The picture above is my daughter thanking me for a wonderful Christmas.

Today is what the Canadians call “Boxing Day”. People run out to stores, and try to get the best bargains they can get, much like Black Friday after Thanksgiving. Blech! This isn’t what I have in mind when I think of Christmas.

The consumerism of Christmas has always bothered me. When I think of Christmas, I think of magic, carols and children. Anything else disturbs my point of view about the spirit of Christmas and what it should represent. Yesterday, when I logged into Facebook, I saw countless status updates where people posted photos of what they got for Christmas. Encountering that made me not want to login to it.

In some Christmas years past, I too have given and received extravagant gifts. Often they were too extravagent and simply too expensive. When it comes to gift giving, people often fall into the trap of trying to “prove” their love and affection by demonstrating how much they are willing to spend. The media enforces that idea. There is a slogan coined by the Holiday Project that once stated, “I’m the gift, You’re the gift.”* (See note below.)

Some of the best gifts I have received in my life cost little to nothing. My six year old daughter, naturally made out like a bandit. Then again, she is a child, and that is the way it is supposed to be. As an adult, all I really care about is the time I spend with those I love. Christmas isn’t about what I receive from others, but what I give to others.

Christmas Bliss

Yesterday was the best, most perfect Christmas that I can remember. It helps that 2011, which started out quite miserable, ended up being stellar. In fact, it is the happiest year of my entire life. Yesterday, Christmas day, my parents, my ex-husband, and my child came together to break bread. We all got to enjoy the magic of Christmas through my child’s eyes. She was up early marveling how Santa ate her cookies and checking out the inventory under the tree. She was shaking the boxes and speculating what was in them. There is nothing like the magic you see in their eyes on Christmas morning. She was excited to unearth the treasures bestowed upon her by her family and from “Santa”. And as she opened each gift, it was gratifying to see the reverance and gratitude she showed for each gift because she treated each gift, whether it was a $1 set of stickers, or her $200 Kindle Fire (which I didn’t buy). Christmas is indeed magical for children.

I received a few gifts that were very generous and were from the heart. Things I wouldn’t ordinarily treat myself, and things I wanted but have been unable to justify the expense. But the best material gift I received was a handmade craft that made by my daughter’s hand. If I had received no gifts from anyone, I would have remained perfectly content. I’m sure of it.

My day began at 7:00am, a brutal awakening after being up far too late managing Santa Claus. We began opening gifts around 7:30 am to the tasty morsels of walnut date bread. When my daughter was half done with her Christmas delight, we stopped and had omelets and sausage. Another round of gifts until we emptied the tree. We took a break. My daughter and my father went for a nice walk, and my mother and I had some quality time together. When my daughter returned, I made her take her loot out of the living room while I cleaned up and prepped for the next food extravaganza.

Before we had our late lunch, early supper, we had quality time to talk and watch my daughter play with her new treasures. It was a great time, something I could not have scripted. We simply talked and we took turns playing with my daughter, or playing with her toys. 🙂 For supper we enjoyed three courses. First a quiche/tart filled with three cheeses; Gruyere, goat, and Mozzarella. This was accompanied by a toastade with a dehydrated tomato pureed jam and a brisk arugula salad. The main course was the Pork Sugo Pasta. The final dish of course, was dessert. It was open faced brandied apples baked with a phyllo dough crust topped with Madagascar vanilla ice cream. (Along with the various courses we had accompanying wines. No good meal is complete without fine wine.)

There is no holiday without gourmet eats

Food is a very important part of holidays. Food provides more than nourishment. It is a part of me, and a part of my family. Food allows people to connect with others. Food is spiritual. Food has always been a huge part of my families culture, and my daughter is growing up with that tradition.

This year was different because we incorporated the meal with the gift-giving. In prior years we did the food on Christmas Eve, and the gifts the morning after. As a result, when my daughter was done opening her gifts, my parents would leave. I always felt a big sense of let down as if something was missing from Christmas. This year, I changed our tradition. It felt the way it should feel, with none of the negative trappings that are often made into movie comedies.

‘Four Christmases’ reflects life

At the end of the day, I sat down and I watched the movie, “Four Christmases'”. I was tired from a long day. I had a fever the day before and I and simply wanted to zone out. I did that while my ex-husband and daughter built Legos together. The movie represented so much turmoil representative of the “norm” of American society. It presented material that is often the butt of jokes expressed by others. Obligatory get-togethers with people who don’t get along because they are family, where people grin and bear it, false connections where people are “together” for years, but don’t actually know each other very well or connect on a spiritual level the way they should, dysfunctional family dynamics with no physical or emotional boundaries or bottom-lines. The stuff of this and many other movie comedies reflect reality all too well. Though everyone can tsk-tsk at other people’s dysfunctional families, they have normalized their own situations. That particular movies speaks volumes about our world and could be the basis of a psychological term-paper. Or just perhaps, this year of extreme introspection has made me more attuned to all of these things.

I’m happy to say that my Christmas contained not an ounce of drama even though there were events leading up to it, that really could have sunk Christmas. Thankfully, those events didn’t spoil anyone’s mood. There has been drama in the past, and I’m sure there will be some in the future. It is almost inevitable when four or more opinionated adults get into a room for any length of time, especially with the stress of the holidays and the influence of booze. My parents are not known to be the most tactful individuals, though I can’t recall ever seeing them be malicious toward others.

This year there wasn’t any drama at all, and I like to think the one factor that made a difference was me. I did not stress about making the perfect Christmas like I often do. (And I did that with my daughter’s trip to Disney World). I accepted what I could and could not accomplish and did not allow myself to have angst over not having everything perfect. (I learned a very powerful lesson. Don’t sweat the small stuff. In 20 years ago, that fight you had with your uncle Ned over something stupid and trivial will be remembered more than the reasons why the fight started. I’m saddened to hear about people’s family feuds that go on for decades. It is such a waste.)

Drama and personal failings

My family like every other group is guilty of personal failings. Despite those failings they have instilled very strong values. We are honest to a fault. We never, ever lie. We are emotionally mature. We are never petty and do not hold grudges. We are kind to each other, and especially kind to those who have nothing to offer us. I have never seen anyone in my family actively pursue a malicious course of action. I have witnessed those behaviors in countless others, including those who were close to me with wonderment. I couldn’t understand the point of being that way and wondered what they thought they were going to accomplish. I know at times I have hurt others, but I have never gone out of my way to be malicious. I have always been earnest and authentic. You know what you are going to get with me. If anything, my greatest failing was lack of tact. This is something I have improved over the last decade.

I would say we had a perfect Christmas not because I set the tone of holiday tranquility and serenity but because I did so with an air of confidence and authority. I put out the vibe, “this is how the holiday is gonna be”. I know that sounds contradictory since control sounds quite the opposite of that. Being at peace with myself in ways unimaginable to even myself a year ago seems to be a contagion that I am spreading to everyone who knows me. I know my ex-husband, who is presently having considerable difficulties in many areas of his life, and is known for struggling with his demons and with impulse control had a perfect day yesterday as well. Despite our past, we have a very amicable relationship in the present. This enables us to raise our daughter splendidly. It’s almost embarrassing that he thanks me on a daily basis for the many kindnesses that I bestow upon him. He says he doesn’t deserve it. (Everyone, no matter what they have done in the past deserves to be treated with kindness and respect. It’s a gift for yourself, not for them. Being kind to those who you don’t think deserve it, exercises your humanity and your humility. You’d be surprised how that transforms EVERYTHING.)

Holding a grudge

Some people hold grudges. Some people believe I have considerable reasons to hold a grudge, especially with my ex-husband. It took many years for me to accept that we weren’t compatible. We spent a lot of time trying to make our marriage work when it was clear early on, it wasn’t working. Even when I understood the reality of the situation, it took a number of years for me to give up the idea of that I needed to recoup my emotional investment, rather than simply accept things the way they were. That caused us countless emotional damage toward each other. I kept hoping for him to be someone he was not. Imagine how difficult it is for you to change yourself. Now turn that hope and belief upon changing someone else! Once we both accepted that harsh reality, it became a lot easier for us to get along. We no longer tried to make the relationship something it was not. We weren’t meant to be married, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.

I credit the situation to my strength of character and the values instilled by my family who showed me how to walk the walk when it comes to kindness toward others. It doesn’t serve me or anyone else well to hold on to anger, hold on to bitterness, or hold on to pain. The person most likely to be damaged would be my daughter because she learns how to navigate her emotional tides by the example of those who spend the most time around her. She was spared the long-term acrimony that many divorced couples go through, though she wasn’t spared the acrimony of livng through our horrific marriage! I simply will never understand why so many couples can’t step out beyond their anger and negativity toward each other and see the damage they inflict on their children by being vengeful and spiteful to the other parent. What right do I, or anyone else have to exact revenge on another person? Isn’t that the work of God, or Karma or whatever you believe? The universe has a way of teaching others lessons they need to learn. If they don’t learn, they are doomed to repeat the same patterns. I wouldn’t want to wish that kind of suffering on my worst enemy.

A grudge held too long, or gone too far, no matter the originating circumstances, holds no moral high ground. ZERO!

If you were once a victim, which is a powerless perspective to begin with, you become the persecutor. Persecutors are still powerless, only they are victims of their own negativity! When you deliberately try to enact hurt upon others, you demonstrate your immaturity, lack of empathy and lack of emotional regulation. You also show people that the very center of your core self, is a malicious, petty person. In the big picture it demonstrates that any kindness you bestow upon others is for your own benefit or the person you bestow your kindness upon. A true test of character is how you treat those who have nothing to offer you.

Situational ethics verses moral dogma

Some use moral dogma as a shield to justify and cover their own bad behavior. I find a lot of that troublesome. To the non-introspective sort, it does not offer enough guidance regarding situational ethics. Life is not a dichotomy of right and wrong. It is far more complicated. Often those who adhere the most to dogmatic attitudes have very little moral center of their own. Their morality is based on learned behaviors mixed in with a healthy dose of acting. It doesn’t stem from the authentic self. Dogmatic beliefs often enable them to justify behaviors that can be superficially condoned, but when examined more closely, are anti-ethical to civilized human beings with evolved characters and values. Those people will cling to their dogma because they haven’t learned empathy for others which is a sign of emotional maturity. They simply cannot see beyond their own negative emotions or point of view to imagine there could be a different point of view. They are often blind to the effect their behavior may have on others, or worse, don’t care. Do unto others as you would have them do to you is a very good ethos to live by and will guide you in every situation where dogmatic thinking lacks. When you demonstrate the ability to empathize with another, even when that other person has made choices you would not have made, you are able to free yourself from any anger you may harbor against them. It’s not a gift for them, but a gift for yourself.

Getting off my tangent, I believe negative energy creates a negative spiral in a person’s life. There can be no good outcome. It keeps a person reliving past offenses and pain. It makes their hurt a living, breathing part of their present. That negativity effects everyone around them, and not simply the person who is the object of their ire. Negative emotions about the past = self inflicted poison ingested into ones body. I don’t want that for myself, or those around me. Whenever I am overcome with negative energy, I ask myself if that is the example I want to set for my child.

What you give out to the world, is what you receive, and not always in ways that have a direct corrolation. I have experienced so many instances of pay it forward this year. The universe has rewarded me with genorosity of spirit and material things in unexpected places. It also has rewarded me with a sense of peace that I have never known. I have never felt so comfortable in my own skin and my path in life. I don’t need anyone to validate me because everything I need is inside of me. I have made some mistakes in my life, but I stand by every mistake I made and hold my head up high. I have never felt more on solid ground than I feel today.

Whatever is happening with me, I must be doing something right. I can’t remember having such a long stretch of tranquility in my mind and in my heart. I take things in stride so much better than I ever have, whether it is my eyeglasses breaking, being trapped on the road in a stalled vehicle, or suffering through a fever through Christmas. And I have to say, I have never seen my daughter so happy and confident. I am a firm believer that what you put out in the world comes back to you. I put out happy vibes, serenity, harmony and tranquility, and that is what I receive back, in spades. My followers list on Twitter is growing every day so I feel I am able to inspire at least a few people. And my other blog, about personal growth and relationships has a loyal following.

All in all, I feel so happy to be in this world, and so happy to make a positive difference in the lives of others, especially those who are closest to me. I feel validation from within. I love myself, and I know when I am loved by others. One thing I have learned this past year is that in order to take care of others, I need to take care of me first. So that’s what I do. (My boyfriend knows that too, and is totally ok with that.)

PS: I know this blog is incredibly slow, and ugly. It have to redo my Drupal install and figure out what I’m doing. Drupal ain’t no WordPress! It’s on my to-do list along with work on my other blog, my study of shell commands, and learning my Mac!

*(The Holiday Project is an organization that visits retirement and other instiutions on Christmas day. My family and I have participated in the Holiday Project visits for many years. As soon as my daughter no longer believes in Santa, I intend to renew the tradition of giving myself to people who have no one to celebrate the holidays with them..)