When I planned my topics for December, I had intended to create an ethical gift guide one week. I then realized how many people put out gift guides, and that some of them are really fantastic. My favorites were Cali Wolf’s gift guide featuring Indigenous companies and artisans, Catherine’s Feminist Gift Guide, and Scraping Raisins Ethical gift guide. They really covered it guys.
I’m going to keep bucking the system, and talk about Presence instead of presents. My feelings around Christmas have changed a lot since I’ve become an adult. I’m not sure when the tide turned, but at some point in my adult life my emotional association with Christmas went from joy and hygge to overwhelm.
I’m still processing why this is, and carefully tracing the themes of joy and connection through my holidays. Last year, I was at the peak of my seasonal depression, and looking at making a major job change. I mentioned last week that the entire gifting process was incredibly overwhelming, and that’s true. What I loved the most about the holiday was packing up and visiting my family for what we call “Thristmas”, a mix of Thanksgiving and Christmas that has come to be celebrated the weekend before Christmas.
Visiting my family is a time out of sorts. Everything runs on a different timeline when it takes twenty minutes to get to the grocery store. There is nothing else for me to do than what I’m doing right that moment when I’m there. There is nowhere else for me to be. The more I’ve been able to integrate the challenging parts of my childhood and adolescence, the more I’ve savored going home.
I think we savor each other more now too. My book will go into more detail about some of the challenges we all faced when I moved out (shameless plug), but with all the life we have lived, just being together (usually) feels like an exhale. The biggest gift they give me is their presence. They allow me to feel safe and seen.
I get a two to three day window into my growing nieces and nephews, and the worlds they are unfurling. I treasure making memories with them. Seeing their art, projects, reading them books, baking cookies, and cuddling.
Low hummed carols, and late night catch ups are presence to me. Sharing mediocre coffee at the diner we’ve gone to for years is presence to me. Hugging mom and dad after that six plus hour drive, that is presence to me.
My first Christmas morning with Chris in our apartment, with the fire crackling on our flat screen thanks to Netflix, did have some gifts, but I mostly remember feeling warm and held.
My first Christmas away from home, my mom sent me twelve days of Christmas packages that made me feel remembered and loved. (side note, if you’re living away from home for the first time at nineteen, just go home for Christmas.)
There’s something about the question “do you have a wishlist this year?” that cheapens all this presence for me. Wish lists aren’t bad. Presents aren’t bad.
But I’ll take presence over presents every time.
As soon as the days start to shorten, and the shadows lengthen, my internal world goes on high alert, looking for signs of the depression monster.
I start pulling out my light box in the mornings. I double down on my rituals. I pay attention to how long my low moods last, and if they are situational. When we enter daylight savings time, I move from code yellow to code orange.
Any of you who deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder know this dance.
This year, my anxiety was high going into the fall. Last winter was one of my worst. Simply getting out of bed and going to work in the morning took so much energy. The holidays were stressful. Receiving (and finding room for) gifts was especially overwhelming. The energy of thinking of things to go on a gift list for myself (and for Chris) was just not existent. I recently wrote on Instagram about this season - that I wasn't only depressed, but I was mourning many things. This fall, I wondered how much had changed. I wondered if my growth would sustain me through my hardest season. I wondered if I would be able to enjoy the holidays.
I read a lot this year, and one of my favorite books was "Learning to Walk in the Dark" by Barbara Brown Taylor. I listened to the audiobook for free through our local library.
So much of this book stuck with me. First there was the fact that just listening to Barbara is soothing. However I would say that two major concepts impacted me. Seeking understanding, instead of running and hiding from my personal dark, and the value of preserving physical darkness.
I've combatted my anxiety this fall with these mantras.
I will embrace slow
I will celebrate the light when I can
I will become friends with the dark
We follow and celebrate all the seasons in nature it seems, except winter. Sure, there's winter sports and holidays. That's not what I mean.
In Spring, we watch for the first flowers. We smell the damp earth, and savor every extra minute of light we get at the end of our days.
In Summer, we soak in sun and ocean. We revel in the warmth, listen to the tree frogs and cicadas at night.
In Autumn, we harvest. We smell the crispness in the air, and pull out our sweaters and jackets. We have bonfires, rake leaves, bake pies, and carve pumpkins.
And in winter, when Nature rests, we have one of our busiest human seasons. We bake, we shop, we gift, we plan, we work.
We never stop.
Nature reminds us with the short days, with the cold nights to rest. But we keep going. This resistance to slowing down is something that has greatly contributed to my winter blues. I've always greatly felt the need to slow down, and also the push to do all the things.
Here are a few ways I'm choosing to slow down this winter:
Only blogging once a week vs three times - definitely through the winter, and potentially until my book is done.
Minimizing gifting (both receiving and giving)
Only putting up the decorations I really want to see, and not over extending myself with outdoor lights etc.
Not going to stores (online shopping FTW)
Minimizing my screen time - I have done this since before the fall, but not taking my phone to bed with me has greatly increased my sleep quality. I plug my phone in downstairs, and my fitbit is my alarm. I fall asleep better because I'm not scrolling, and I actually get out of bed in the morning because I'm not distracted.
Taking a couple additional days off work.
Part of me feels like it's impossible to really embrace the qualities of Winter in our society. We must always be busy, working, hustling to fund our lives and provide for our families. But that's when I remind myself, that we only need to create a little space.
How are you creating space to slow down this winter?
Megan is a writer and creator from Wallingford, CT. She is passionate about empowering women to step into the full power and identity they were created to embrace and claim.