Exploring Retirement: Jeanette Lewis

Jeannette Lewis, contributorJeanette is one of the regular writers for Exploring Retirement. Each month she contributes an inspirational article on living life to the full in retirement.

ecember Musings

December is a month of holidays - Hanukkah, Winter solstice, Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanza, and New Year's Eve. There is something for everyone to celebrate. Multicultural populations across Canada bring traditions from all parts of the world to these holidays.

The many December holidays fall during the darkest time of the year in the Northern hemisphere which means that lights, bright colours, and music accompany each of these celebrations. Where I live in Southern Ontario, the sun is gone, the skies are grey, and every day brings rain, or sleet, or snow. The holidays provide welcome diversions and serve to distract our attention from the weather.

People greet each other with salutations and wishes of peace, happiness, and merriment. The holiday season means Santa Claus parades, tree lighting ceremonies, dreidels, charity bazaars, and craft sales. Stores entice shoppers with beautiful decorations, online promotions, midnight madness sales, and never-ending seasonal music. Choirs, theatre groups, and school children perform at special concerts to delight and entertain.

Sometimes the holidays are a rough ride....

December celebrations can precipitate a month of mixed emotions. For many, it's not the happiest time of the year; rather, it is a dreaded time. Family events heighten the celebratory mood but, too often, there are empty places at the table. A death leaves a gaping hole. A marital break-up changes a family gathering. Distance, finances, sickness, or work obligations prevent some family members from attending festivities. Feelings of isolation, sadness, loneliness, grief, and estrangement make celebrations difficult.

There are times in everyone's life when the holidays are stressful rather than joyous. Life circumstances are such that you don't feel like celebrating. Most likely, there are many others who feel as you do and choose to take a break from celebrating by hibernating at home with good books, movies, and non-traditional foods.

There is no rule against opting out of holiday festivities. A friend did this a few years ago, when she was suddenly widowed and could not face the holidays in the home she had shared with a loving partner. She took her two teenaged sons, who were also struggling with feelings of emptiness, to a Caribbean resort for a complete change of environment and a break with tradition. She told me the solution wasn't perfect but it helped her family avoid Christmas and New Year events at home. Instead, they spent time on the beach, ate island foods, and learned how to snorkel. Staying away from the usual family gatherings helped them through a difficult first year of grief.

Coping with Holiday Expectations

Regardless of what you may be facing during December holidays, there will be contradictions. Sometimes the twinkling lights on a tree, candles in a minora, and sweet treats will bring feelings of happiness; on other days, holiday expectations end in feelings of disappointment and stress.

Sometimes I become a bit of a curmudgeon and say "bah humbug" to every celebration. There is just too much angst to the decorating, shopping, baking, and entertaining. Likewise, over-indulgence in food, drink, and retail add to the waistband and the credit card balance. I don't want more cookies, creamy eggnogs, or smoked salmon canapés. I can't endure another trip to the mall listening to repetitive holiday music while searching for presents to give to people who don't need or want any more sweaters or toys or tchotchkes.

This year, I've made an action plan to manage expectations. I'm pacing myself with small, manageable projects for each of the five weekends in December. I'll start with a "make and freeze" weekend when I'll prepare and freeze traditional French Canadian tourtieres, some soups, and a couple of casseroles. This stash will get me through busy days and provide contributions for "pot luck" events . On subsequent weekends, I'll decorate the house, entertain, bake cookies and make the traditional West Indian black cake. During week days, I'll finish the shopping, wrap gifts, and spend time listening to music I love.

Over the years I've learned to ditch traditions that no longer make sense. For example, I don't fret over outside lights on the house especially when there is snow or freezing rain every day. I refuse to make purchases that will ultimately end up in land fill, favouring books or gift cards. I've also learned to manage over-indulgence with food and drink to avoid weight gain. Practising self-love and self-care during a season that brings a mix of emotions makes December manageable.

Finally, here is my epilogue to John Copelton and Exploring Retirement: It's been an honour to write monthly posts for this newsletter. John's editorials have espoused the positive aspects of retirement and ageing to provide inspiration. I tip my hat to my fellow guest writer, Michael McSorley, for his thoughtful posts. I thank readers who have faithfully read each monthly issue. I invite everyone to follow my blog at http://www.postworksavvy.com where you will find 2 - 3 posts each month with my thoughts on a fulfilling retirement journey. I wish everyone health, happiness and prosperity in 2019.