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The Holiday Season is upon us and the gears of the machines of commerce are swinging up to full throttle. It is typically a time when people become preoccupied with planning, decorating, spending, traveling, holiday parties and family gatherings. Too often, joy can become lost behind frayed nerves and inflated expectations. Regardless of personal belief, religious or secular tradition, there are basic and effective ways to short-circuit these stresses and enrich our experiences during this unique Season. Cultivating a conscious return to simplicity and an intentional nourishing of the senses can be one way of achieving this. We need not be limited within our traditions. Perhaps we can expand our experiences and make this Season a time of personal inner exploration, cultural education and soul-searching. Taking stock of our personal beliefs and faith by taking time to reflect and meditate upon such matters can provide an impetus to ward off a jaded spirit and infuse new soul into the core of our beliefs and perspectives.

‘Tis the Season to Nurture our Senses

By Nicole Maendel

Sounds of the Season

The Holiday Season never fails to offer up an array of musical presentations and beautiful pieces of music. One need not be a certain faith to attend or enjoy Handel’s Messiah. Timeless and traditional holiday songs can be found in different dialects representing cultural influences from around the world. Relaxing and enjoying “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is a tantalizing auditory journey when sung by Loreena McKennit. Ms. McKennit’s album, ‘A Winter Garden,’ is highly recommended for an enchanting winter evening by the fire. Sophie B. Hawkins sings a most beautiful rendition of Silent Night.

Smells of the Season

There is something about the months of October, November and December that inspire us to reach for our herbs and spices. The smell of cookies baking in the oven can be enough to bring a feeling of comfort and warmth to a home. Hanging a bough or garland of fresh evergreen invites nature into our home and will refresh our surroundings. A healthy does of stress-busting holiday aromatherapy need not be any more complex than simmering a simple concoction of cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg, and orange or apple peels throughout the day. Lighting a few pine-scented soy candles can be another way to impart some of the treasured uplifting smells of the season.

Tastes of the Season

Dietary angst is common around the holidays. Guaranteed to follow December is January’s all too predictable weight loss plan du jour. The holidays can be stressful enough without having to worry about our food intake or, worse yet, bearing a guilt-complex over the rapturous consumption of a pound of peppermint bark. In fact, dark chocolate peppermint bark complete with walnuts and cranberries eaten in moderation is packed with nutrients. Balance, as with all things in life, is key. A holiday gathering need not be a cooking marathon and it need not be a ten-course meal. The holidays can be a wonderful time to break away from the stodgier traditional and less healthy dishes and find a way to have fun revamping them into nutrition packed culinary delights. The pumpkin, the pomegranate, the clementine, the cranberry and the apple by themselves are all prime examples of seasonally available guilt-free raw materials for countless variations of healthy dishes. Brown rice can be a healthful substitute for a stuffing base as opposed to white bread. Seeking flour-less alternatives, cutting sugar consumption, avoiding packaged and canned products, and keeping foods as close to their natural states as possible will keep us on the path to a nutritionally sound holiday season.

The Feel of the Season

There are simple tactile joys that can transport us right back to childhood. Running our hands along the crunchy leaves of a cornstalk or the smooth skin of a pumpkin seems simple enough, but taking a moment to focus on what we’re feeling can provide our minds and bodies with some vital relaxation. This will allow us to breathe and be fully present in that moment. Grabbing an icicle off of the side of the house and packing the base for a snowman should never be done without pulling off a glove and feeling the ice and the snow with our bare hands. Kneading cookie dough or dipping our finger in the melting chocolate to taste test are all ordinary actions that, when contemplated and savored, become tranquilizing. The feel of a warm woolen throw, or the feel of the blue and silver velvet of a Hanukkah banner, or the velvety feel of a bright red Christmas bow and the furry rim of a stocking are all tangibles that signify this special time of year.

Sights of the Season

There is no greater testament to the power of the sights of the Season than the look of glee upon a child’s face at the sign of the first snowfall. They are oftentimes ecstatic at the lighting of the Christmas tree, the lighting of the Menorah, and the sight of Santa Claus. Each celebration involves some sort of light display be it a Candelabra or a Christmas tree or a Kinara. Regardless of a family’s tradition, the Holiday Season offers up a feast for everyone’s eyes. Whether visiting a reindeer farm, going for a sleigh ride, hiking a snowy forest, or spending time in the tropics on vacation, one will inevitably be able to experience the spirit of the Season as celebration carries on in some form from one end of the earth to the other.

The Spirit of the Season

There is another sense, a sort of sixth sense, that could describe the added dimension to the Holiday Season and that is one of Spirit. There is undoubtedly a heightened practice of spirituality, worship, and praise that defines this time. The factor of spirituality appears to transcend belief, faith, philosophy, practice and denomination. In many ways it can unify humanity, but only if love for our fellow humans, tolerance and respect for differences can be shown as opposed to the unfortunate presence of bigotry, condemnation, hatred and intolerance. One person may become spiritually connected while singing in a church choir while another will find their sacred experience in a pair of blue jeans serving soup to the homeless. Taking time to cultivate this sense can turn our holiday season from one of monotony to one of wonder and personal growth. When we nurture ourselves, we can then offer up the best of who we are to others. Reaching this place of spiritual cultivation ultimately requires a nurturing of the senses. Intentionally practicing this awareness in our daily activities will brighten our days, relieve our stresses, and center us so that we can truly enjoy all of the diversity and beauty that the Holiday Season has to offer.

*This article was written by Nicole Maendel. Photographer: Michelle Meiklejohn.*

November 2010