I think I know why people leave self-reflection for the week before the new year.
Not the small self-reflections, you understand – not the “Oh, I should have thought of writing that on my list and now I have to go out again” kind, or the “Why didn’t I learn this last time I did it?” kind – the BIG self-reflections. The “Why is this a habit I am perpetuating?” kind.
The “How has my life come to this?”kind.
The “What didn’t I do last year, that I can do about it this year?” kind.
I think it’s the onslaught.
Whatever your holiday, the season takes over, quite flagrantly, from about October onwards. With the infiltration of social media into everyday life, it is hard to avoid the collective sigh which goes up when the first ornaments make their way into the shops; when the first festive songs are heard on the radio; when the first arguments arise about coffee-shop cups…on and on it goes, merry-and-brightly bludgeoning its way into the collective consciousness.
That first collective sigh seems to indicate the very beginning – the waft and gentle shift across the tranquil snowscape, accompanied by a deep rumble you feel rather than hear. Then almost immediately afterwards, the Elf appears, the skies echo with screeches about Christmas not being the only holiday (or the original), and humanity hurls itself headlong down the mountainside, like an avalanche.
Even those who have built little strongholds of preparedness, or those who try to coast, aren’t immune. Somewhere along the way, the onslaught gets you, even if it only leaves you a little frostbitten around the edges, from exposure.
Life becomes a turmoil of immersion or avoidance, interspersed with desperate surfacings for air – great gulps of gratitude these are your smallest problems, or a distraction from your larger ones.
Unless you can fly, the season will do its best to grab you, wrap you in gingerbread and kid-friendly crafts, and leave you strung up with the lights, reeking of cinnamon, singing ‘We Wish You A Merry Something’ with your eyes shut.
Paradoxically it’s the one time of year we really do get busy living. We stop being cerebral, existential beings, come out of our heads, and promptly lose our minds.
We have no time to think, unless we very deliberately carve some out. In the meantime, there are the hundred nags a day about the things we should be doing, presents we should be sending, people we should be seeing, effort we should be making, gatherings we should be attending, and it’s all we can do to keep up with the trends, the Joneses, and our own expectations.
Is it disappointing, this tumble from semi-philosophical staidness into gobbling commercialism and holiday spirit?
I don’t think so. It alters the pace, makes us crazy in a different way, but with all the living and giving comes a change – we are confronted with life (and the lives of people around us) in its spectrum of richness and uncomfortable truths, and we respond.
If we are careful, we can respond in ways which support, encourage, and build up. We are perhaps more apt to donate to good causes, to participate, to come down from the ivory towers of our day-to-day lives and really notice other people. We might be more inclined to stop sweating the small stuff, let things go, forgive.
I wonder if that isn’t a product of the avalanche, too – whilst we’re so caught up with keeping up, we are brought face to face with our own areas of downfall, our vulnerabilities, our tendency to short temper or disengagement or meanness, or whatever it is we can usually avoid thinking about too deeply – in this season, our frailties hang onto the coattails of our efforts to manage, and in noticing the depth and breadth of our shortcomings, we are more inclined to err on the side of kindness.
That’s something to reflect upon later, though, once the festivities have been boxed up and put back in storage for another year. We can face the time of bland in-betweenness knowing that, in addition to everything else, we have our behaviour over the holidays to have a jolly good think about.
And the grand point of all that self-reflection?
Discovering new aspects of your own character? Strategising how you will handle situations differently another time? Putting plans in place to avoid roadblocks you encountered the previous year? Figuring out what worked best, and how you can do more of the same? That’s down to you.
Life, at its best, always looks for ways to live better.