*photo taken last year at the Wynn in Las Vegas, a holiday display in the lobby.

Hello, wonderful readers. I hope you have either survived or thoroughly enjoyed your holiday festivities to date, and have plans to find fun before you must return to the grind of daily routine again. Yesterday was Christmas, and I spent it—gloriously—alone. I watched movies, read books, ate pizza and ice cream, and generally goofed off all day. No one expected me to be excited about getting presents I don’t want, nor did I have to navigate a harrowing family affair. Those days of my past are long over, thankfully, and I am quite content to have spent the holiday petting the cat I am caring for until the owners return from their vacation. When I mentioned at the school last week that I would be alone for the holiday, one of the other teachers felt bad for me, but I quickly informed her that I was very happy to have the day to myself. Being alone on a holiday doesn’t have to be miserable or sad. Last night I took the dogs out in the yard, and the moon had just risen. The sky was still mostly dark and filled with stars, but a strange cloud formation gathered at the edges of the dome of the heavens to frame Orion overhead perfectly. Clouds surrounded the constellation in an eerie silver glow of moonlit wisps that resembled Northern Lights. I stood in wonder for a few minutes, just marveling at the sight. Later the moon rose higher and lit up the woods again, bright enough to see into the trees down the hill. It filled me in a way no holiday gathering ever did.

After years of giving to others on every holiday, I decided that being alone on certain holidays is not a bad thing. I used to slave over the stove cooking enormous amounts of food for gatherings, baked dozens of cookies, wrapped hundreds of gifts, traveled hundreds of miles, spent time with people who didn’t really like me, ate food I didn’t enjoy, and often felt sorry for my poor exhausted children when they were young. Some people are fortunate and have wonderful families who laugh and play games and enjoy each other’s company. Some people struggle to get through the day with dysfunctional people who trigger troubling past memories. Either way, the holiday traditions do not require you to honor them as they are. Traditions are not written in stone. You are not bound by law to go to gatherings you hate. If you feel sick at the thought of going to spend yet another Christmas with your in-laws, your own extended family, or anyone else, why do it? And who says you have to go? What’s the worst that could happen if you simply say no? Would your family hate you forever? If they did, would that be terrible? I know that may sound harsh, but I cut a lot of ties with people who brought me down because I no longer wanted to waste my energy trying to get along with people who clearly detested me. Family does not mean I have to put up with abusive, hateful, cruel, or dysfunctional behavior.

While we still lived in Olean, I gave up worrying about doing anything on Christmas once I split with my ex. My kids spent Christmas with their father, which left me free. For a while I felt sorry for myself because I missed my kids, but despite missing my kids, I felt immediate relief that I didn’t have to go anywhere. I didn’t have to pretend to be happy when what I really wanted was to escape the loud parties, the endless Christmas music, and the atmosphere of constant activity. Some people love the boisterous excitement of being in large families, but I don’t. I like quiet. Rarely do I enjoy a large party where I have to mingle with people—only when I get to have meaningful, interesting conversations do I actually want to engage. Small talk is not my thing. Put me in a room of people who want to talk about books, science, writing, social justice, equality, or any number of other interesting topics, and I could stay all day. But this is a thing I had to learn about myself after years of suffering through conversations that sucked my soul. We don’t have to suffer, not even for our mothers. We can say no to holiday traditions if we want, and even if your family gets angry about it, maybe one day they will realize they don’t like the traditions, either. Maybe in a few years everyone will decide to do a getaway holiday in the Caribbean, you’ll ditch giving each other useless gifts no one needs, and instead enjoy a trip that restores your spirit.

Then again, maybe you enjoy your holiday tradition. If you are one of those people, more power to you. It’s wonderful to meet people who are self-actualized enough to be doing what they already love, and embracing a holiday with joy. Such people are like unicorns to me. I think most of us have to create new traditions for ourselves in order to enjoy holidays, but whatever makes you happy is what should drive the vehicle of where you spend your time. Often I believe we get locked into doing things because we believe it will make others happy. Over the years I have learned that making other people happy doesn’t really work. If I am going to an event to make someone else happy, but I feel miserable about it, then my entire time spent at that event will be energy wasted on pretending to feel good, faking smiles, and watching the time until I can escape. Even if a person who wanted me to attend accepts my faked enjoyment, my lack of authenticity won’t really make that person happy. Pretending doesn’t make anyone happy. Only when we express true joy, and are sincerely excited to be somewhere does anyone in our company benefit from our attendance. Being joyful is contagious, and the more your time is spent fulfilling that joy, the more people will sense it and feel it, too. Likewise, even if people refuse to see how unhappy you are at a gathering, they are only denying what is obvious—that you don’t want to be there.

People often avoid change because they are fearful of what might happen. What if the holiday dinner we’ve been having for 30 years stops? We might never see our family for the holidays again! Everything will be different, and we won’t be able to sit around the table with all the grandchildren while we pretend that Santa is coming later. No one will be there for the Christmas ham, or eggnog around the tree! We won’t sing carols by the fire! Who will fill the stockings? Who will hang the lights? If you love all that stuff, go for it. Go crazy with lights and mistletoe. No one’s stopping you, but don’t do it for someone else. Do it because you love it, and because it makes you happy. But if you hate it, ask yourself what you’re getting out of doing it. Tradition? Shall we talk about where all these traditions came from? Many Christmas traditions originated in Pagan celebrations of the solstice. No one can actually pinpoint the date of the birth of Jesus; December 25th was appropriated by the Romans (according to some sources, but I encourage you to dig for yourself) as a former holiday to celebrate the return of the light. They used to give gifts and decorate their homes like we still do today. Lights were a popular part of the décor, honoring the sun’s return. Go read up on all the origins of our “traditional” Christmas decorations, and you might be surprised about why they got started. Then again, most people know a lot of things like trees, wreaths, holly, and lights are Pagan in origin. My point is mostly to suggest that maybe we attach too much emotion to worrying about honoring tradition, especially if we don’t even know why we do it. If your purpose is to honor and spend time with the family you love, that’s the best kind of tradition. If you spend the holiday feeling like you’re in a straight jacket, it might be time to find a different way to celebrate.

We live in a new economy now with the advent (pun totally intended) of the internet. With Amazon bringing every last whim to your doorstep, we don’t even need to leave the house to go shopping anymore. I know a lot of people who are limiting their holiday spending to avoid too much expenditure at the holidays, are choosing names in large families instead of spending on everyone, or are forgoing purchasing presents in lieu of handmade goodies. Now that everyone can buy whatever they want for so much less, giving at this time of year seems unnecessary to me. Donating to a person’s favorite charity has become popular, along with naming celestial bodies after someone you love, buying a brick for a foundation, or just buying lottery tickets. Whether we like it or not, times are changing. Traditions change with the times, and that’s okay. We get to keep what we like and ditch what we don’t. Honestly, I believe that when we take care of ourselves, follow our hearts, and follow happiness and joy, we are led to a better world. When we stop torturing ourselves for the sake of others, we do the world a favor. Give your best to the people you love, instead of your fake smile while you suffer through another year of traditions. Today I feel rejuvenated because I spent the day in solitude and reflection. I still baked cookies and sent out gifts to those I love, and I sent out messages to the people I miss. Before you spend one more day doing for others, ask yourself serious questions about what you’ve done for yourself lately.

Let me leave you with this thought: just like a paycheck, you should always pay yourself first. When you earn that money for which you traded your precious time, the first portion should always go to your savings. Pay yourself first. Whatever is left, then you pay your bills, buy your groceries, fill the gas tank—you’ll make do with whatever amount remains. Do the same with your time. Before giving time to others, give to yourself. The first part of every day should belong to you and your betterment. If you take those few minutes to yourself every day, and truly use it to reflect on what you plan to do, you will waste less time and energy on what steals your joy. If you can also end your day reflecting on your intentions and whether or not you honored them, imagine the change and the growth. Moments a day is all it takes. Traditions melt away in the face of truth, and we keep only what we love. If you’re interested, I plan to start a weekly reflection on Instagram every Sunday. I haven’t decided if I plan to worry about a time when I’ll post my videos to my channel, but Sunday is the day I’ll post, starting after the New Year. The reflections will be writing prompts designed to get participants thinking about intentions, becoming more self-aware, and investigating what brings us joy. I’ll be doing them, too, so it will be a communal effort. You can find my Instagram in the sidebar to the right of this post, and if you follow me you can join. All are welcome, and I plan to include at least one post a week on Instagram where you can share your progress if you want.

My beauties, I am so happy you came here today. Thank you for taking the time to sit with me, read my thoughts, and honor my message with your visit. I think of all of you out there in the world, and I wish you love, joy, peace, and laughter. While I work on myself, I will keep sharing because I want to give back what I learn. If it helps you, I’m glad. That’s why I share. Now I need to get outside in the sunshine with my dogs. How will you fill your spirit today? Go out there and get after it. Don’t wait. Now is the time.