The Holiday Season is upon us again! Does that make you smile or cringe? Do you happily anticipate peace, fun with family and friends, joy, gratitude, light, warmth and hope? Or does it portend exhaustion, depression, gluttony, anxiety, overwhelm, and financial strain? Perhaps all of it? Welcome back to the annual paradox. In some warped way, we’ve been sold a simple, serene Norman Rockwell version of Thanksgiving and Christmas that can only be achieved through great effort and expense. (I am purposely excluding the winter holidays of other faiths here, as they seem to have escaped the worst of commercialization…for now.) I recently heard a morning radio DJ discussing the rumored “Turkey Shortage.” She’d witnessed a wild-eyed woman scramble to purchase FOUR frozen Butterballs, careening her cart through the aisles in a mad dash to Save Thanksgiving!!! And I actually felt frightened when I read that the newest I-phones will be in short supply this December. It triggered suppressed memories of the Cabbage Patch and Tickle Me Elmo Wars of Christmases past. Dark days indeed. Tidings of comfort and joy have been replaced by fear of January credit card bills. My normally cheerful husband is beginning to grimace as we await the children’s dreaded Christmas Lists.
I hope that we can all cut ourselves a break this holiday season. Remember that as bastardized as the story is, the first Thanksgiving tells of starving colonists being grateful for what they had. And whether you view the birth of Christ as historical fact or potent parable, it’s ultimately about the light and hope that accompanies the arrival of unconditional love. Maybe if we can just relax, simplify, and stop trying to make the holidays perfect, we might actually be able to enjoy them? (I’m talking to myself here!)
The first limb of Astanga Yoga is the Yamas, our guidelines for how to behave in society. The third Yama is Asteya– Non-stealing. Simply put, you don’t take what isn’t yours. Nor do you take more than you need. Those three extra turkeys you don’t need aren’t yours. The purchases you made on that VISA you can’t pay off aren’t yours. That mythical perfect Christmas portrayed in Hallmark movies probably isn’t yours either. Like all of the guidelines in the Patanjali Yoga Sutra, Asteya is designed to help us remove agitation from our minds and unnecessary suffering from our lives. How much time do you spend locked in desire – wishing for things you don’t have, coveting the possessions, experiences, and lifestyles of other people? How often does the myth of “lack” lead you to take what does not rightly belong to you? We steal from society by hoarding more than we need. We steal from the earth through greed and carelessness. We steal from our children by burying ourselves in work and mindless distractions. We steal other people’s ideas, energy, parking spaces, precious time, and joy. What if we could eliminate the endless desire for more, work hard for what we truly need, and learn to be happy with and thankful for all of the blessings we already have?
According to the Yoga Sutra, we’d be given the keys to the kingdom. When one is firmly established in Asteya, all gems present themselves as gifts. (PYS II.37) This refers to the gifts that come from surrender and acceptance. Is it possible that all of this longing for more/better/perfect is actually creating the illusion of lack? If we could stop measuring ourselves against everyone else would we finally be able to appreciate how blessed we are? Comparison kills our joy and convinces us that we desperately need something we were fine without a moment ago. Unchecked desire is a bottomless beast with tunnel vision that can lead to morally questionable behavior. (See: the College Admissions Scandal.) As always, yoga wisdom encourages us to turn our gaze inward. Sure, it might feel good for a moment to get something you want but didn’t earn…as long as you can quiet your nagging conscience. But the greater gift is the satisfaction of working for what you have, and living within your means and according to your principles. The most precious gem of all is unwavering gratitude for whatever life bestows upon you.
I was 14 that first Christmas after my Mom moved out. Luckily, my Dad, sisters and I recognized that the illusion of the perfect nuclear family was no longer ours. We decided to forgo the traditional family meal, make a couple pots of chili and host a neighborhood party instead. Friends trickled in all afternoon, relaxed and relieved to unwind after all Christmas morning fanfare. We moved the furniture aside, danced to American Pie, and laughed, laughed, laughed. It is a cherished Christmas memory that became an annual tradition.
As we roll into “The most wonderful time of the year”, I encourage you to relax and let the holiday cheer come to you in whatever way is organically yours. You don’t have to run yourself ragged or into the poor house to emulate some narrow idea of Holiday Perfection. Eat some chocolate, look at some pretty lights, and be grateful for all of your blessings. And if worse comes to worst, I promise you that one day in the future your children will look back fondly on the year they ate hotdogs for Thanksgiving.