Nurturing Your Soul During the Holidays

Recommendations for self-care during the holidays.

Holiday decorationsHoliday decorations

Life Letters

It's no secret that the holidays can be a particularly challenging time for many of us. Both the time honored traditions, and the more superficial trappings of the season that bring joy to many Americans, are often painful reminders to those of us who are hurting of what we have lost or never found. During a particularly difficult period in my own life as I attempted to make it through holidays that offered me no comfort, no joy, and no sense of celebration, I struggled to find some sense of meaning that might sustain me. How could I appreciate the Christmas trees, music, parties, and countless other signs of Christmas that both surrounded and seemed to mock me? In an attempt to muster the energy to at least pretend that I wasn't resenting it all, I decided to focus on the deeper meanings of these rituals and to explore how they might serve to nurture my wounded spirit.

In an article entitled, "The Meaning of Christmas: Look Deeper," Peter Kreeft points out that the shepherds at the Nativity scene represent the peasant soul in each of us - the long silenced child who heard Santa on the rooftop, left carrots for the reindeers, and who believed in magic and mystery and awe. This soul, like the shepherd guarding his sheep, stays awake in the darkness faithfully keeping watch over our bodies, and witnesses our untold stories and our secret dreams.

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The shepherds remind us each year to honor our souls and to pause and ask ourselves the following question during the frenetic holy days, "what is it that my soul needs?"

The Wise Men, suggests Kreeft, represents the wisdom that exists within each of us; that part of our selves that searches and leaves behind the comfort and security of the known in order to find our own answers - our own 'Bethlehem'. The wise men, without a map, and with no guarantees that they would reach their destination, bravely traveled onward, fueled by their hope and their faith.

As you prepare for the holidays, you may want to ask yourself what it is that you have faith in, what might assist you in getting through the difficult periods of the season? What are your hopes and expectations for this time of year? Are they realistic? Are they based on your own personal needs or on the desires of others? Which holiday activities are likely to be particularly stressful for you? Which of these are actually optional rather than truly necessary? What might you simply say "no" to if you gave yourself permission?

Mistletoe, which lacks roots of its own and lives off the tree it attaches itself to, was thought to be magical by ancient Europeans and a symbol of peace to the Druids and Romans. It has been written that when battling soldiers found themselves under the mistletoe, they immediately laid down their arms and declared peace for the day.

When the stresses of the season threaten to overwhelm us, it can be helpful to allow the mistletoe to remind us of our need to reground and center ourselves. What offers you a sense of calm? What can you hold onto? Is there an issue that you are currently struggling with that you can let go of for the time being, an unnecessary battle you are waging that you can choose to walk away from for the time being and lay down your arms? If you have learned such practices as deep breathing, progressive relaxation, mindfulness, and meditation, now is the time to use them. If you haven't yet acquired these important skills, now is a good time to explore them.

Because they stayed green and alive when other trees appeared to be dead and bare, evergreen trees have been a part of mid-winter festivals for thousands of years, symbolizing immortality, resiliency and rebirth.

The Pine trees that we bring into our homes during the holidays have held fast, remained rooted, and reached towards the heavens even as they confronted the harsh winds, long nights, and bitter cold of winter. Their strength in the face of adversity can be a faithful reminder to those of us who have both been both broken and yet gained strength as we've attempted to cope with our suffering to stand tall and hold on to all that is essential within us, just as the sacred pine has held on. What strengths do you possess that you can share with those around you during the holidays?

Throughout the centuries candles have offered both light and heat during the frigid days of winter. It's been said that the tradition of placing candles in windows during the Christmas season originated in Victorian England where candle lit windows were a sign to passersby that they would be welcomed in and offered shelter during the holidays. The candle represents our humanness and our mortal bodies; while the candle's flame symbolizes our spiritual nature, our life force, and the light we shine out into the world.

How might you utilize your creativity and sensitivity during this time of year, how might you shine your own unique light into the world?

We are surrounded by two primary colors at Christmas, red and green. Red has been associated with anger, danger, and the blood of our wounds. At the same time, it has come to represent royalty, passion, fire, creativity, and love. Green signifies growth, wealth, fertility, nature, good luck, youth, and hope. And yet, green has also been linked with sickness, envy, inexperience, decay, and death.

As we are greeted with the colors of the season, we are reminded of the complexities of our nature and the inevitable mix of good and bad, health and sickness, gains and loss, the darkness and light that make up each and every life. The colors of Christmas have also come to represent to me how each of our lives is a work of art and that we are the artists ultimately charged with creating our own masterpieces. What might you consider beginning to add right now to the canvas of your life?

Aldous Huxley wrote, "After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music." The holidays are filled with music and while certain Christmas carols may stir up painful memories, others can serve to nourish our souls. When I'm feeling tired and need to get energized, listening to songs such as "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and "The Ten Days of Christmas" often inspires me to get active. On the other hand, listening to the more soothing melodies of Christmas are particularly helpful when I'm feeling stressed and need to let go and relax.

What holiday music inspires and energizes you? What music soothes and restores you? Try matching holiday music to your mood, and arranging it to best fit your needs and see what happens.

Everywhere we look during the holiday season there will be both sacred images and superficial symbols. It has been said that, "beauty lies in the eye of the beholder." I encourage you to screen out as much as possible that which brings you no comfort or joy, and focus instead on the magic, mystery, and meaning of the season.

Many Blessings...

next:Life Letters: The Last Thanksgiving

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, October 21). Nurturing Your Soul During the Holidays, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 24 from

Last Updated: July 17, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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