Every late October we bring two very large hibiscus plants inside for the winter.  This year we delayed the process a few weeks thanks to extended warm weather.  Eventually frost is predicted and moving inside necessary to keep plants alive.  The sudden transition plays havoc with their well-being and they drop leaves continually.  Each year I fuss about the mess they make, thinking seriously about getting rid of them and buying new next year.  But it’s very satisfying to nurture favorite plants through all seasons and watch them bloom inside as snow covers the ground and temperatures dip dramatically.  Eventually they acclimate to being inside and their bright blossoms bring color and inspiration throughout frequent dark winter days.

Life is a bit like those plants:  unpredictable, messy, delicate, and just about the time it all seems too much to contend with, beauty appears.  In this winter season of peace on earth and Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer, it’s challenging to go from profound to profane and dozens of degrees in between.  Songs tell us “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” while magazine articles list coping strategies for holidays and ways to survive visiting relatives.  Such contradictions leave us confused and concerned.

Perhaps a good beginning is to reduce our expectations.  December is one month out of 12, and even though advertisements introduced the holiday season November 1st, it’s a celebratory event that need not last weeks unless we want it to.  As with much of life, we have choices and options for how and what we care to invest in all the hoopla.

Just as my withering plant suddenly blossoms in vibrant colors regardless of the weather outside, my mood lightens as I listen to my grandchildren discuss Santa Claus and the Elf on the Shelf.  The younger ones believe with all their hearts, and older ones enjoy knowing facts and understanding about not spoiling fun for the younger believers.  Sometimes I envy their firm faith in trusting a jolly rotund guy will grant their wishes.

My preferences for how to properly celebrate holidays have changed frequently and dramatically.  Flexibility is essential.  Traditions are beautiful even when modifications are necessary, and the spirit of the celebration is more important than details.  That took me years to understand and accept.

When our family gathers together for our Christmas celebration, laughter is a main ingredient.  Good-natured joking, where no one is uncomfortably targeted, is part of the festivities along with great food and beverages.  The perfect family gathering for a celebration like a Norman Rockwell painting?  Not really. We’ve all made mistakes, inadvertently hurt another’s feelings, responded harshly when we shouldn’t have, and the list goes on.  But forgiveness is part of family dynamics whether Christmas or mid-August.

As we honor what’s merry and bright, helping to increase where it’s lacking, and later welcome a New Year, let’s remember to invite hope, love, peace, joy, and generosity to the celebration, for ourselves, those we love, and all who share in our humanity.

My very small Christmas cactus, a start from a larger plant, began sprouting blossoms in November.  Not sure they’ll last through December, but sometimes nature shares beauty early in the season.  Humans do that also, and we call it grace.

Sandra Dempsey Post

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