Happy Holidays…What if Everything was a Gift?

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa! I hope you had a great Winter Solstice celebration!

What does the holiday season mean to you? And how do you express it through your voice (inner and outer)?

Do you look forward to cookie-baking gatherings, holiday parties, or groan inwardly at the hordes of masses in the mall as you shop for that one special thing for that one special person…or pretty much just anything that might work for the people on your gift list?

What was the most important ritual during the holiday season, in the spiritual or cultural tradition you were raised in?

I’d love to hear your responses on the blog, so please indulge me as I share some childhood Christmas memories.

My family went to the First Presbyterian church in Raymond, South Dakota, a town of now less than 50 people. I was raised on a farm 11 miles from that tiny town.

I was always an angel in the Christmas Eve pageant, and loved the role, ouchy wings and itchy halo and all. I was able to sing, and loved the traditional holiday carols. We had our rehearsal the same day “Santa” came to town on the one main road, tossing out – from the back of a pickup truck – bags of candy and fruit for we children. Then, we went caroling, and the “town ladies” passed out their homemade candy, like Mrs. Herther’s divinity.

The Christmas Eve service was, to me, heartfully reverent, especially at the end when the lights were dimmed, and the candles were passed out, being lit from one person in a pew to the next. A hush fell over the church, and I truly felt the presence of God, just like I did walking through the hills close to our house with Lucy the dog, or riding on the back of my horse, Princess.

My mother came from a family of nine children, and Christmas Day was always at our house. Mom decorated, and we always had a Christmas tree, with presents either under the tree or on the fireplace hearth. Before long, the aunts, uncles, and cousins started showing up. All the women in my family are great cooks, so the food was always delicious and plentiful. We cousins would sled and toboggan on the hill beyond the shelterbelt, and come in to Dad’s home-churned vanilla ice cream and Mom’s homemade hot fudge sauce. Then we’d play ping pong on the table in the basement. Later, I would often knock out a few tunes on the piano, and some of the relatives would come in to sing with me.

The whole experience, year after year, was Normal Rockwell-esque. And then…I was consistently sad when everyone left…and the day was over.

My childhood holiday memories are precious, and worth reliving, even with the melancholy at the end of the day.

Yet I know it’s not that way for everyone. Some people had lousy holidays, if they celebrated holidays at all.

I’ve continued to scale down every year, because I just don’t have the energy for massive holiday commitments anymore. Perhaps I will next year…not this year, though.

George and I decorated a small tree we ordered online. I put up a few decorations, including the creche which belonged to my Grandma Handke. We made chicken parmigiana with salads and bread for Thanksgiving, and are making a small batch of Great Aunt Martha’s lasagna for Christmas dinner. I was invited to two holiday dinners and made potluck contributions for two holiday potlucks, along with two batches of homemade English Toffee I shared with others.

Then, I decided to treat myself to the gift of a pedicure. My toenails were ragged and painful, and I just didn’t have the gumption to clip, file and paint them myself. I went to the recently re-purchased and renovated place, La Vie Salon, near my home. The young owner, Annie, introduced me to the older woman, Maya, who gave me one of the most amazing pedicures I’ve ever had. Yes, she clipped my toenails short like I like; yes, the shimmery goldish bronze color we decided on looked pretty on the end of my toes…yet, here’s where I tear up.

At one point, this lovely Asian woman with slight wrinkles around her eyes, dark hair pulled back, and black-rimmed glasses was rubbing my foot. My eyes had been closed for quite a while as she massaged both of my calves, and then my feet. I had sunk into a meditative state.

A sudden heavy rain-fall hit and we all came alive. I opened my eyes. And I was staring into Maya’s. She asked with her face if the foot massage was good, and I nodded and smiled. Big smile. She smiled back. I closed my eyes again, and tears came as my heart opened. My heart was opening so big and wide that I wanted to just bawl and let out everything that hadn’t been let out – about how badly I needed someone I barely knew to care for me, and how much I had been holding in trying to just get every damned little thing done. Even though I don’t do much during the holiday season! Go figure!

So, I kept trying to pretend like I wasn’t crying, even though I was. I closed my eyes again, breathed, wiped the tears when they started rolling down a little. Pretended like I was adjusting my makeup.

When the pedicure was done, I happily wrote out my check, with a nice tip, while I saw a purple Buddha statue at the counter. The salon was dressed in Christmas clothing, including a decorated Christmas tree, and Christmas tunes had been playing on the speaker while Maya worked her magic on my calves, feet and toenails.

After I got home with ingredients for dinner and one of the holiday potluck dishes, I made a fresh batch of nectar for the hummingbirds coming to the hummingbird feeder. Which I do whenever the feeder is running low anyway…but this time I thought of it as a holiday gift for the birds. That thought made my heart smile. And my face, too.

And then I thought of something I could do for Maya. Maya, who opened my heart so much I held the tears in until after I got home and then totally let them go and bawled like a baby.

Years ago, one of my ex-husband’s sons gifted me with a beautiful small statue of Kwan Yin, or Guanyin, a Buddhist bodhisattva, what I would term “Goddess” of Compassion. That figurine has been treasured on the altar in my home office for years…and something told me to give it to Maya.

So, I cleaned up lovely Guanyin, wrapped her in tissue, placed her in a “Season’s Greetings” gift bag, and wrote a hand-written card (in my language; she will need a translator) for Maya.  I delivered the gift to the salon the next day.

Now, I have no idea what Maya’s reaction might be. For all I know, in her cultural and spiritual tradition, giving a “used” gift might be considered bad manners. Or maybe her Buddhist tradition is one that doesn’t embrace Guanyin; I don’t know.

Yet I do know I went with what was in my heart. During the pedicure, I felt enormous compassion coming from Maya. This made me feel the same towards her. I don’t think I express that kind of compassion towards other people regularly, nor do I necessarily give it to myself.

I wonder…whatever our spiritual or cultural traditions…what would happen if we can all think of everything we say and do, all throughout the year, as a gift? Perhaps a gift of what brings us expression, certainly through our voice, our music! Joy to those we love. And, certainly, compassion.

The truest and deepest of happy holidays to you.

Authentically Yours, Laura

Thanks to the amazing Jerry Wilson for my speaker reel! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8alNyT2Siw. If you like it, please like it on YouTube! I love empowering and inspiring speakers to HONE their message; please keep me in mind for your next keynote or workshop.

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