Finding Joy This Holiday Season

Photo by Amelie & Niklas Ohlrogge on Unsplash

Last weekend, I attended a small, backyard wedding. It was an abridged version of what had been originally planned, humble and simple, but it was also magnificent. Magnificent because we finally had a reason to celebrate. Magnificent because it had been so long since most of us had felt sustained joy. Magnificent because we, collectively, had finally come up for air, if only for a moment. I felt not only excitement at the beautiful event but joy at feeling joy.

I understood, perhaps for the first time, why occasions for celebration were so meaningful in centuries past. Even 100 years ago, life was difficult in ways we now have a hard time imaging. Food was more scarce and less reliable, subject to seasons and location. Transportation, clothing, electricity, and running water all took careful planning and real effort. There was no Amazon with overnight shipping or Doordash for instant delivery. Health was more precarious, life was shorter, days were long and marked by labor. Suffering was commonplace. A chance to pause and celebrate meant a real reprieve from the everyday burden of life.

As life became more automated, and even indulgent, we lost that original sense of relief the holidays once brought. I love Christmas, but in my adult life, the holidays have always felt a bit obligatory. The compulsory conglomerations of family can feel tense and nerve-wracking. The pressure to sustain commercial expectations and assure those around me of my love ensures I will drain my bank account and spend the subsequent months scrambling to make up for it. The extra traffic, crowded grocery stores, stuffy malls, and angry parking lots leave me feeling frazzled and exhausted. There never seems to be enough time… or money… to satisfy the beast of expectation.

I don’t feel that way this year.

This year has been a relentless cycle of suffering and hardship. Our country has been divided by politics, racked by racial inequality, and ruined by a deadly virus. We’ve lost loved ones and jobs, homes and health-insurance, life-long savings and progress we spent years sacrificing to obtain. We’ve juggled virtual work and online school. We’ve lost childcare and missed friends. We’ve battled isolation, depression, and addiction. We’ve held our breath, collectively, searching for signs of relief. We are so ready for a reason to celebrate.

Over the last eight months, I’ve felt my life fold in on itself. I think most of us have. We’ve been forced in… inside our own spaces, in with our own people, into our heads. It becomes difficult, after a time, to see past our own lives. It could be tempting, then, to spend the holidays indulging our own pity, clicking items into our Amazon carts to obsequiously fulfill the duty of Christmas, and satiating our grief on the Ben & Jerry’s we’ve instacarted to our doorsteps.

We should resist that temptation.

This is the year to create joy… genuine joy… the sort of joy that, perhaps, was missing from all those previous harried holidays, the ones that whirred by in a blur of shopping malls and wrapping paper. We have had the chance to experience a simpler life, a quieter, less rushed existence. We have had the opportunity to assess what matters most, what holds value in our day to day.

Now we have the chance to step outside ourselves.

It might seem hard when we are all sequestered in our own homes, but it is possible with a bit of creativity. A friend of mine has four grown boys who live all over the country. She is maintaining their holiday tradition by sending each of them matching pj’s to wear while they stream a movie together online. She’s even having a surprise pizza delivered to each of their homes while they watch. That’s awesome… and not something I would have thought of on my own. She is creating joy for the people she loves.

This holiday season, I encourage you to create joy- not just within your own home- but also outside of it. We need moments of commonality, moments that remind us we are in this together. We have more reason to celebrate than ever before and more room to make it intentional and heartfelt. Take the time to let people know they are not alone. Make grand gestures of good will. Handwrite notes. Sing songs of hope outside people’s windows. Leave gift baskets on doorsteps. Play music and dance in the kitchen. Take some time to remember what it is we are protecting through this time. Life, in all its messiness, is still beautiful!

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Dana Ainsworth

Dana Ainsworth

Dana is a writer, educator, and mother in Charlottesville, VA. You can find more of her writing at untethered.blog.