How to (REALLY) Celebrate

Before the holidays hit, let’s talk about what it means to celebrate.  I’m not talking about going through the motions of making meals, entertaining and decorating, but savoring the deeper things that slip away from us if we aren’t paying attention.

It has taken me years to learn how to celebrate life, holidays, birthdays and milestones. I used to confuse “celebrate” with “anticipate.” (I’m still working on it, too!) It’s isn’t easy for a doer to learn how to relish special occasions without turning them into another chance to over-commit or prove ourselves over things no one really cares about.

I’ve spent way too many Christmases, birthdays and other occasions killing myself to make the house look like a magazine cover, the gifts over-the-top and wrapped Martha-Stewart-style, the food exceptional…  Yet I did not work ahead, or ask for help, or keep my expectations manageable. Most tragically, I didn’t allow myself to enjoy the process. I was often so tired by the time the big day came, the whole experience was blur.

A few years ago I met a family who kept a calendar throughout December on which they scheduled little “daily celebrations” throughout the month. These mini-celebrations were not elaborate or costly, just simple ways they would stop and enjoy the joys of the season:  sharing egg nog together, reading a favorite story or watching a favorite movie.  Their sweet, simple celebration calendar reminded me that celebrating is so much more than a deadline we work toward. This was quite a revelation!

After seeing their approach (and, of course, years of therapy!) I’ve started approaching special occasions a little differently these days.  I’m learning to make the preparation part of the celebration.  For instance, attacking the cookie baking like you’re slaying a giant does NOT create a warm, memory-making effect. (Trust me. I’ve tried it. It scared the children!) Now I try to slow down, take some deep breaths, put on music, make a refreshing beverage and soak in the entire experience. I found that pulling up a stool to the counter helped me get off my feet and enjoy the process more.  Funny how I suddenly noticed things I had missed before – the wonderful smell of the ingredients as they came together and the looks on my kids faces as they decided which cookie cutters were their favorites. The baking experience is now a really enjoyable part our celebration. The same is true of decorating, shopping, gift-wrapping and even cleaning.

A couple Christmases ago my young nephew walked into my living room, which was all decorated for Christmas. He didn’t notice whether the place looked like a Norman Rockwell painting or whether the garland on the tree was perfectly even. He just wanted to play with my olive wood nativity set.  Those moments with Ashton, arranging the olive wood pieces that represented the Story – the whole point of the season – became a beautiful, quiet remembrance of the season. THAT is celebrating.

The goal-oriented among us will enjoy special days so much more when we realize that celebrating isn’t an end result.  It’s a way of life.  My new goal is to find whatever beautiful,  joyful treasures are hiding inside the moments I never took time to notice before. Living like this makes every day a special occasion.

I’ve shared more than enough about what I’m learning about celebrating.  Talk to me about your celebrations in the comments and tell me how you approach special occasions.

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