Dear Vicki: This is supposed to be such a joyful time of year, but try as I might I always end up sad and depressed around the holidays. I think of family and friends who have passed away and miss the holidays of my childhood. I am an adult who, for most of the year, is very content in her singlehood and happiest alone, but this time of years makes me question whether the effort I put into my legal career at the expense of relationships is wise. I know your blog is about relationships, but do you have any suggestions on how I can get through the holidays. I act like all the fuss is a colossal waste of time, but in all honesty, a small part of me wishes I wasn’t so automatically dismissive. I don’t expect to be joyful, but it would be great not to be so down. Signed: Sad in Sycamore
Dear Sad: Bless you for reaching out. The holiday season is a complicated time of year for all of us. If we were lucky, we had parents who tried to make the holidays as magical as possible for us. We likely didn’t see the sacrifices they made to do this, or the responsibilities they juggled to manage it all. Even if we were this lucky, few of us ever enjoyed the kind of highly idealized holidays that the advertising world seems to insist is normal these days. Yet when we admit that we just don’t have the time, energy, or means to meet the expectations they create, we feel like failures.
And for those of us whose holiday experiences centered on friends and family, the inevitable loss of loved ones does put a damper on every holiday we celebrate. I want to assure you that these are all normal reactions and responses to the procession of life through the years. People come into our lives, and people leave. There are wonderfully magical times, and times of sorrow and loss. That is life at its most basic. But that doesn’t mean we are destined to be victims of the past. There is much we can do to manage our response to the holidays, so let’s look at ways you can make a difference for yourself this year.
Based on your letter, I suspect you are a Metal personality. Metal people excel at the detail and focus it takes to study and practice law. Given its place at the end of the Five Elements cycle, Metal deals with endings; it is Metal’s job to discern what to keep for the next cycle and then let go of the rest. When stressed, this focus on endings and letting go can create sadness and grief in people with primary Metal personalities. It is always hard to let go of a loved one who has passed, but it can be especially hard on a stressed Metal personality. Stress can also create a real dismissive streak in Metal people. They assume they know more than others (they have seen it all) and this can come across to others in very unpleasant ways. That said, balanced Metals are also some of the kindest people alive. Their wisdom gives them a deep appreciation of the human condition and what people go through in life. Unfortunately, if they are stressed, Metals often forget to extend this kindness to themselves.
Another key character trait of Metal people is their tendency to focus on the past. Metals are brilliant at synthesizing wisdom from the past to use going forward, and this will be key in helping you through the holiday season. I can’t promise that it will ever be your favorite time of year, but there are aspects of the holidays that will appeal to your Metal approach to the world, and that is what we are going to build on to help you. The key here is traditions, which is something that Metal personalities deeply appreciate. Traditions are based on the past, which as we said, is the arena of Metals. They have seen the whole of a cycle and know what works, what doesn’t work, and therefore what is of value. From this knowledge they develop “right” and “wrong” ways of doing things, be that driving a car, setting a table, or practicing law. Eventually these widely accepted protocols become our traditions. This means that Metal people are usually the ones who develop traditions, and the holidays are nothing if not about tradition.
You don’t mention which holiday traditions were part of your family growing up, but I suspect some of your sadness is based on missing these traditions. Rather than just ignoring the season altogether, I encourage you to find ways to include some of these traditions in your life. Whether a Christmas tree adorned your family home, a menorah sat in the doorway or window, or some other traditional representation of the holidays was part of your family, resurrect that tradition for yourself. It will not only connect you to your past, it will also feed your Metal soul to emphasize the reason for the tradition. Honoring this history is one way to provide a meaning to this season that will vastly surpass the commercialization it has taken on.
There is another aspect of the holidays that is also important for you to consider. As we have discussed in this blog many times, each of the Five Elements personalities has a season that is “theirs.” Winter relates to Water, Wood relates to spring, Fire to summer, Earth to transitional times between the seasons, and fall is the season for Metal. In the northern hemisphere, fall is when the activities of summer fade away and the energy of nature withdraws into the earth. Most of the holiday season falls during winter, the time when the bulk of nature is still, quietly preparing for the advent of spring.
This flow of energy from fall to winter, which is from Metal to Water in the Five Elements model, is a lot like the New Year’s celebration: It’s about letting go of the old and embracing the new. As a Metal person, this may be hard for you to do because, as we just said, the old is where the hard-won wisdom of Metal sits. But it’s a fact of life that each cycle must end and a new one begin, and an excellent way to embrace this is to honor this transition with ceremony, which is something that Metal people usually enjoy.
Ceremony asks you to actively honor an event or a change. The holidays abound with ceremony that honors something in the past. Lighting a menorah is ceremony, decorating a Christmas tree is ceremony, Rohatsu meditation is ceremony, solstice celebrations are ceremony, Las Posadas processions are ceremony, caroling is ceremony, and the list could go on. I truly believe that using ceremony to honor the reason for the season in whatever way speaks to you will make this a much richer time of year for you.
I do have one final recommendation. As you mention, people with Metal personalities tend to enjoy time alone, but most holiday celebrations and ceremonies involve other people. Our childhood celebrations certainly include family (and often friends). So while you enjoy your singlehood, I wonder if a lack of connection with others during these festive times might be contributing to your sadness. Loud parties are not something a Metal person enjoys (unless they have a lot of Fire personality mixed in), but small social gatherings can be enjoyable if you stop working long enough to attend. Might you consider reaching out to family and friends and engaging just a bit in some of the holiday festivities? Regardless of our elemental personality, the human soul is wired for connection at a deep level and it’s this connection that’s usually at the core of our most cherished holiday traditions (the giving of gifts is just one example). I hope you will find a way to honor this human connectedness in some way as you create your own celebration of the holidays. Blessings to you!