Holidays symbolize significance. They are markers for human history, our shared values and beliefs, and a time of remembrance. Holidays can elicit awe, joy, connection, hope, and memories. However, their nourishment can also be a source of pain. I like to think of this paradox as a box of fine chocolates. The chocolates are delightfully scrumptious, but after eating four cream-filled pieces your belly might ache. And, after eating the whole box in one sitting, the delight will likely become regret.

The meaning of a holiday, of course, is accompanied by past and present traditions, memories of family members who have died, and expectations — often lots and lots of expectations. The joy and gratefulness that can be awakened around a holiday may be diminished by what has unfolded in your life this year, and that’s okay. The practice of grateful living can help guide you through this season. Here are some tips to prepare for the holiday season with a grateful orientation.

1. You belong

Whether you are invited to the festivities or excluded, you still belong. At a time when families and relationships are all too often fractured, grateful living reminds you that you are loved and worthy even when you feel alone. Approach the holiday with the knowledge that your life is a gift and then respond to the holiday in a way that honors this truth.

2. Permission granted

Grateful living gives you permission to look at your life exactly as it is and without a silver lining. If you are in pain and your heart needs some space, gratefulness encourages you to listen to and honor your heart. That may mean making a change to rituals and traditions or maybe you need them to resemble how they’ve always been. The opportunity before you is to be present to your needs without conditions.

3. Stop. Look. Go.

The grateful living practice of Stop.Look.Go reminds us to pause, observe, and proceed when we are ready. It also encourages us to start all over — to stop again — if we don’t discover what the present moment is offering. This is to say that the path before you this holiday is not linear. Stop and look. Take your next step when it feels right to do so based on what you have observed.

4. Be open to opportunity 

This holiday season be on the lookout for the opportunity in every moment. If you seek the opportunity to connect with someone — maybe they are grieving and need your tenderness or maybe they hold some joy they can share with you — your alertness will ground you in your life. Your life is the resource that is always right in front of you however it may be unfolding. It’s here where you may be surprised to find your next step forward.

5. Say yes to joy

Saying yes to joy is not a betrayal of grief. In fact, it may be a deeper and fuller acknowledgment of your pain. It is in the experience of joy that we also encounter the absence of those who cannot share in it alongside us. Our yes to joy is not a forgetting but a carrying forward. And what courage it takes to hold the past in the present, the joy among the grief.  

Often times the days preceding a holiday are more challenging than the holiday itself. That is why preparedness through the practice of grateful living can help. Before the day is upon you, you are invited to ground yourself in your life — to look inward and outward and explore every moment that is leading you towards the holiday that awaits. Every step towards your heart’s desire is the goal.

Photo by Manu Schwendener

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Joe Primo, Grateful Living

Joe Primo, Grateful Living

About the author

Joe Primo is the Chief Executive Officer of Grateful Living. He is a passionate trainer, community-builder, and program developer whose accomplishments in the field of grief made him a leading voice on resilience and adversity. Grateful living became a pillar to his work since his first introduction to Br. David Steindl-Rast in 2005. An entrepreneurial leader, Primo designed, built, expanded, and led Good Grief, Inc., the largest children and family bereavement organization in the Northeast, from 2007-2022. His TED talk, “Grief is Good,” reframed the grief paradigm as a responsive resource. He is the author of “What Do We Tell the Children? Talking to Kids About Death and Dying” and numerous articles.