Sunday, January 6, 2013

Holiday Experiences and Mindfulness

Last Christmas was my first Christmas spent outside of the United States.  The Canadian and I, taking advantage of our proximity to Europe (living in London), took off to Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany.  We sat on trains drinking (wine for me, giant beers for the Canadian) and scarfing down plates of pierogies.  We stood in a Christmas market in Krakow, the snow gently falling, as we watched a Polish soldier salute the baby Jesus in a live creche scene while the choir sang Silent Night (I'll admit, I was a little weepy during that experience).  We walked down a path skirting the Danube in Bratislava, passing a trio of silver trees, standing like Christmas sentries along the river.
Bratislava at night
We were in Berlin on Christmas Eve, and I went for a run that took me through the Brandenburg Gates, amid Christmas revelers and some startled policemen (who looked at me as if I might be just a bit mad to be out running in the below freezing temperatures when I should be drunk and happy like everyone else). 
A run through the Brandenburg Gate on Christmas Eve
 I was happy (and later I was drunk...) but more than anything, I was overwhelmed with the various Christmas experiences I'd had.

Christmas tree in the Berlin train station
I sat teary-eyed in a restaurant watching a family pass around a large bowl of pierogies, laughing and enjoying their holiday gathering.  I snapped photos of Christmas trees in every city I visited.  We visited Christmas markets, mulled wine in one hand, our other hand wrapped around each other, as much for warmth as affection.  We sat in a coffee-shop as two violinists softly serenaded us with Christmas carols. I stood on a bridge at twilight, staring over the Vltava river in Prague, watching the city slowly light up as the evening approached. I ate and ate and ate -- and so did the Canadian.  He must have found every sausage stand in the country.

I think this tree was in Prague...and the one above it in Poland.
This Christmas we decided to stay in London and invited the Canadian's sister, husband and our two nephews (ages 3 and 5 months -- A and BabyO respectively) to visit. We had dinners around the table, laughing and drinking and talking about our day.  We saw London through A's eyes, lighting up as he rode on the top of the double decker bus, excitement at riding the 'train' (the tube), trying on his new London bobby pajamas, and having to explain that "London Bridge isn't really falling down, it's safe, that's just a song". It was fun to have a kid in the house, the talk of Santa Clause and discussions of coming down the chimney.  This new house in London has an actual chimney and fireplace, tailor-made for Santa and stockings and all of the Christmas trimmings.

BabyO won't remember his trip except for in pictures -- but his cute toothless grin and love for anyone who would hold him made Christmas that much sweeter.  Now that the family has left, I'm still remembering the evenings that he lay on the quilt that my great-grandmother made, in front of the fireplace, sleeping as if nothing in world were all that important except a warm nap.

Christmas, to me, is the experiences.  The toys and gifts, they are part of the memory but for the most part it's the people, the laughter, the smells of the tree, the crackle of the fireplace.  It's the hot mulled wine in Krakow or the laughter of my happy nephew, BabyO.  It's the first taste of a blueberry pierogy in Warsaw or reading Shel Silverstein on the couch to A, just before bedtime.

It's the experiences that matter, not the toys, not the gifts.  Just like in 'The Grinch Who Stole Christmas', even if all of the toys and 'things' are gone, Christmas still exists.  Next year, don't race out for those 'last minute gifts'.  Don't run around, stressed out from holiday shopping, feeling miserable and missing the beauty that surrounds you during the holidays -- the lights, the music, the joy.  Don't go overboard on the gifts. Your kids don't need that giant 'whatever' or that expensive 'newest thing'.  What we all need is to put everything down, experience each other - the smells, the sights, the sounds...the holidays -- however you celebrate them.  Be mindful.  Be aware. Be present.

Today, Mindfully,

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