Dec 22 2011

The evolution of holiday celebrations

Peggy McPartland

Presents. Lots of presents.

As a kid, Christmas meant presents.

Thinking about presents. Making lists of presents.

And waiting. And waiting. And then waiting some more.

In my family, we opened gifts on Christmas Eve. We were so excited for days beforehand. And the day of Christmas Eve dragged on forever.

We didn’t have a lot of money growing up so there were no extravagant gifts nor were there a lot of them. We usually got things we needed – pajamas, socks, a new alarm clock. But every now and then there’d be a stuffed animal or a board game – something really cool!

But it wasn’t the gifts themselves; it was the anticipation that made it so exciting. The days and hours leading up to Christmas Eve were almost unbearable.

At some point, we lose that child-like excitement and the holidays become a chore. Instead of a meaningful celebration, they’re about shopping, going into debt and overwhelming stress for too many people. It shouldn’t just be about surviving them.

It’s important to realize that the holidays don’t have to be anything other than what you want them to be. There’s no requirement that you celebrate a certain way. There’s no dollar amount that you have to spend, certain number of gifts to buy, or obligations that have to be filled.

It’s sad to see people stress over the holidays, complain about all they have to do and go further into debt. They dislike the obligatory get togethers, the money they spend and the chaos but feel powerless to change. They don’t realize that the stress is self-induced. We have complete control over how we celebrate.

The holidays are like anything else in your life. They can change and evolve. You don’t have to be locked into one way to celebrate them.

Your holiday celebration can be about family and being with those you love, but that doesn’t mean only the family you grew up with. The friends you surround yourself with and that you’re most connected to become a part of your family. This is a time to come together with those who mean the most to you, to reflect on your relationships and your life.

Make a commitment to spend less on gifts and more on worthwhile causes. Because really, at this point in your life, don’t you have pretty much everything you need?

Money’s tight and the economy’s been bad for longer than we care to remember. For many people, the thought of buying gifts is enough to send them reeling. So buy fewer or even no gifts and give more of your time.

Wouldn’t it be great if the holidays were more about giving “presence” than presents? We can all open our hearts and give of our time.

I don’t celebrate the holidays in a traditional way and haven’t for many years. Sometimes I spend it with friends and others I spend alone. My favorite Christmas in recent years was kayaking on Puget Sound. It was a gorgeous cold sunny day with no one around. A harbor seal followed me, diving under my boat. The sense of beauty, peace and contentment was awe-inspiring.

“I wish I could do that” is a comment I hear over and over again. Yet people are afraid to confront their habits and obligations, honor their desires and make changes. Just because a holiday’s always been celebrated a certain way doesn’t mean it’s right for you or that it always has to be that way.

You’re free to celebrate, give, and share your love in any way you want. Trust yourself to know what’s important to you and begin the evolution toward creating a truly meaningful celebration, with beautiful memories and a whole lot less stress.

I wish you all a peaceful and joyous holiday!

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May 26 2011

Traveling Solo Seemed Far Too Overwhelming (And Lonely)

Peggy McPartland

I’ve always wanted to travel and see the world. I grew up in a small, rural town and couldn’t wait to get out of it. I wanted to be away from the small-mindedness, the conservative thoughts and the oppressed feeling everyone seemed to have. I wanted to explore big cities, meet new people and become fluent in another language. There was an incredible world out there and I was missing out! 

Instead, as crazy young people do, I got married. Unfortunately, it was to someone who I was incompatible with on almost every level.  It took awhile, but I finally realized life didn’t have to be like this and we parted ways.

But then I was alone. So I waited. And I waited some more. I knew some day Prince Charming would come along and sweep me off my feet. He’d be tall, dark, handsome and bilingual! We’d travel the world, spend time in exotic places, hike tall mountains and he’d feed me grapes as he looked longingly into my eyes.  I read that somewhere so I knew it must be true! But I’m still waiting. Damn.

Fortunately, I came to my senses and realized that if I waited any longer, I would never experience the world in the way I wanted to. I would never hike those mountains, learn that language, know the incredible people of the world and might even (gasp!) become a bitter old woman. Yikes! That was enough to get me off my butt!

I checked out and for the first time in my life was surrounded by like-minded people! I hiked, skied, snowshoed, backpacked, volunteered and met amazing people from all over the world. If you haven’t checked them out, do so. Now. It will change your life! I promise.

I began to find my place in the world and trust who I am. When I had the opportunity to go to Thailand with a friend, I jumped at it. Unfortunately, our travel styles were polar opposites. Seriously! She preferred to plan where to stay, where to eat, and on what day. I’m not known to be a planner in my day to day life so there was no way in hell I could be on a schedule while traveling. It just wasn’t going to work and I’d pretty much decided to skip the whole thing. I could always wait some more. Maybe Prince Charming would come this time!

Fortunately, I have friends who threatened to kick my butt if I didn’t go. They assured me Southeast Asia is one of the easiest places in the world to travel alone. The more people I talked to, the more women I found who’d traveled solo. They were not only completely safe, but loved every minute of their travels and the freedom that traveling solo brought them. If they could do it, then surely I could!

So I booked my flight and, yes, set off to Southeast Asia alone!

From the moment I set foot in Thailand, people were kind, generous and open. It amazed me. Here I was a strange white woman who didn’t speak the language and yet people wanted to engage me, know about me and what I thought of their beautiful country. They welcomed me, helped me when I got lost, and invited me into their lives.

Too many of us are convinced the world is a dangerous place to be; that we’re better off staying home with the covers over our heads. We’re selling ourselves short by buying into overactive imaginations and letting fear and uncertainty keep us from experiencing life fully.

The freedom of traveling alone is amazing. You’re accountable to no one but yourself! You eat when you want, sleep when you’re tired and see and do whatever seems right at the moment. It’s an incredible feeling!

“Alone” and “lonely” are two very different words. It’s a big beautiful world out there and even if you strike out on your own, chances are you won’t be alone for long!

So book that flight. Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. Trust the people around you. And just go!

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