Mindfully clearing the trash after the season of celebration
I hope you all had the chance to spend some meaningful time with friends and family this week past or have plans to connect with people important to you on New Year’s Eve.
On Boxing Day, I was helping my kids bring their gifts from beneath the tree, downstairs to their bedrooms. As I was helping my youngest son make room on his shelf for another stuffy, he said, “Dad, what is Boxing Day?” It was a good question and I remember wondering the same thing when I was a kid. As it turns out, the origins to the holiday which is celebrated mainly by Commonwealth nations on December 26th are vague. It is generally agreed that Boxing Day began as a tradition of collecting gifts for the needy in a box set outside of churches. This tradition carried on as an offering made to servants by their wealthy employers. On December 26th, the servants were allowed the day off to go home and visit with family. Their employers might send them off with a box of gifts and leftover food.
In our times, Boxing Day is the day banks in the Commonwealth take as an extra day off after Christmas and of course, the dreaded Boxing Day sales celebrated most notably in Canada and the United States. In answering my son’s question I did what all parents do; I provided him with an answer that might be easily understood by a five year old. I told him that it is the day we clean up all the “boxes” and take out the trash generated by Christmas presents. In fact, most of my adult life I believed that was the origin of Boxing Day. After placating my five year old son with my answer, it got me thinking more about the idea of taking out the boxes and the trash but it also reminded me of the many different traditions as this time.
The period from the winter solstice right up to New Year’s Eve is a very special time for most people. Christians celebrate this time as the birth of Jesus but Jesus was not the only deity supposedly born on or around the 25th of December. Krishna (God-incarnate of Vishna in Hindu religion), Horus (sky God of ancient Egypt), Mithra (Persia), Buddha, and others all share a common birthday to Jesus. Kwanzaa celebration for African Americans runs from December 26th through to January 1st. December 21st, being the shortest day of the year, also has significant ceremonial and monumental ties. Stonehenge is aligned to receive maximum sun exposure for December 21st. Winter solstice was historically the time to celebrate before the long winter set in. Many beers and wines made during the fall had fermented enough to drink and there was ample meat for celebration as many animals were sacrificed during this time.
As a new year approaches once again, many people begin thinking about dealing with the effects from over-celebrating and setting new personal goals. This is a markedly different perspective compared with our ancestors who hoped that the fall harvest, cured meats, and fermented liquids would grant them a chance to survive until spring. The one gift of forced hibernation that our ancestors experienced was time to think and perhaps be mindful. For some of us who are fortunate to have a few days off around the holiday season, we might have a brief time to think and to be mindful before throwing ourselves back into routines in January. For me, practicing mindfulness is like dealing with the trash on Boxing Day but doing it everyday. I try to look at each day as a gift to be celebrated and take a moment to quiet my mind and throw out the mental trash that inevitably clutters my mind.
Most of the mental trash we have to deal with is trash related to our fears and insecurities. Have you ever taken note of how much time you spend worrying about the future or regretting something in the past. It is often said that mindfulness gives ourselves a chance to be truly aware of the present moment – a moment without fear or insecurity. By simply becoming aware of this present moment, we are in a sense, clearing the trash. We make room in our minds for creation, for love, for compassion, for learning, for understanding, and for healing.
As you leave the season of celebration and either prepare for a long winter of contemplation or more likely – get back on the treadmill, I hope you take time everyday to deal with your mental trash. As with cleaning up on Boxing Day, it is amazing what a few minutes of effort can produce!