the body remembers
How did you spend your holidays this year? Did you spend them with family? Friends? On your own? Did you stay local, or did you travel?
What surfaced for you this year around the holidays? Was it a time of joy? A time of sadness? Contention? A mix of all of the above?
So many mixed emotions can come up around the holidays, and navigating them can be such a complex endeavor.
For me, growing up, Christmas was always magical. I was blessed to be raised by a mother who invested a great deal of energy into making the holiday season special for us. In Germany, it started with the first Advent, the first Sunday in December. Most years, we would go into the forest to collect fir branches and make our own fragrant and beautifully decorated Christmas reef. There were four candles on the reef, and, each Sunday leading up to Christmas, an additional candle was lit. It was festive and beautiful, and I loved the smell of the fir, the tangy-sweet clementine oranges we'd eat during that time of year, and all the delicious Christmas cookies we'd spend countless hours baking.
We always had an Advent calendar. You could buy those at the store, and, every day, until Christmas, you'd open another little door, and you'd find a chocolate, or a little picture, depending on the type of calendar. My mom had made us a very special Advent calendar with twenty-four little red felt booties that each had a little gift stuffed in it - one for every day of Advent. It could be a coin, a chocolate, a gift certificate for something special, like an outing to the movies... it was always a special treat, and, every day in December, it was exciting to wake up and see what we would find. The town would be lit up with Christmas decorations; lights suspended between the houses, trees decorated with ornaments and lighted garlands... there were Christmas markets every weekend with vendors selling craftsman wooden toys, beeswax candles, felted figurines, and all kinds of other wonderful things that much care and attention had been poured into. It smelled like mulled wine and spiced gingerbread, and people were full of cheer. If we were lucky, there would be a thick layer of fresh snow covering the town, making it look like a place straight out of a fairytale. The best was when it snowed just in time for Christmas Eve. Then it REALLY felt like Christmas!
Growing up, all this was "normal" for me. I mean, I knew that everyone wasn't as privileged as I was. I knew there were children living in war-torn countries, and children who were hungry and cold, and I prayed for these children every night before I went to sleep. My parents had chosen not to impose any religion on us as they raised us (both being recovering Catholics), but prayer was nonetheless a big part of my life. I remember saying a prayer with my older sister most nights before we went to sleep, and children less fortunate than ourselves were always included.
Since moving to the U.S. as an adult, I've come to realize just how special my upbringing really was and how blessed I've truly been. When thinking of children less fortunate than myself as a kid, I prayed often for the kids in Iran and Iraq, countries I knew were at war, and kids in Africa, where I knew hunger and poverty were very real. I didn't so much think about the children of the United States of America. Since moving here twenty-one plus years ago, however, I've come to discover that many of my American friends never experienced the holidays as the magical season they were for me. Many of them had two working parents who didn't have the bandwidth to go above and beyond the basics, some grew up in underprivileged communities, and not many had mothers (or fathers) who put near the amount of energy into creating the magical childhood for them that my mother did. Christmas came and went for them every year, there would be a few presents and a fancier meal than usual, but many didn't have the same kind of beautiful rituals that shaped the holiday season for me and my siblings growing up. How truly fortunate I was!
The magic of Christmas has been more or less present for me over the years in adulthood. Living in the U.S., I've been caught up in the same busyness as everyone else. We all work hard and take few breaks. Most years, I've worked through the holidays, because the demand was there, and not working has always meant no paycheck for me, so it made sense to work when I could. I've often come out of the holidays feeling like I'd just run a marathon, just to find myself in January, where we are expected to "hit the ground running," full of new vigor and renewed inspiration. But I'd just worked non-stop, and, even those years when I did take some time off, the holidays never felt as restorative as I would have wished, because there was so much going on leading up to them, then at times travel, family dynamics, often battling a cold... No, restorative is not the sentiment that comes to mind when I think about the holidays (since adulthood), and I think many people are in the same boat. Even those whose companies shut down and who get paid time off during this time of year often tell me they would need an extra week or two after the holidays are over to truly feel like they got the rest they needed.
So, where is the holiday magic? Where can we find it? How can we create it?
What does holiday magic feel like for you?
I've had very varied experiences around the holidays since my upbringing in Germany. My ex-husband and I made the holidays special during my first ten years in the U.S. I was warmly welcomed into his family and got to experience new customs and ways of celebrating. I missed some of my own family's traditions, but I also enjoyed participating in different traditions and creating some of our own new ones together. It was a joyful time. Then, eleven years ago, it was not long before Christmas that I had the most painful conversation that I'd had to date with my then-husband. I'd come to the difficult realization that I needed to explore a different path - one that didn't involve us being together. Christmas was very tearful that year and much less joyful than it had been in years prior. We both went through deep grieving, and our lives would be forever changed. Much beauty ultimately also came from this change - for both of us -, but it was gut-wrenchingly painful at the time. It changed the energy of Christmas for me. Where there had previously been predominantly joy, there was now a painful memory attached.
Soon after, I engaged in a beautiful relationship with a woman I shared a deeply spiritual bond with. We created new Christmas rituals together that were layered on top of many other layers of emotions connected to this time of year. Though there was new beauty, the joy of Christmas was never as pure for me as it had been before.
Five years later, I went through another emotional separation around the holidays. While we navigated our breakup with much grace and continued care for one another, it was nonetheless painful to untangle from another person I had loved, who'd been my greatest supporter and best friend, as had my ex-husband before. But my path was calling me in a different direction, and I knew I had to honor that inner calling. I've found this to be one of the hardest things to do in this life: to walk away from people and places we love. But there are times when we can feel with deep clarity that a change is needed, and staying put would ultimately do ourselves and the other person a disservice, no matter how painful leaving may feel to one or both in the moment.
The years following held more strong emotions around the holidays. There were both beginnings and endings of relationships, and countless tears were shed. There was beauty, no doubt, but it was interlaced with a great deal of pain.
Last year, I was two years out of a major heartbreak, and my heart was finally starting to feel like it was mending and ready to cautiously open again. The ground beneath my feet was feeling a lot more solid. I had started seeing somebody unexpectedly beginning of November, and the lightness and promise of this new dynamic had me feeling like I might actually enjoy the holidays for the first time in a number of years. That budding relationship, however, came to an abrupt ending just a month in, and so my heart - while nowhere near as deeply wounded as with my more significant relationships - was feeling a bit bruised, and, yet again, I wanted only to make it past the holidays, so I could start anew in the upcoming year. With most of my family out of town, it was going to be a quiet holiday with lots of time for introspection, rest, journaling, visioning, and healing. Life presented a curve ball, however. A person near and dear to me experienced a major trauma the night before Christmas Eve. I woke up to a very difficult phone call in the wee morning hours of Christmas Eve, and the holidays turned out to be everything but restful and quiet. My experience of the trauma was second-hand, and I can't even begin to comprehend what the first-hand experience must have been like and the impact it still has. I was deeply shaken just being a witness to it, and the trauma lingered long beyond the holiday - for all affected.
This year, my experience of the holidays was a much kinder one. I got the peaceful Christmas I had hoped for last year, and I gave myself the luxury of time off work this year, to truly restore and re-group before returning for the new year, re-energized and re-inspired!
And still... the layers of Christmases past were alive in me this holiday season, even as peace prevailed and my heart was held tenderly. Memories surfaced, and my body showed signs of fatigue that were greater than usual. I don't think it's coincidental that so many folks come down with colds over the holidays. There is so much to process this time of year. Emotions past, as well as anxieties over what lies ahead, dynamics with family, grieving for lost loved ones, feeling more aware than usual of the empty spaces in our lives... We may not always consciously remember all those past experiences, but the body remembers.
A dear friend told me once that she gets depressed every year at a certain time, and, every year, it takes her a moment to realize it is that time... the time that holds the anniversaries of several losses. Our bodies remember. We may have done much healing work and be in a much stronger, happier place in our lives, but those memories are embedded at a deep cellular level, and they cycle back to the surface during these times of energetic convergence. They are a part of who we are, and they've significantly shaped who we've become.
The longer we live, the more memories we carry in our cellular matrix, and, while that may feel daunting to consider, they do not have to become sandbags that weigh us down. If we can recognize and honor our experiences for who they've propelled us to become and see them as the catalysts they have been for us, we can release their weight and allow them instead to become colorful strands of fabric that have been woven into the tapestry of our being and added depth and richness to who we are today. Amongst these strands, there will be golden ones. They may sometimes be hidden behind the duller colors, but they will always resurface and add sparkle to our tapestry. The golden flecks are the light of our soul shining through and the beautiful experiences that have lit us up and made us feel alive. If we look closely, we can see the colors of the special souls whose paths have crossed ours, for however long, interwoven in our own design. We are equally a part of theirs.
How challenging and painful and uncertain and magical and beautiful it is to be a human being. ✨
Thank you for sharing this journey with me and for the color and the richness you add to my tapestry and the tapestry of our world. My life and this world would not be the same without you. 🙏🏼
So much love.
Angie K. 💗
(The photo is of my hometown, taken several years ago a few days after Christmas, by a dear friend, Julia Edel.)