What does the end of the year look like for you? There are many things that come to mind for me when thinking about December, both pleasant and uncomfortable. Some of the happier aspects include:
- time with my kids, half of whom no longer live close by
- the possibility of snow, which I really love, especially when the weather is harsh (it’s a Scorpio thang…)
- woodstove fires
- the magical feel of the season – the lights, the decorations, music (most of it), the change in people’s mood and activity level
- the special foods
- enjoying the company of friends
- buying gifts for my loved ones that I know will be appreciated
- good memories of holidays past
- making swags out of greenery, decorating the house, and smelling the tree, cinnamon pinecones, candles and other traditional parts of our holiday
- traditional holiday outings, such as Gardens Aglow in Boothbay, the theater, concerts, movies
- the energy of the solstice, and the days turning longer
Some of the less comfortable aspects:
- missing family and friends who have passed over
- illness – I tend to get sick around the holidays. Likely a combination of stress and forced time inside
- worries about overspending on gifts and other trappings of the season in American culture
- the “letdown” that comes after the holidays – when my kids leave, when everything is put away until next year, when the warmth seems to fade
- the bleakness of facing the end of the year, and the uncertainty of what will follow
Hopefully for you the pleasant outweighs the uncomfortable. But why should we feel discomfort at all at the “end” of the year? What if I told you there is no such thing as the end of the year? Would it make December feel better?
I was raised Catholic, and Christmas in our house was very traditional. We had traditional foods (including the 578 dozen cookies my sister and I would help my Nonna make every year), put up typical holiday decorations, and would go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve (which is probably the only thing I miss about being Catholic). My aunts and uncles would come over, we would eat pretty much the same foods every year, listen to the same music, watch the same TV specials. I have lots of fond memories of Christmas Past.
However, my mother, who passed almost twenty years ago, hated Christmas. It was obvious that she wasn’t cheery as we kids were enjoying the holiday, and, being an empath, I always felt her sadness and discomfort. When I was a teenager, I asked her why she was unhappy around Christmas. She talked about all the exhausting work, which I could definitely appreciate, as she did so much for us all year ‘round, and especially during the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays (my brother and I also each had birthdays at the end of November that needed to be celebrated with food and gifts as well), and the expense. But she also said that it made her sad, because she thought of the loved ones she had lost during the years, especially her mother, who died about seven months before I was born, on Valentine’s Day. I sympathized with her, but I also remember thinking that, with all the wonderful things that Christmas means, it was short-sighted to focus only on what wasn’t there, rather than on what was. I remember wondering whether I would also learn to hate Christmas as I grew older, when I had the responsibility to make the holidays memorable for my children, and began losing people I loved.
When I was married the first time and had my kids, I understood the exhaustion, responsibility, and the worry about the expense. Trying to keep up traditions, buying gifts for four children every year, cleaning and cooking and churching and dealing with my husband’s issues made for some unpleasant years. I did the best I could in trying to remain positive, and trying to prevent my kids from having to feel my discomfort and difficulty.
But, oddly, I never felt the sadness of loss at the holiday season the way many people do. I think it may be because I don’t feel that I’ve “lost” them. I still feel those I love, regardless of whether they’ve transitioned. I think it may be because I speak to them year-round, and have gotten used to feeling them at all times. I miss having them to talk with and enjoy, but I know they’re close.
If you think about it in a detached way, there’s really no such thing as the end of one’s life – just a transition to a different place. A movement to what’s next. But we here can’t see it… all we know is that we can’t see, feel or talk with our loved ones in the way we used to, so their life as we knew it has “ended.” That naturally makes us sad and lonely, especially at times around which we have happy memories of them. We miss them, and wish they could share these times with us once again in a more tangible way.
It’s the same way with each year. We say that this is the “end” of the year, but what has ended, really? For consistency, clarity and convenience, we needed a universal method of counting time. We observed that it takes the Earth about 24 hours to rotate on its axis and called it a “day,” and approximately 365 days to revolve around the Sun, which we designated a “year.” Months (the word “month” coming from the same root as “moon”) were based roughly around moon phases. As for how we ended up with 60 minutes in an hour, and 24 hours in a day, it gets a bit more mathematically complicated, and I leave that up to the experts, but here’s a brief explanation (and additional interesting information here, and here). In short, days, months and years were divided into twelfths because the Egyptians, who invented the system, used the duodecimal system (rather than the decimal system used today, which made it easier for people to count using their fingers).
The point is, without our need to keep track of things like appointments and birthdays and holidays and such, we would understand that there is no beginning and no end to time. The year only ends at December because we all agree that it does – because we can mark that period of time from one similar, which happened approximately 365 days in the past. In places where the seasons (another construct) change, it’s more obvious, and the feeling of things beginning and ending is more pronounced. But it’s just an observation of the life cycle of plants, animals, and everything else in our environment.
For some, there is a lot of anxiety associated with the end of the year. We search our souls to decide whether we’ve been as productive as we could have through the year just past, and feel guilty if we feel we’ve come up short. We think about the resolutions we made in January, and wonder whether we’ve done enough to better ourselves. Again, we feel bad if we don’t feel as though we’ve done enough. As the years go by, we take frequent stock of our lives to judge whether we’re leaving a mark in the world, whether by making a positive difference, making money or making our way, one step in front of the other, just living day by day. If you see The End before you, it feels as though time is running out to do what you think is important before it’s time for you to move on. But time is just something we use to keep track of things. It’s not a measure of our worth. There is no end. It’s just a passage to what comes next.
So Happy Transition to you. Happy movement from one month to the next, just like at any other time of the year. Happy living your life day to day, as you’re meant to, learning and growing without guilt or anxiety over whatever it’s all supposed to “mean.” It means you’re moving through life, which doesn’t end, even at the End. Because there’s always – always – something that comes next.