Monday, December 24, 2012

HSP Reflection: The Lost-- and Found-- Meanings of the Season

I'd like to start by wishing everyone who reads this "Happy Holidays!"

This morning, I am taking a little time to reflect on life, rather than write an "advice column" or talk about aspects of the HSP trait. We'll return to our usual programming, next week... promise! Which is not to say that today's commentary doesn't have a distinct "HSP flavor."

Many people will be celebrating Christmas, today and tomorrow (depending on where you are, and what cultural mores you follow). I realize many of you do not "practice" Christmas... and my initial thought was to add the words "so this is not really aimed at you." But in a broader sense... you are part of the equation, even if Christmas is not what you observe, in your family; in your culture.

I was thinking--earlier this morning-- about how shopping for gifts has never been easy for me. Part of the issue is that I am only interested in giving gifts that will truly mean something to the recipient, and will be genuinely appreciated by them. I was never able to "just grab something off a shelf," throw it in a gift bag, and go... seems a lot of people are able to do that, and be perfectly happy.

Whether this is related to the sense of "conscientiousness" that tends to follow the highly sensitive through life, I don't know. Actually, I feel it's far simpler and more "selfish" than that: I never liked receiving gifts that clearly were given out of a "sense of obligation" and with very little thought behind them. I'd-- quite frankly-- rather have nothing than have to feign enthusiasm over receiving some useless random trinket... and then have to figure out how to dispose of it, later.

But the main part of my gift shopping "dilemma" is that I have never been particularly oriented to "stuff." And when you don't really "relate" to stuff as something that brings lots of joy it is a bit harder to buy stuff. It's not that I'm not clued into whether or not someone would like something-- I'm pretty good at that, especially with those close to me. I don't say these words as some kind of social commentary against consumerism, nor as a reflection of a personality that thinks "everything must be functional"... I say it merely to share a piece of my experience of living.

Anyways, reflecting on my "gift shopping issues," led me to reflect on days gone by... and what felt meaningful and important about Christmas, when I was a kid.

Certainly, getting a new bike, or some toy (actually, I was more interested in books!) I'd really wanted was "exciting," but looking back at age 0-14, I don't have an "honest" (e.g. unaided by photographs) memory of a single "thing" I got for Christmas. I know there were Legos, I know there were building sets, I know there were stuffed animals, I know there was a portable radio, I know there was an Instamatic camera... but I have no searing memories of these.

A faded photo of my dad and I decorating the tree. 1964-- I was four.
Instead, my strongest memories of what Christmas was "about" came in the form of the extraordinary cornucopia of food that flowed through the house, from December 23rd through about December 27th. It was all this delicious food we didn't get to eat, otherwise-- and it came all at the same time. There were roasts, and puddings, and cookies, and giant luncheons and exotic treats and it was all just amazing... as were the scents, wafting through the house. There was my mom's cooking; there were other people's cooking. We were certainly not "hard up for money," but for a few days my mother's eternal "small portions, SMALL portions, don't be a pig, you'll get FAAAT!" admonitions basically went in the toilet. To this day, I can still smell the food, see the tables, even tell you "what was where," and "which years" the table was set up "what way."

All this deliciousness was accompanied by a parade of people who seemed to be in a better mood than usual. As a young HSP, I had a deep appreciation for the fact that my father and his brother temporarily would stop bickering over nothing. Raised voices were few and far between. And I felt an actual sense of inner joy that we got to see interesting people and more distant family members we only got to see once a year. Maybe that was an early reflection of being an introverted little HSP... because "once a year" felt like precisely the "right amount" of socializing... and I basically wanted to see these folks, even if not actually interact with them... yet I also felt deeply attached to those once-a-year visits... they felt like part of the meaning of the season. It felt "a certain way" when these people were in the house... and those feelings remain with me.

So here I sit, at age 52, considering the "meaning" of Christmas... not in the religious/spiritual sense, but in the effective memory sense. In terms of what "means" something, to me.

It's the feasting, and the gathering of people.

But then my mind snaps back to the reality of now, and to my Christmas shopping dilemmas. And to what I see around me, in the greater world. And I struggle, as I try to process what "matters" to the greater world, vis-a-vis what matters to me. And somehow it feels all backwards.

Often, it seems to me like people's JOY... and their sense of self-worth... has become so wrapped up in "things." We "measure" our sense of importance and value not by how we feel about ourselves and who loves us and cares about us, and wants to spend time with us, but by what we "get." Which I am having a real struggle relating to. Maybe I'm weird... because there is always this "soul component" involved, when I try to give people gifts. I don't really care what the "thing" IS... I care about how the recipient will feel, when they get it.

Christmas 2012
This inner paradox makes me wonder when our hearts, minds and souls became like cash registers, measuring off the spirit of the season in a giant "ledger" with columns for "received" and "given." Because that's increasingly how Christmas, and life in general, feels to me. Have the stresses and demands of the technological age taken so much out of us that we just don't have the bandwidth to care, on a deeper level?

This, in turn, got me to ponder the way it feels like everyone gets so "easily offended" during the Holidays, in this modern world of ours... in what feels like a complete reversal of the temporary harmony I took so much joy from during holidays with my family. What is that about, on a deeper level?

We feel like we must use the phrase "Happy Holidays" because-- God forbid-- we might offend someone if we wish them a "Merry Christmas," or a "Happy Hanukkah," or a "Happy Solstice," and that happens to not match that person's belief system. As I search myself, I just can't imagine getting offended because someone wished me some "flavor" of good cheer that didn't happen to be mine. Why do we choose to make that an insult?

Maybe the intent to be "sensitive" has its merits, but WHO is being "sensitive," in this equation? Perhaps the well-wisher is being sensitive, with their choice of words... but isn't the person taking offense being stunningly IN-sensitive by virtue of their brusque response to someone whose intent was to wish them well?

Isn't it just language? Would you be equally offended if someone wished you "Happy Holidays" in Russian... because "it's not in English!?!?"

Think about the deeper meaning here.

When someone is offended by an ostensibly "inappropriate" holiday greeting, what does it really say? From where I am sitting, the underlying message is intolerance, in the form of "Your experience is different from mine, and that makes me angry! It makes me angry that you are not like me, and don't believe as I do!"

Well, hallelujah! Welcome to the human race! We're all different and unique human beings!

But pardon me for a moment, who the hell died and made you "Emperor Of What Everyone Should Experience?" Secondly, where the hell did you get the idea that everyone should be the same as you?

▲ ▲ Yes, that was a "grumpy and INTOLERANT moment." I'll get over myself, now. ▲ ▲

Last couple of posts I have written here have been about focusing on "the positive" we encounter... because we can affect our lives a great deal, merely by where we focus our thoughts. When we see good in the world, we focus on finding good, and ultimately we DO find good. When we see negative (and "insults") in the world, we will focus on them, and our lives will reflect finding them.

So when someone wishes you "Merry Christmas," and you don't "do" Christmas... remember, they are most likely JUST wishing you "happy holidays," from within their frame of reference.

It's a friendly greeting, not an attempt to pick on you!

Whatever way you celebrate the holiday season-- or not-- here's hoping it unfolds in a way that creates a positive and happy memory for you!


  1. Memories can fade, but photos don't have to:

    (How long before there's Photoshop for Memories? "Memoshop"?

    Merry Christmas, and thanks for sharing your, um, HSP-ness (I always giggle when I heard that out loud...) :-D

  2. I do not know a single person who wants to be offended, so why do that do it. I would say they do it out of habit and insensitivity to the harm they are doing to themselves. It is painful to be angry or offended, that is why we think of it as a negative experience. Yet, this offended-ness is entirely a product of OUR behaviors; both our ways of thinking and our habitual emotional reactions to those thoughts. Conscious/sensitive people re-train themselves away from harmful behaviors so that they no longer have to have these negative experiences.

    It is a choice and the power to choose comes with practice, which is why I love people trying to offend me, so I can practice love IN SPITE of what the world is offering.

  3. Peter, this article provided me so much insight regarding my current feelings surrounding Christmas. My extended family and I just returned from a Caribbean cruise over Christmas. My siblings and I have always talked about going on a trip during the holidays and skipping all the traditional hoopla. It was a dream come true. Yet, it seemed so strange to be wearing shorts and playing shuffleboard on the deck of a ship on December 25. I have come to a time where I don't want stuff any more so the lack of gifts wasn't the problem. I now know what was missing was the gathering and cooking in the kitchen. The sights and sounds of the day were off.

    I informed my family that I am no longer buying birthday or Christmas gifts for the adults. Your description of gift-giving hits the nail on the head for me. Yet tomorrow is my sister's birthday and I know I will be ridiculed for my decision. Hopefully, your insight will allow me to put into words why I no longer want to participate in the giving of stuff.


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