“Celebrating the Holidays in Your Heart”
My first Christmas, I came home with a 14-foot live tree hitched to the top of my Chevy Blazer. Having grown up Jewish, I wasn’t quite sure how to properly string the lights on the tree, so I left that for my Presbyterian husband to do. Instead, I concentrated on very meticulously hanging an ornament from each bough, and it wasn’t until my husband came home that I learned you’re supposed to put the lights on first. Whoops. So to all of you Jews out there celebrating your first Christmas, listen up: lights before ornaments. That’s Christmas 101.
The holiday season is a very special time of year for me, albeit a busy time. I ease myself into it each year with Thanksgiving, and then I prepare for the onslaught: my son’s birthday on December 14th, followed by Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years, then finally capping it off with my daughter’s birthday in early January. Each year I find myself talking about the holidays with all of my friends pretty much incessantly until it’s over – what are you doing, where are you going, who are you spending it with, what are you eating, what gifts are you buying, and so on and so forth. And all the while I have a smile plastered on my face, since I love this time of year.
It wasn’t always that way, though. In reality, the holiday season can be a stressful period, and it’s not made any less stressful by the fact that we each feel like a failure if the holidays in our family don’t look a Norman Rockwell painting. I spent many Christmases being very sad – when my family was going through a dysfunctional period, when I was divorced and alone for the first time, when a loved one had passed away. That’s hard. When you’re alone – or when you feel alone, even if you’re surrounded by people – the holidays are difficult. I remember the year after my husband left me, all of a sudden I’m on my own and trying to make Christmas special for my kids, which is hard enough to do being Jewish and even harder considering that I had no money. I was on the edge of despair, trudging through the snow one day, and I dropped my glove. I looked down and was astounded to discover three crisp $100 bills lying right there in the snow. Knowing how much I would miss that money if I had been the one who dropped it, I tried to find the owner but there was no one around. Eventually I just looked up and said, “Thank you.” That money changed my entire world that holiday.
Despite my Christmas miracle, that was actually the last year I bought a tree. At the end of that Christmas, my kids told me that they didn’t need such an extravagant holiday anymore. They wanted me to be who I was, even if that meant no Christmas. And their acceptance and love was one of the best gifts I have ever received.
When things get stressful this holiday, it’s important to remember that you create your own holiday spirit. Leave the anxiety and the baggage outside the door and let go of your expectations of what a holiday is “supposed” to be. Understand that the best gifts cost absolutely no money. Instead, it’s the little things we do for one another that are the greatest gifts. The emotional side of the holidays is truly priceless, so concentrate on being festive by being generous with your time and attention and love, instead of with your wallet.
When the clock strikes 2013, it will mark a new beginning for all of us. We should be proud of who we are and should celebrate by remembering the people we love and the people we work with and the people that make our day-to-day lives better. Let’s support the people who are there for us in our communities and show our appreciation for the little things they do for us. Let’s all smile and believe that the happiness we see on all those Christmas shows is achievable and that we are deserving of it. And most importantly, let’s all remember that the holiday season is not about the gifts; it’s about the heart that gives them.
Susanne Veder Berger is an author, educator, business executive and mother, who currently lives' on New York City's Upper West Side. Susanne has held a variety of executive positions in the field of marketing for CitiGroup, the U.S. Tennis Association and a number of other companies and organizations. Over the past 4 years, Susanne has been working with inner city high school students in Brooklyn, New York helping them develop self-esteem, prepare for college and secure internships – Susanne Veder Berger's work in education is centered around the implementation of extra curricular activities and the development of student-run journalism programs.