In my Waldorf training, I learned that years and years ago, this season was one of quiet spiritual reflection.  During the long nights and short days, one was encouraged to experience the inner light to which we are all connected.   We are all a composite of inner reflection and outer activity.  It is easy to get off balance and focus primarily on the outer, especially during the holidays.  So, as the holidays are upon us, I wrote down the practices that bring me back to gratitude and enjoyment during this season.  There are twelve of them, like the twelve days of Christmas or the twelve steps of a recovery program.

1. Sit down, notice your breathing and consider what a joyful holiday looks like and feels like for you.  For a few moments just notice your breathing.  Noticing your breath helps you become aware of your inner self, the invisible vibrancy of being. Begin to imagine a joyful holiday. 

 2. As old pictures of sadness, hurt or unrealistic expectations come up, let them go – release them to the earth (the earth loves to compost) or release them to God’s hands.  You might even write some of these down and then burn them in your own private ceremony or take them to share with a trusted friend, counselor or spiritual guide.

3.  Make a creative expression of your joyful holiday – Write down on paper the words that describe the inner and outer qualities you would like to experience.  Create a collage with pictures and words or write a paragraph describing the feelings and activities.  Give yourself poetic license; don’t worry about spelling, grammar, etc.  Your writing might turn into a story, poem or a sketch written by a child – it doesn’t matter. This is for you.  This activity allows your inner wisdom to speak to you.

4.  Place activities on a calendar, making sure you have breathing room between activities. Include items on the calendar that support the feelings of your joyful holiday.  For example, some of my words are warmth, love and peace.  Very simply, warmth can be a fragrant tea for warm moments alone or with loved ones.  Love comes from following the next few steps and peace comes from placing the items on the calendar like putting a music score on paper.  Making sure there is space between the notes, creates the melody.  

5.  Place some things on the calendar just for you.  A massage, walks in nature or a concert might fill your bucket so that you have joy to share with others.  “Love your neighbor as yourself” includes loving yourself.  Putting the oxygen mask on your self first makes sense.

6.  Be open to inspiration and flow.  The calendar is not carved in stone.  You can change your mind AND you can decide to do things when the mood hits.  My mother has some helpful philosophy regarding this – she says if you don’t get after yourself for the cluttered closet, you will wake up one morning in the mood to tackle it and it will just flow.

7.  Don’t “should” on yourself or others – your loved ones don’t have to like everything you like.  You can go to the concert alone or with a friend or with a different family member than the one you think “should” go with you.  The point is to create moments that embody the feelings of your joyful holiday. 

8.  Remember that all solutions don’t depend on you.  Allow others to do and have their part in holiday/household activities.  A four year old loves to set the table, an eight year old can clear the table before sitting down to do homework and a dad is a capable parent.

9.  Allow others the dignity to be responsible for themselves.  You might be an aid to your child’s homework, but it is her homework – you might have helped to pay for the present she gives to Daddy, but she can wrap it herself.   Do one of your own chores (folding laundry or doing the dishes) while your eight year old sits at the table with homework or wraps a present.    You are a calm support.  Breathe and believe in your heart that she is capable.  This builds self-esteem for her and also makes it possible for you to take a few moments at the end of the day to sit and breathe, rather than frantically doing chores. 

10. Give your attention to the moment.  If your joyful holiday includes making cookies with the kids, paying attention to kids as they measure, stir and create is the goal; not a plate of perfect looking cookies.  Turn off the TV, put down the video camera and the phone.  Breathe and let go of expectations. Another bit of my mother’s wisdom, “A clean house will be messy by the end of the day, your kids will grow up in a poof, so enjoy them now! 

11. At the end of each day, remember moments of joy.   Remember the look of your five-year old with the cookie dough, remember the hands of your eighty year old mother as she tied the ribbon, and remember the look of the sky as you took your walk.

12. Allow forgiveness to soothe your regrets and make gratitude your attitude.

I remember those Christmas candies that were jelly-filled.  They looked so great on the outside and to my young taste, not so good on the inside.  May these steps help us to pay some attention to the inside!  Have a joy-filled holiday –