The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Years ago, when I held a part-time job as a specialty department clerk in a Wegman’s Supermarket, I grew to despise the month of December. While the northeast’s celebrated grocery chain lives up to every bit of its reputation as a top company to work for, the steady surge in customer traffic, phone calls, and custom tray orders transformed what was typically a low-stress job into a swirling vortex of aggravation.

But as a newly separated, financially broke graduate student on break for the holidays, I saw no choice but to suit up in hat and apron for every 8.5-hour shift I could legally cram into my schedule. This put me there long enough to notice that, no matter how random the shuffling of tunes on the store’s Muzak cycle, there was one song that infuriatingly played like clockwork.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

Andy Williams’ voice would croon through the speakers every 2 hours and 10 minutes, turning a song I was previously only indifferent to into the most vexatious sound of the season.

I don’t know of anyone who can’t rattle off at least a handful of things that grate on them between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Instead of decking our halls with boughs of holly, we’re decking our planners with dreaded obligations and tedious, time-sensitive tasks–not to mention, expenses. Who wants to sing “fa la la la la” to that?

You don’t have to join in on that chorus. With some shifts in perception and permission to go solo, you can develop resilience toward the hustle and bustle, and maybe even start to enjoy it.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year | Jill of Ark

The first step in reclaiming December is getting clear on what you don’t want. But it’s not about expanding that list of grievances–it’s about understanding exactly what you’re grieving and why.

For me, not wanting to feel rushed and super stressed was really about not wanting to feel like I wasn’t in control of myself. Each year, I’d begrudgingly auto-pilot my way through the chaos until January 1 pressed the reset button, bringing me back to the beginning of the same old journey through another calendar year, armed with new resolutions I probably wouldn’t be keeping past February.

Do you hate shopping for gifts? Is it because you don’t want to spend money on other people, or because you worry about feeling not good enough if you manage to give someone a gift they don’t like or already have? Do you loathe hearing so much holiday music? Is it actually the genre that gets to you, or is it more likely the fact that you can’t escape the constant reminders of how you’re supposed to be merry and bright even when you’re not?

The second step is to examine your thoughts and attitudes about the holidays and the December-to-January transition to determine how they’re contributing to the undesirable outcomes you identified in step 1.

Joining in the sociocultural tradition of imposing boring, difficult rules on myself did not make me eager for a “fresh start,” nor did awaiting post-holiday reprieve from the calendar alone. They only reiterated how not-in-control of my life I already was, creating the perfect conditions for yet another storm come next December (and fostering more disdain for the current one). So instead of seeing December as the ultra-busy climax to an increasingly tumultuous year, I started to look for ways to build my own genuine excitement about January so that December can become more of a bridge and less of a grand finale.

What if instead of beating yourself up for not being a good-enough gift-giver, you become a more generous time-giver? Make plans to take would-be recipients out for lunch or dinner, to a painting class, or to a wine and chocolate tasting. If you won’t dare be caught without a physical item, why not just ask them for ideas of what they’d enjoy? You’re not expected to be psychic.

Or what if instead of pressuring yourself to feel differently than you do, you be honest with yourself about where you are? How much more stress do you pile on your plate by stressing about being so stressed? Be frustrated. Take a break. Say “no.” Your best doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t even have to be great.

The third and final step is to find ways to stay grounded in more self-supportive mindsets, not only through the busy holidays but throughout the entire year. Remind yourself of how you want to show up day to day and empower yourself with tools to do so to the best of your ability, cutting yourself some slack when you forget (because you will) and getting right back to it without judgment.

I have three favorite rituals to help keep December a month of preparation for a deliberately lived year to come–so much so that this truly is my wonderful time of the year.

If I have ample energy, I’ll work through each all at once. If I don’t, I break them up and tackle small pieces in sequence. The key is to keep this light and fun, not to add to the burden.

  1. Performing a 12-card Tarot or Oracle card reading for the year ahead. I lay out a simple 12-card spread, drawing one card as the “guiding energy” or “lesson” of each month (I like the Angels, Gods, and Goddesses Deck by Toni Carmine Salerno for this spread, but any deck will do). Having the year mapped out at a glance prevents me from getting stuck in a particularly taxing day or week because I can take a step back to observe a continuity or flow to the year. I keep a copy of the results tucked into my planner so it’s always readily accessible when I need it.
  2. Adopting a “word of the year.” For the past few years, instead of making static New Year’s resolutions, I’ve partaken in an exercise championed by several women in my circles where I identify one word to represent the theme or experience I aspire to create over and over again. The word becomes the compass with which I make decisions on where to go and what to do, as well as the gauge by which I measure my success. It’s much more compassionate (and sustainable) to be asking, “did I feel ___ today?” instead of “did I do ___ today?”–especially around the holidays and other demanding occasions.
  3. Dedicating my Desire Map Planner. The companion planner to Danielle LaPorte’s The Desire Map (which I also read and journal through at least once annually) keeps my word of the year and several other “core desired feelings” at the forefront of my daily routine. As a calendar, to-do list, goal tracker, and intention-setter all in one, it not only encourages organization and productivity, it also makes it easy for me to stay on track with some favorite soul-nurturing activities.

With a little mindfulness, this time of year can become your hap-happiest season of all. No jingle-belling required.

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