Small Celebrations Matter
Last week we had our first snow of the year. A dazzling down that blanketed the land in white, it felt like a hug from the sky. After an unusually quiet Thanksgiving— and the news that Christmas would be similarly spent— the coziness of the snow felt like a gift. With the roads impassable for a time, I went out to greet the flurry-touched landscape.
In a year of distance, everything felt like a kind of closeness—the first footprint set down into the sugared earth, each perfect snowflake dotting my dog’s roan-colored coat. When I got home I put a batch of snickerdoodles in the oven and got some wine mulling on the stove. It was a small celebration, but it made all the difference in the world.
Since ancient times, the weeks around the winter solstice have been as dotted with holidays as an orange studded with cloves. For our ancestors, winter was an unknown time, a season of uncertainty, scarcity and inner journeying, and yet it was this specific tip into the darkest days of the year that gave birth to the most brilliant celebrations. This is no coincidence. Our ancestors placed their holidays of light in the gateway of winter because they knew something modern psychology is just catching up to— celebration is not just a recognition of blessings, it is how we create well-being from the inside out.
Social psychologist Fred Bryant calls our willingness to dwell in positive experiences “savoring”. When good things happen to us, no matter how small, we can enhance and elongate their effects by savoring them. Celebrating the good stuff is, in his words, “like swishing the experience around in your mind.” This kind of celebratory enjoyment not only enhances our sense of optimism and happiness, it also relieves stress, broadens our perspective and builds resilience. Throughout history, celebrations during the darkest time of the year have been so prominent because our ancestors knew how essential it was— for our physical, mental, and spiritual health— to savor what is still bright in the world.
Snow makes the rubies of the rose hips glow. The dark of winter polishes the stars, and the sharpness of the cold makes the warm indoors a haven for any tired heart. This year has been hard for nearly everyone on earth. But instead of dimming the light of our celebrations, hardship has the ability to make that which is cheerful that much more worthy of relishing.
In Bryant’s work he outlines three kinds of savoring— anticipatory (the excitement for what is to come), in the moment (slowing down to soak in the sensory delights of an experience) and reminiscent (the glow of looking back on good times with joy). No matter what your holidays look like this year, you can still create a cascade of well-being by marking the small joys of the season. Like looking forward to the hot cocoa you will make yourself at the end of a long day, sipping it slowly while you watch the sun go down, and thinking back with care on all the warm mugs shared in winters past.
Once upon a time, holiday celebrations were all about savoring the small, good things of existence. Evergreen boughs collected from around your home and pinned in a circle to represent eternal life. Rose hips gathered and steeped into wine. Beeswax candles— rare and fragrant— lit on the longest night of the year. The truth is, we don’t need much in order to celebrate the specialness of this time. We only need our willingness to savor the natural miracles of life.
Each of us is like a small, brilliant bulb on a glowing string of Christmas lights. When lit, we become a channel for a current of positive energy, allowing it to brighten all we touch. Your willingness to celebrate, to bring yourself alive, can help illuminate the darkest night. In this way, your holiday cheer, no matter how simple or small, brings light to this world.
So if you are looking for gentle ways to celebrate the turning of the season, check out the earth-steeped rituals and recipes in our Holiday Magic and Medicine making class. Or gift yourself some of our seasonal elixirs from the shop (available for the last time this year). As a light in the great string of the world, your enthusiasm is precious. It is potent, and it is a portend for better times to come. So thank you for all you are doing this year to savor what is cheerful, kind and bright.