Choosing Gratitude and Joy This Holiday Season

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gratitudeI don’t need to tell you that 2020 has been a difficult year. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are just as ready to end the unpredictable chaos and monotony of social distancing as I am. I also won’t pretend we are all in the same boat in this storm. While my boat has been turbulent, we aren’t taking on water. I know many have not been so lucky.

I am writing this from where I’ve stood during this challenging year. I know it won’t resonate with everyone. Frankly, some may even feel I am out of touch (though I certainly hope not). But I live in a community of immense privilege, and for those of us for whom the year has been shaky but not catastrophic, I think a healthy dose of reality and gratitude is exactly what we need this holiday season.

Last year my family gathered at our new home. We had moved from our small condo in the city, and could finally host the large gatherings we’d always hoped for. I carefully picked out chargers for my formal china, and a table cloth for our new dining room table. I decorated, prepped, and planned for the perfect holiday season. Our Thanksgiving was the best one yet. Christmas didn’t go so smoothly, though. I was committed to making 2020’s holiday season better than the last. And then the bottom fell out.

It has become clear we won’t be seeing my parents and brother this holiday season. We probably won’t see my mother-in-law, either. And we’ll be lucky if the stars align and my best friend and her family can come up, given all the preparations necessary for a socially distant holiday.

It kind of feels like the holiday season is ruined. But, it really isn’t. It is only my expectations of the holiday season that are ruined. My holiday season will be what I make of it.

For the first time, we won’t be bound by the expectations and wants of others. It is just us. Perhaps that is a blessing in disguise. This year the holidays will be quieter. They will be simpler. But looking back, it feels perhaps previous years we were being ostentatious.

Holidays past were filled with beloved stress and pageantry. I choose the word beloved for a reason. While many of us may complain about the stress, we bring it upon ourselves in many ways. We choose it, because it is part of the season. Right? But it isn’t an essential part of the holidays; at least it shouldn’t be.

I hope this year we will be drawn closer to the true spirit of the holidays; one of humility, resiliency, and profound love, instead of materialism and empty ceremony (note: I am not referring to religious ceremonies of the season, but rather, the ceremonies we create as a culture that prove for ourselves and others that our holidays were enough). I hope we can also use the space from our extended family to form new traditions, unique to my family, instead of relying on those we inherited from our childhoods.

We desperately miss our family and friends. But I hope when we gather again next year, we will do so with a fresh perspective of what really matters in life. It isn’t the airs we put on during the holidays that make the holidays special. It is finding peace and joy in what we have, with those who matter dearly to us.

I am choosing joy. My family is healthy. We will have delicious holiday meals, even if we aren’t sharing them with our extended family. My child will have gifts under the tree; something I recognize is increasingly a privilege in our incredibly inequitable society. And most importantly, I will be spending it with my family; I have my husband and I have my son. We may not see the grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles in person, but we have amazing technology to include them anyway.

I am finding gratitude because our needs (and many of our wants) are met. I’m finding gratitude because my family has the privilege to celebrate this year. I am finding gratitude because thus far, we have survived 100% of our worst days. Gratitude for our warm, cozy home. For our professional and personal successes. For our strength and creativity in finding new ways to exist and thrive despite the many barriers this year.

And gratitude that the holidays mean we are rounding out a year of turmoil, and moving closer to medical advancements that will mean next year, we can celebrate with our extended family again. I hope that we all remain safe and healthy enough to be there together (when that day comes).

I’m choosing to count my blessings this year, instead of focusing on ways in which this year has been a loss. I won’t allow myself to be drawn towards self-pity when ultimately, I am privileged to have just lived a year of inconvenience and mild discomfort instead of profound loss.

What will you choose to focus on this holiday season? I’m choosing to focus on gratitude.

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Erin is the mother of one sweet, rambunctious toddler and wife to a talented chef. Professionally, she is a former special educator and preschool teacher, and is currently a cognitive neuroscience researcher and Ph.D candidate in Cognitive Science in Education with specializations in neuroscience, cognitive development, and neurodiversity/autism. She holds masters degrees in cognitive science, and neuroscience in education, from Teachers College, Columbia University, and undergraduate degrees in special education (with an additional concentration in elementary education and a minor in English) and early childhood education. As the wife of a chef, food is a huge part of her family culture, and she enjoy both cooking and baking. Some of her other hobbies include hiking, traveling, jogging, meditation, animal rescue, playing piano and guitar, crafting, reading, and of course, writing. You can follow her parenting journey and pick up tips on great kids activities here on Westchester Moms Blog, as well as her website (www.themindfullyscientificmama.com), Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest accounts.