I love the holiday season. I always have, although the way I show up for them is WAY different in this chapter of my life than in past chapters.
This time of year, it’s really easy to get sucked into the “shoulds” and “have tos.” We can make ourselves crazy with obligation and put everyone else’s needs ahead of our own. Hopefully we’ve all used the last couple of years as a way to reset holiday expectations and make them more enjoyable for ourselves—but that’s a whole other blog post.
I want to talk about writing as a strategy to get through the season.
I know what you’re going to say: I don’t have time to write the rest of the year, and you think it’s gonna happen NOW?
I get it, but here’s the thing: We’re never going to have time for the things we don’t make time for.
Writing, whether you’re a professional novelist or exploring journaling for the first time, is a salve. It’s a way to smooth out the edges of the stress, to make sense of all the thoughts racing around in your head, to process emotions and get clarity on anything from what you want for Christmas dinner to how your relationship challenges with your partner are related to something you experienced as a child.
Writing during the winter, I’ve found, can be an even more profound experience. Something about winter, the darker nights and shorter days, promotes more introspection. It begs for a blanket, a cup of something hot and a notebook and pen curled up in the window where you can unwind your thoughts. It’s a time for reflection, for planning, for making new choices and new promises to yourself.
And when I started writing down what I wanted for myself from the holiday season, I started realizing new things were true for me. That I was holding on to a lot of “traditions” that didn’t serve me anymore. That guilt and shoulds were ruling my days. That I wasn’t even enjoying the time that I loved the best.
So one particularly difficult year on my birthday, which is right around Thanksgiving, I took out my journal and asked myself a question:
What do I want this holiday to look like? What do I need this year?
I sketched out the broader picture, and then every day throughout the season, I asked myself another question:
What do I want from this day?
I figured I’d uncover some really deep insights like, I don’t want to go to this party, or I have no desire to do a team gift exchange with my coworkers. But what I ended up writing really surprised me. I realized that I was holding on to the way things looked, instead of admitting what they actually were.
I realized that there was nothing about my life at that point that brought me joy.
I realized I was living out someone else’s expectations of me, rather than my own.
And I realized that I didn’t want to spend the holidays the same way I’d been spending them, because it was the way I was taught to spend them. That I didn’t want to spend my life the way I’d been spending it.
That was November. By January, I was getting divorced.
Now I’m not saying that your journaling experience about the holiday season needs to uncover something so dramatic. Maybe you’ll just realize that you want to order food from Whole Foods rather than cook this year. But what I do hope for you is that you find your way back to some joy during the time of year when joy should really be the only priority.
And maybe find a new piece of yourself to honor, too.