Another holiday season is rolling through and the end of yet another year is around the corner. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, or any other winter holiday I might have failed to mention, you know this season means a lot to many people. Christmas has certainly always been my favorite holiday, right next to Halloween. I'm always like such a little elf this time of year (never mind that I'm actually kinda short like one)--I bake holiday desserts for all my friends and family, make sure everyone I care about receives gifts, and sing Christmas songs at the top of my lungs.
However, this year in particular has been rough and made it difficult for many people to fully embrace the holiday spirit. I'll be the first to admit I've been kind of a Scrooge lately in that I've had a hard time getting excited for Christmas, especially compared to last year. My senior thesis among other stressful assignments I had to do this semester have been preoccupying most of my brain lately, making it harder than usual for me to devote a lot of energy to caring about Christmas, and I only just got home for my winter break a few days before Christmas because I had thesis stuff going on until of course the very last possible day of the semester. Donald Trump being elected president put a damper on my and many other people's moods in the past month. I'm also still somewhat dealing with the after-effects of my very emotionally draining breakup from the summer (and the entire relationship to be quite honest). Last Christmas I'd just gotten home from my semester abroad and along with my excitement to be back home with my family/friends/then-boyfriend, I'd already felt a great deal of Christmas spirit from being in Paris, so in general I was in a much happier place a year ago.
But in the midst of all that, I realize there is still so much to be cheerful about. Although several of us may feel like our country is ending, the world isn't (even though around this time 4 years ago it was supposedly going to)! There are difficulties that I along with several others have endured this year, but there is so much worse that could be happening that hasn't happened. A lot of us are still so fortunate to experience all the wonderful things we've experienced.
So I wanted to compile a collection of reasons for us to be grateful during this holiday season-- followed by ways to spread that gratitude to others. In the words of the song "Believe" from the classic Christmas film The Polar Express-- one of my personal favorite Christmas songs/movies-- "There's no time to waste, there's so much to celebrate."
1. You can read this article.
2. Which means you are literate.
3. And also have Internet access.
4. You have a family and friends that love you.
5. You're on winter break. No more stressful school assignments for a month!
6. You have many talents and will do great things with them.
7. You're going to change someone's life one day.
8. Several exciting movies have come out lately. From Moana (which I saw and absolutely loved), to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, to Rogue One, movie theaters are bursting with wonderful-- and perfectly nerdy-- films right now.
9. Stranger Things came into our lives this year.
10. So did Hamilton.
11. And particularly Lin-Manuel Miranda. Who, as you can see from his Twitter, is a true ray of sunshine.
12. And Pokemon Go.
13. Obama is still president for another month.
14. You have a roof over your head.
15. And access to clean water.
16. If you haven't had it happen already, someone will fall in love with you and treat you with all the respect you deserve. (Something I personally keep needing to remind myself of, when I get down on myself about the fact that I thought this happened but it didn't).
17. More grocery stores are selling alcohol inside them now (at least up north, because I know this is already common in the south).
18. Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Wawa and other places that sell coffee have their seasonal drink flavors out again. Peppermint mocha, here I come.
19. You have made it through another year.
20. You are alive and loved.
I could go on with even more reasons to be joyful, but for the sake of time and space, I wanted to move on. So now, on to some ways to bring joy to others this holiday season, particularly those in need of it!
1. Greet or even just smile at strangers. Just a small gesture like this could go a long way for someone without you even realizing it.
2. At your job, wish a happy holiday to all the people you talk to, both customers and coworkers.
3. Dress in festive apparel, like Christmas sweaters or Santa hats. This will help both yourself and the people around you feel more spirited.
4. Bake holiday desserts for all your family and friends.
Baking is so much fun and really takes a lot of stress off! Every year for the past few of them, I've loved making these chocolate peppermint cookie-brownies to give to my loved ones. I usually make this Nutella cookie recipe and just add crushed peppermint to it, but this year I decided to try a different spin on it so I also made a vegan version with this vegan brownie recipe I found. Either way is delicious and I recommend both of them!
5. Go out caroling.
6. In particular, you could go caroling at places like a nursing home or homeless shelter.
7. Spend time at your local SPCA or animal shelter. Our furry friends need love and holiday joy too!
8. Cook an entire meal, at least one, for your family.
9. Donate a little something, either in money or food or necessities, to a poor or homeless person you may come across.
10. Sing Christmas or Hanukkah tunes with your coworkers to spread cheer at your workplace.
11. Donate to communities known to be experiencing hardships right now, such as Flint, Michigan (where there is a water crisis), Standing Rock (because word has it that the Dakota Access Pipeline is still being drilled illegally), Aleppo, Syria (where people are literally making goodbye videos because their city is being blown up), and any other communities of your choice or that I might have left out. Although this can be done at any point and you certainly don't need the holiday season to be an excuse to do so, these people could use some support especially right now of all times. I completely get that our own struggles as far as money goes can make it tough to help others out. However, I'm broke as hell and I still managed to donate a little bit to these communities. Also, whenever I encounter opportunities to give to other charities, such as being asked to by cashiers in stores, I try to do so every time. If you can even just contribute as little as $1, you have no idea how far that tiny amount could go.
12. Pay it forward-- do something kind for a stranger you might meet somewhere, like buy their Starbucks or something like that, whether they need your help or you just feel like being friendly. The opportunity will come when you least expect it-- I helped out a man who needed money for gas because as I happened to be walking past a gas station he started pleading to me in a desperate tone how he was trying to get to a horse show and had run out of money to fill up his car with gas, so I gave him a few bucks from my wallet. In these situations my naturally immediate response is to be skeptical, and indeed I was, but he sounded very genuine and it's a time of year for giving so I figured why not?
13. Make holiday greeting cards and hand them out to random people you encounter on the street.
14. Pet every dog you see and maybe carry around dog treats to hand out to them. (This is acceptable to do any time of year though, to be honest).
15. Give your pets some extra love and do festive things with them like dress them up in little Christmas sweaters, sing them holiday tunes or get them gifts. They're members of the family so they deserve gifts too! I'm currently pet-sitting a cat for the next week and his owners, who are on vacation, left him a few presents under their Christmas tree, which is one of the cutest things I've ever seen.
16. Thank the next military member or veteran you see. They've fought for your freedom to celebrate these holidays, which some of them might not even be able to be home with their own families to celebrate.
17. Take the time to call your grandparents or other elderly family members, if you aren't already seeing them for the holidays.
18. Put baked goods or other little treats in the mailboxes of houses around your neighborhood, anonymously or not.
19. Help decorate your home, workplace, and friends' or neighbors' homes. Families with small children or elderly folks will especially appreciate this.
20. Just do anything else you may want to do to spread the cheer as long as it makes you happy.
Whether or not you choose to take any of these suggestions, I hope you can find it in yourself to be filled with the holiday spirit amongst all the chaos in our world. I wish you and your family the best of holidays! Seasons Greetings and Happy New Year!
"Believe in what you feel inside, and give your dreams the wings to fly. You have everything you need, if you just believe."