Written by Andrea Neal, PhD.
Traditions are lovely when they create connection – to childhood memories, our family, or our community.
Baking is my favorite way of keeping family traditions alive. This week I will be baking my German mother-in-law’s Vanillekipferl Cookies, my mom’s Date Ball recipes, and, of course, the quintessential holiday cookie – Grasshoppers. That’s right, I make those cookies that involve a microwave, chow mein noodles, chocolate chips and peanut butter (you might know them as “haystacks” or “grasshopper legs”).*
Traditions have their downsides, too, of course, because they can bring a strong sense of pressure, obligation, or a sense of missing out. During this time of year, we are inundated with messages about what we are supposed to be doing and feeling. Sometimes (oftentimes?!) our experiences don’t match what we are seeing in the commercials, on Facebook, or in the Hollywood holiday movies. When we start to get caught up in how things are “supposed to be”, we suffer.
Mindfulness practice is about observing our present-moment reality, as it is and without judgment. One concept in mindfulness practice is “beginner’s mind”, where we try to experience the present moment as if we had never experienced it before. That is especially difficult at the holidays because we are surrounded by expectations.
Of course, there are times when we want to reminisce about the past. When I am baking this week, I will surely think of my mom doing the same thing throughout my childhood.
But mindfulness and beginner’s mind can be helpful in the moments that are less sweet and heart-warming, like when you are caught up in what you think you (or others) SHOULD be doing/feeling/thinking.
You could practice this by just describing to yourself what is happening – both within you and around you – at this moment. Like, “hmm…I’m having the thought that I wish my sister was with us right now, and I am feeling sad. I’m noticing that I am here with my brother, and that he is looking relaxed and happy, and when I notice that, I feel happy too.” Could you bring some compassion to your experience? You could say to yourself, “I feel tired and grumpy right now. Wow, I am expecting an awful lot of myself.”
May your holiday season be filled with twinkly lights, laughing children, and sweet memories. And when those less pleasant experiences show up (you know, the irritation, the exhaustion, etc.), may you add a sprinkling of awareness, kindness and peace.
* My German mother-in-law and the family moved from Germany to Texas in the 70s. I don’t know how it happened, but for some reason she started to add grasshopper cookies to her holiday cookie repertoire. They would be beautifully displayed on the cookie platter next to five or six distinct, delicious, and rather intricate German cookies each holiday season. My husband loves them. They make me laugh.