and the excitement I have to share it with my baby. For her, I want it to be as magical as I can possibly make it for no other time is more full of magic and mystery and sweetness. But, I'm wary of falling into the trap of buying the experience, of getting swept up in the early pressure to purchase what is easily accessible. I want our holidays to be authentic, full of meaning, warm and memorable which takes extra effort, extra thought, and extra purpose. This year, I've set about to incorporate a mindful approach to the traditions we know and love and to create new traditions unique to our little family.

This year, the holidays couldn’t come at a more opportune moment in history. With the recent divisive turmoil and fear and hatred that is swirling relentlessly throughout the country, it is even more important to enjoy a mindful and thoughtful celebration; it is the perfect time to stop and recall what this season is supposed to mean beyond religion, beyond race, beyond politics, beyond hate, and beyond selfishness. We, as parents, have the great responsibility to shape our families, to shield and protect them in a frightening world, but we also have the unbelievable opportunity to create small, inextinguishable flames of warmth and light in a dreary, tired, dark world. And this season is nothing if it isn’t about light in the dark.

This year, since it is the first my little family of three will be spending in our own home, I want to focus on creating traditions that tell a positive narrative beyond the excitement and thrill of decorations and presents. I want these traditions to celebrate our religious beliefs throughout Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, but I also want them to celebrate a sense of mindfulness and intention rooted in reality. I want our holidays to be timeless and full of texture. So, to escape the suggestions surrounding me, I started thinking about what the winter season of celebration, from Thanksgiving to New Year, meant to families generations ago. What did it look like before the panic of presents and perfect trees and visits to Santa Claus at the mall? I think it looked a lot like family and friends gathering, lighting candles and fires, telling stories, sharing laughs, tears, and meals. I think there was a lot less glitter and shine and tinsel and more tattered woolen wear and treasured heirlooms. Our current familiar holiday standards were once rooted in deep tradition, and, for some, they still hold significant meaning. But as a whole, the depth of meaning has been lost. We are surrounded by imagery and traditions that have become common commodities. But they are still here, waiting to be rediscovered and assigned meaning once again. It’s beautiful. In fact, stepping back and out and away from the modern fray of the holidays, reveals a glittering, sparkling impression of tiny lights in the dark.

This year, and years before, we recognize a holiday season that is created to celebrate light from every imaginable source. Families drape their homes in strings of lights, creating dreamy streets and glowing lighthouses filling the darkness. So ingrained has this tradition become, that we don’t realize we’re participating in a much bigger human celebration. Symbols of light are prominent in every major seasonal religious holiday. The advent candles and the star of Bethlehem for Christmas, the menorah for Hanukkah, the diya for Diwali, the moon for Ramadan, the Mishumaa Saba for Kwanzaa, and lanterns and the moon for Chinese New Year. I’m sure there are more. The darkness of winter, the starkness of the cold and snow and blurry weather is transformed through our celebration of light, warmth and life. In ancient flickering, natural candlelight, our human connection is revealed; the artificial, blinking spotlight of contemporary culture tends to distort it. Light, in all of these celebrations, serves as a symbol of our need for the positive reminder of hope and love and community in the darkness of the world. As long as we light the flame and pass it along, there is always hope, there is always love, there is always warmth.

This year, I want my family’s seasonal traditions to be warmed by the golden glow of that ancient light. I want my daughter’s winter to be more than just the anticipation of opening the biggest gift under the tree. I want her to know the meaning of all the symbols, the love and hope and life they represent for people all over the world. I dream of creating an environment where we take time to appreciate the season and how it makes us feel. Family, charity, creativity, thanksgiving, and community are my focus this year. We’ve already planned simple family events like storytelling nights, moon gazing picnics, Christmas music dance parties, a scavenger hunt through the canyon, and a no boundaries hide-and-go-seek extravaganza. We are working on how to incorporate our extended family members who live thousands of miles away from us. We are crafting decorations from clay and paint, little gifts with found nature items and lots of glitter, treats like decorated sugar cookies, caramels, and deep, dark gingerbread to share with neighbors and friends. All of our creations will show we are capable and worthy of display. We are looking for ways to give of ourselves, by donating food and gifts and spending time with the elderly in a local retirement home. By sharing of ourselves, a near-two-year old might understand what empathy means and let her light shine. We are making lists of the things for which we are deeply thankful and we intend to share them with each other and others we know. We will expand our new community through purposeful, intentional actions and respect. Children are naturally full of the most pure and precious timeless glow.  We need to kindle it, praise it, share it, and mirror it into our own lives. How blessed are we, as parents, as humans walking this earth, to have the opportunity to live alongside these fleeting, golden miraculous creatures? In the darkness, we should always seek their guidance.

This year, regardless of your religious, political, sexual, or social affiliation, I invite you to join my family in our quest to light bright a honey sweet flame of the season. Take to to meditate on your family, determine a purpose for this season. Find a way to share your glorious light, to open your home to new sources of glowing love, and to experience the old flame of kinship and community. Don't miss the opportunity to kindle a fire for your family and don't forget to seek out a flickering glow where the darkest seems the deepest.

JOURNALIST: Shannon Sullivan Brown