When your people first arrive for the holidays, they fill up the house: boots piled three deep in the entry, jackets slung over chair backs, boxes and bottles on every surface, tote bags tucked in every nook and cranny. Black down jackets abound; the mitten mound is formidable.
But in the same way that snug socks soon stretch to a comfortable fit, the house seems to expand, making room for everyone. What seemed crowded two days before suddenly feels normal. The house’s occupants orbit each other in predictable patterns, passing in and out of each other’s spheres without collision, as if choreographed. A home designed for four accommodates a dozen, if only temporarily.
And then your people leave. The household population shrinks back to its usual size, quiet fills the corners, and the space feels vast for a while, until you get used to its regular dimensions once again.
I think around the winter holidays our hearts do this a little bit as well. At first we feel squeezed, pressured by expectation and ritual and so many people, but then we surrender to the spirit of the season. Our hearts swell and expand; we get a little more patient, a little more tolerant, a little more generous, a little more compassionate.
“Happy holidays!” we shout out to strangers we pass on the ski trails. “Merry Christmas!” we say to retail staff and baristas. We smile at other last-minute shoppers in the grocery store, everyone out looking for those final lemons, pecans, Brussels sprouts. We slow down, we share traditions, we listen to each other. We emanate good vibes, bountiful in affection for our fellow humans. We sustain these benevolent feelings throughout the darkest days of the year, the time we most need good cheer. For a time, at least, we are fully present for each other.
And then the days get longer and lighter. Our people leave. We go back to our everyday routines and our hearts contract to standard operating size. It’s not that we’re bad in our natural states; it’s just that we’re so much better in holiday mode.
The real triumph would be figuring out how to channel this seasonal goodwill and expand it to a year-round grace extended to others. No tinsel, no cookies — just all of us giving the gift of mindfulness the whole year through.