Handling the holidays

I am not sure about you, but other months tend to roll in gently while December seems to suddenly arrive.  We wanted to offer a few “gifts” that may help in this month.


There are several significant days in December that are aligned with diverse spiritual practices or memorial days.  Included in these are:

December 1: World AIDS Day, which was created to commemorate those who have died of AIDS, and to acknowledge the need for a continued commitment to all those affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

December 1: Eid Milad Un Nabi, an Islamic holiday commemorating the birthday of the prophet Muhammad. During this celebration, homes and mosques are decorated, large parades take place, and those observing the holiday participate in charity events.

December 3: International Day of Disabled Persons, which is designed to raise awareness in regards to persons with disabilities in order to improve their lives and provide them with equal opportunity.

December 3-24: Advent is a season of spiritual preparation in observance of the birth of Jesus. In Western Christianity, it starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. In Eastern Christianity, the season is longer and begins in the middle of November

December 8: Bodhi Day, a holiday observed by Buddhists to commemorate Gautama’s enlightenment under the Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya, India.

December 10: International Human Rights Day, established by the United Nations in 1948 to commemorate the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

December 12: Feast Day at Our Lady of Guadalupe. This day commemorates the appearance of the Virgin Mary near Mexico City in 1531.

December 13: St. Lucia’s Day. In Sweden, St Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred, killed for her faith, in 304 AD. She secretly brought food to persecuted Christians in Rome. She wore candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things. These stories were told by the Monks who brought Christmas to Sweden.

December 16-24: Las Posadas, a nine-day celebration in Mexico commemorating the trials Mary and Joseph endured during their journey to Bethlehem.

December 21: The Winter Solstice/ Yule. For Pagans and Wiccans, the shortest day of the year represents a celebration focusing on rebirth, renewal, and new beginnings as the sun makes way back to the earth. A solstice is an astronomical event that happens twice each year when the Sun reaches its highest position in the sky.

December 25: Christmas, the day that Christians associate with Jesus’s birth.

December 25: The beginning of Hanukkah (Chanukah). Also known as the Festival of Lights, it is an eight-day Jewish holiday recognizing the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It is observed by lighting candles on a Menorah—one for each day of the festival.

December 26 – January 1: Kwanzaa, an African-American holiday started by Maulana Karenga in 1966 to celebrate universal African-American heritage.

(Retrieved from: http://www.diversitybestpractices.com/2016-diversity-holidays)

Being Canadian, I would also add December 6th as it commemorates the Montreal Massacre (http://www.rapereliefshelter.bc.ca/montreal-massacre).



Some readers may align with the previous spiritual observances or hold close affinity with memorial days.  As mentioned in our past blog regarding grief any month might also hold personal observances that are special to you and your family.  You may not align with any particular observance or have any personal anniversaries. Regardless, we all know that December can be a busy month and taking a moment to breathe can be challenging.  Below we have some helpful hints to do this.  We invite you to be real, be rooted and be resilient!

Be real

I was booked for a Christmas Eve event before November 15th and was invited for a Solstice party by the 16th.  I thought this was great as I love folks who plan ahead.  But everyone was planning ahead because seemingly December has turned into November and suddenly there was more invitations coming in plus end of the semester pressures.  I love all my friends and hold deep respect for my students and do not want to let any of them down.  At the same time, I live by the mantra “you cannot give out of an empty cup.”  So the bottom line is you will need to prioritize time with you… and who fills you up.

Conversely, when there is a lack of invitations or other modes of connection, December can magnify a sense of loneliness.  There is a pressure to be happy for the sake of the season, to revel in what we hold the season up to be; not to mention it is dark early in the morning and early in the evening (a great resource is called a SAD light that imitates sunlight).  The aforementioned pressure can set up a whole host of unrealistic expectations and as a result, disappointment.  Who do you turn to in these moments?  A friend, a family member, a colleague might be great options.  If that is not an option, a great resource is Vancouver Island Crisis Line 1-888-494-3888.  I have heard from some clients that they believe they need to be suicidal to call but this is not the case – they are a trained listening ear for many of the stressors life throws our way.


Be rooted

As a university instructor I know many of my students are feeling homesick by now – away from home possibly the first time. Be we can all be uprooted for diverse reasons.  Being rooted requires an honest assessment of your needs, even if those needs appear counter to how you think you should be experiencing over the holidays.  Below are some examples:

  1. If you are travelling to family, ask yourself do you have appropriate support (think Googling 12 step meetings, park spaces, coffee shops, etc. ahead of time).
  2. If at home with company, what rituals can you practice to maintain a sense of routine (think regular bed times for kids and adults, regular meals and special down time)
  3. If alone, think of gestures to be made to others, whether that be sending a letter of gratitude to someone, volunteering at an organization for less fortunate populations or starting something unique in your own community.
  4. For everyone, we would recommend keeping the SOBER technique in your back pocket, which stands for our capacity to stop, observe, breathe, expand your awareness and respond. It is like the pause button for stress!


Be resilient

Resiliency refers to our capacity to bounce back from stressful situations.  But resiliency is not always a state of reacting, we can cultivate our resiliency so our “tank” does not get depleted.  In Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), we discuss the concept of reducing vulnerability factors.  Vulnerability factors include lack of sleep, self-medicating or medication changes, saying “yes” to everything, erratic schedules or interpersonal stressors.  Chances are we will all be exposed to at least a couple of these over the month of December.  Reducing our vulnerability factors then becomes a parallel to building our resiliency.  Two awesome skills from DBT include the ABC and the PLEASE skills and I am thankful to https://borderlinebabble.com/about-dbt/emotion-regulation/ for providing her synopsis:

PLEASE skills refer to some of the ways we can look after our bodies in order to look after our minds. The acronym PLEASE is broken down as such (with a slight twist to make it more accessible than the original acronym):

Physical illness (treat it)

Lather, rinse, repeat (physical hygiene)

Eat balanced

Avoid mood/mind-Altering substances

Sleep hygiene


Moving on to the ABC skill: This outlines ways we can reduce our vulnerability to negative emotions by implementing enjoyable and self-esteem-building activities into our lives on both a short and long-term basis. It also helps us prepare for situations which may be challenging, by planning ahead of time.

The acronym stands for:

Accumulate Positive Emotions (and Experiences)

Build (a Sense of Personal) Mastery

Cope Ahead of Time (for difficult situations)


Our dog picture above invites you to “shake it off” this season and revel what is present (presence, not presents is my motto)! In sum, whatever December holds for you we wish to be real, rooted and resilient.  We would be happy to assist you in any of these domains.

Cole and the Island Family Counselling Family

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