By Ron Culberson. With a master’s degree in social work, Ron Culberson spent the first part of his career working in a large hospice organization as a clinical social worker, middle manager, and senior leader. As a speaker, humorist, and author of "Do it Well. Make it Fun.The Key to Success in Life, Death, and Almost Everything in Between", he has delivered more than 1,000 presentations to associations, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporations. His mission is to change the workplace culture so that organizations are more productive and staff are more content. He was also the 2012-2013 president of the National Speakers Association and is a recognized expert on the benefits of humor and laughter.
During December, the phrase “holiday spirit” comes up a lot. After a particularly challenging year, I’ve been thinking about how this phrase relates to the end of one year and the start of another. I mean, what is holiday spirit? And why is it limited to a few weeks between Thanksgiving and January 1st? I felt it was a good question that required a bit of scrooginizing to figure out (See what I did there?).
First of all, the phrase “holiday spirit” means different things to different people. Traditionally, people who celebrate holidays like Christmas or Hanukkah may make a connection between a sense of spirit and their faith. For others, this phrase may relate to the impact of beautiful decorations and traditional music. For some, holiday spirit may be the feeling they get when they engage in gift giving. And for a few, it’s simply the warm sensation they experience after throwing back a cup of whiskey-spiked egg nog. That version of holiday spirit will definitely deck your halls!
But rather than worrying about the origin of the phrase, I’m more interested in why we don’t embrace this spirit throughout the rest of the year. It reminds me of what our pastor once said during a Christmas Eve service. Standing in front of the largest crowd all year, he said, “You know, we’re here every week!”
Holidays, like vacations, don’t happen every day. The infrequency makes them special. In fact, if you went on a vacation every day, it would get old fast. The “holiday spirit,” on the other hand, is something we could pursue every day. Here’s how…
Celebration. One of the primary purposes of a holiday is to celebrate. We hold patriotic parades on the Fourth of July. We raise a glass of champagne to toast fresh starts on New Year’s Eve. And on Thanksgiving, we share our gratitude for football…well, and other things.
But have you ever thought about celebrating the smaller experiences in life? I used to think we should celebrate Tuesdays because they only comes once a week. Seriously, though, Tuesday is the oddball of the week. Monday is dreaded, Wednesday is hump day, Thursday is almost Friday, Friday is TGIF, and Saturday and Sunday are the weekends. Tuesday has no identity. So maybe we should celebrate it more often.
When we engage in a celebration, we stop our normal routine to acknowledge or revel in something extraordinary. Ironically, every minute we are alive is extraordinary. In fact, the alternative to being alive is not great at all. So, perhaps we should celebrate Tuesdays, or the completion of an important task, or eating healthier food, or the sight of a beautiful sunset. If we really pay attention, all of these smaller celebrations might have a greater impact on us than the tinsel and turkey that we celebrate once each year.
Memories. It’s been said that the sense of smell is a powerful memory generator. When I think of the scent of a pine tree or the aroma of turkey cooking, it reminds me of my childhood holidays when everything seemed simpler and full of wonder. As kids, our primary responsibility was to eat food and open gifts. We didn’t have the stresses and responsibilities of adulthood. So, those memories warm our hearts. That’s probably why we retell so many family stories around the Thanksgiving table.
As a former hospice social worker, I know that it’s important for us to remember. When we acknowledged our memories, without getting mired in them, we make the connection between our present and our past, thus experiencing the emotions that go with those connections. For instance, during the holidays, many families acknowledge someone who has died by lighting a candle or having an empty chair at the table. These rituals keep us connected to those loved ones who are no longer with us. Perhaps we should do this at other times throughout the year. Some days, we might want to sit down and take a moment to remember. The memory might be sad or it might be happy. By experiencing it, we bring it into our consciousness rather than burying it—which is a healthy thing to do.
Connection. One of our favorite experiences during the holidays is to gather together as a group in order to, well, dive into tense social and political arguments. Seriously, the holidays can create stress because as the saying goes, “you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family.” This is not necessarily a bad thing but sometimes there is a skirmish or two. The point of our gatherings, though, should be to enhance our human connectedness.
Holidays might be the only time we get to spend with certain friends or loved ones and those connections are important for us to maintain. It turns out that close relationships are good for our well being. That’s one of the reasons I prefer Thanksgiving to Christmas. The goal of Thanksgiving is to gather together around a meal rather than focusing so much on gifts and decorations. When we spend quality time with one another, we actually receive a different kind of gift that will last a lifetime. And the best thing about human connections is that we don’t have to wait for the holidays to engage in them. If we make a point to nurture these relationships throughout the year, we create lasting bonds.
Generosity. In my humble opinion, the best part of the holiday spirit is the generosity that occurs. Perhaps, in our attempt to enjoy our own celebrations, we become more aware of those who have less. Or perhaps during the process of buying gifts and food, it’s easy to get a little extra and give some of it away. Regardless of the reason, generosity flourishes during the holidays. And this is definitely something we can do all year long.
What if we considered giving something away every week. Maybe, it’s some spare change. Maybe, it’s an article of clothing we no longer wear. Or maybe, it’s the gift of our time. By giving to others, we may make their journey a little easier while enriching our own lives as well.
Bottom line, the holiday spirit can come from a celebration of memories, connections, and generosity. But why wait for the last few weeks of the year to enjoy it? If we consider celebrating all year long, we might just create a new tradition called the “everyday spirit.”
Give it a shot. And in the meantime, happy holidays.
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