How I Brought Magic Back to the Holidays
Happy Winter Solstice! In honor of this special day, between where the light’s journey ends and will begin again (or the light’s journey peaks if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere), I wanted to share with you some personal experiences and deep, heartfelt reflections about this time of year.
When I was eight years old, I loved Christmas. Oh my goodness, how I loved it! It had nothing to do with religion, and it wasn’t just about the presents. I loved going with my family to cut a tree and then decorating it. I loved making frosted cookies with my mom and sisters. I loved making ginger bread houses and advent calendars with my best friend, Fay. I loved singing Christmas songs and watching every Christmas special on TV.
There was no time of year that I was happier. As a kid I was often anxious and sad. But at Christmas time, everything in my world glittered with magic, and it was perfect.
But around ten years later, a radical shift happened: Christmas became my most unhappy time of year. There was no time that I felt more depressed and lonely. And it would stay like that for another fifteen years.
I know this is common—so many people struggle with awful bouts of depression and anxiety around the holidays, sometimes severe. And the stress of finances and extended family make matters a whole lot worse.
I wanted to bring back my love for Christmas for a long time, and I tried. I tried and I tried. But not until recently did I figure out the missing ingredient. Before I share what that is, a little context and backstory…
I spent my first Christmas away from my family when I was 23 years old. I had just started a new job in San Francisco and didn’t get any days off work. I bought my first Christmas tree, and my mom sent me my first ornaments. It was strange, lonely and quiet. And I decided afterwards that I preferred to be with my family, even if we were incessantly fighting, than to be on my own.
For many years afterwards, I collected ornaments and as Christmas approached, I was actually excited. I tried to bring back the magic and happiness I remembered by honoring my favorite traditions, like decorating a tree, making treats and exchanging gifts. “This year is going to be different,” I would tell myself.
I would fly to Los Angeles to visit my parents, or to New York to visit my sisters. And then, by Christmas day, surrounded by my family, I would be in tears, yet again. And the day after you would find me tearing down my Christmas tree, and saying, “Good riddance!” to all the holiday cheer that now felt so cheap, forced and fake.
I held that love/hate relationship with Christmas for many years: loving the traditions and hating the actual experience. My unhappiness stemmed from a deep disconnect between the life I was trying to live on the outside and the one I actually experienced on the inside.
I believed that being around my family would make me feel less lonely, but it only furthered an experience of alienation and not belonging. I believed that giving and receiving gifts would make me feel close to people, but it only added tense expectation. I believed that honoring Christmas traditions would bring back the simple joys of my life, but they only revealed what was missing.
A Christmas Miracle?
My Christmas experiences reached rock bottom when I was 31 years old. My girlfriend and I were spending the holidays apart, and I was flying out to New York to spend it with my sisters. On Christmas Eve, the second leg of my flight was cancelled when I reached Chicago. And I spent several hours in a total panic because there were no open seats to get to NY for two days. I would have to spend Christmas stranded in a city where I knew no one.
And then a miracle happened — a “Christmas Miracle” — and I scored a seat on a flight that night.
I don’t know how it happened, perhaps divine timing and a really nice call center employee. I am sharing this because that experience seemed like such a miracle that I believed it would make this Christmas magical! I was wrong.
I tried to continue adding Christmas magic by checking out tree and window displays on the snowy streets of Manhattan, but all I experienced were awful, angry crowds. Every moment I was by myself, and every moment I was with my happily married sisters it dawned on me a little bit more: My two year relationship was no more; my girlfriend no longer loved me; I was heart broken and alone.
The day I returned home we broke up. I think that Christmas miracle I experienced was actually a sign that all would be okay. Because, actually, it was. The day after we broke up, my life started getting a lot better. All the energy I had poured into trying to make that relationship work, I poured into my own happiness. I moved to a new apartment closer to my friends. I ended a 5-year stint of therapy. My life became fulfilling and fun again.
The next Christmas couldn’t have been more different! It was my first Christmas with my wife, Barsha. At the time we had been dating for about eight months, and still in that giddy honeymoon stage. We spent the holidays together, just the two of us, and I loved every moment of it! I was happy for the first time on Christmas since I was a kid.
No tears, no loneliness. Lots of laughter. Lots of joy. We honored all my favorite traditions—it was her first Christmas tree. And I finally felt the magic again.
I believed I had found the missing piece—it was that I was finally experiencing the kind of love and partnership that I had always desired. I had just needed someone to spend the holidays with who was special to me.
But actually, that wasn’t totally it.
The years following, Christmas was nice, but not as magical. In fact, it became a little less magical, and a little more disappointing each year thereafter. I couldn’t figure out why. I was still happy in my relationship. But every holiday season I found myself more going through the motions, and less feeling giddy and connected. Christmas ended up feeling no more special than any other day of the year. What was I missing?
Here’s what it was: I wasn’t paying attention to what I really wanted.
A few years ago I decided I didn’t want to spend Christmas at home—I wanted to go on an adventure, and so I convinced my wife and we booked a hotel in the desert. I began to feel some magic again that year. Each year following I would focus on the fulfillment of a real desire, and make a wish come true for myself. It didn’t matter how large or small.
The more I followed what I really wanted, the more I realized what the missing piece was: I desired the unexpected, the adventure, the experience of new possibilities opening up to me. This is what created magic.
It wasn’t the Christmas traditions that were magical. It wasn’t partnership that made it perfect. It was the potential of what I really wanted being realized. That first Christmas with Barsha, a long held wish was coming true–that’s where the magic lived.
Each year, ever since I was a tiny kid, a portal this time of year was opening for me, but only if I grabbed hold of the door. As a kid, that task was simple. Magic was easy. All I needed to do was believe, and my imagination did the rest.
As an adult, it’s been more complicated. I needed to learn to believe in my own desires, and to believe that I deserved what I really wanted. I needed to believe that things will keep getting better and better, if I simply trusted. I now know that this was the real message of that “Christmas Miracle” — to trust in the unexpected.
So now, the magic I experience this time of year has nothing to do with Christmas, actually. I still enjoy decorating a tree, but I know it’s not going to bring the experience I desire. In fact, this year Barsha and I are spending the holidays moving to a new home, so decorating a tree is one of our last priorities! And yet, it doesn’t feel all that important, because my real wishes are coming true.
Instead, I am celebrating what I have called into my life this year. I celebrate and honor how much I have grown and changed. And I am beginning to live what I desire for myself next. I am already envisioning and believing in it.
I believe with all my heart that the power of intention is incredibly potent right now for us all. And we have the ability to begin calling in what we truly desire.
So, if you are not feeling the magic this year. If the holidays are dredging up your loneliness, unhappiness, disappointment or anxiety, I encourage you to begin pondering, “What do I really want?” And then allow yourself to believe it is possible. You don’t need to know how it will happen. Only that somehow it will.
This won’t transform everything about your holiday experience—and it probably won’t make your family gatherings less awkward—but it will create sparks of new life within your heart that will carry you towards a better New Year. Happy holidays!
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