Christmas can be an intense and incredibly varied time for us. It holds an enduring significance in our hearts—as a time of celebration, of gift-giving, and of coming together with family and friends. Yet many of us know just as well that Christmas has its challenges too, whether it’s feeling overwhelmed by the to-do list and all the people to see. We can easily feel empty too, at times, touching the hollow ache of loneliness, or the sense that the “soul” of Christmas has been lost amidst the flashing lights, endless advertising, and the emptiness of just “going through the motions”.
For all its challenges, Christmas continues to tap into something very deep in our collective psyche. At its best, it is an abundant expression of human spirit and brightness at the very time in the year when the darkness is at its deepest. Despite all the difficulties and the soul-sucking influence of commercialisation on Christmas, this magical celebration still offers a reminder to many of us that, together, we have the potential to conjure up moments of happiness and connection, moments at which our hearts feel full and content. To me, Christmas at its best is a festival that celebrates some of the most beautiful expressions of heart-based living—such as generosity, joy, connection, fun, playfulness, and togetherness.
Christmas is an incredible part of our cultural heritage. It has been passed across the centuries, through many generations, because our ancestors deeply valued this time of celebration and saw the meaning in it. As children, many of us are fortunate enough to remember moments of sheer glee at seeing the Christmas tree with all its colourful, twinkling, sparking decorations, not to mention the almost uncontainable excitement about the mysterious presents nestled below! We might have a beautiful wish in our heart to recreate this happiness in ourselves and in our family, whether we have children or not.
How can we bring this happiness alive in ourselves and those we care about, knowing as adults that the gifts we receive from Christmas can often be a mixed bag—containing sorrows as well as joys? If we want to live this Christmas in a heart-based way, it’s worth taking the time before it all begins to ask ourselves a few questions:
- What would we most like to receive this Christmas?
- What would we most like to give to others?
- Beyond the presents and the decorations and the other outward expressions of Christmas, what is it that we are looking for?
It can be helpful to sit somewhere calm for a few minutes with a pen and a piece of paper, letting these questions sink in and writing down whatever emerges. We might like to put our hand on our heart to tune in with our heart’s intelligence as we do this. We can treat each question like a little pebble, letting the answers bubble up as they will, but returning each time to allow the pebble to sink deeper and deeper into our heart. The answers might come clearly to us or we might just have a taste, a faint vision of what is important to us. Either way, they will help us to be more in tune with our deeper wishes. However wild, vague, abstract, or uninventive the answers are, we write them down. There really are no right or wrong answers!
When I touch into these questions, what emerges is that what I want the most is to enjoy the presence, love, and warmth of others. I also want to recognise Christmas as a precious opportunity to stop and to rest in a calendar often full with responsibilities. Sometimes the gift we or perhaps a person close to us is most looking for is the permission to rest for just a few days! I see, too, that want to give those that I care about what they really need, even if just a little bit. Maybe I have a sense of what that is already, or maybe I simply need to sit down with them and ask them, creating a listening space for us to communicate as open-heartedly as we are able to.
If your family is anything like mine, then these things won’t come easily! We have all settled into patterns of relating that might not be the healthiest—it’s normal so we don’t have to give ourselves a hard time about it. But considering the answers to our questions, even if we only do a few small things this year to bring to greater life to a “Christmas spirit” that really comes from our heart, it will be worthwhile.
Amidst all the talk of giving, it’s vital that as we give to others, we keep asking ourselves what our heart needs to feel full and content—perhaps we need to enjoy a restful holiday without too much travelling and doing, to spend time outside among the holly bushes in the frosty air, or simply to delight in the joy of playing with our children.
Across the centuries, what we now know as Christmas evolved from the pre-Christian celebration of Yule, which marks the winter solstice. This is the turning point in the year when the shortening days start to lengthen again, and the arc of the Sun begins to rise, bringing more light day after day. It is traditionally a time associated with the “rebirth” of the Sun, and with new beginnings. By tuning into our heart’s intelligence and asking ourselves what we most deeply want to receive and give, we can start to envision and to act in small but creative ways to care for ourselves and others better this Christmas. Carrying on this beautiful tradition passed down to us across generations, we continue the magic of bringing happiness, connection, and rejuvenation to the depths of winter.