“The holidays are coming! The holidays are coming!” Is the battle cry I hear coming from the streets. We all brace up in our own ways to guard against the trauma we’re about to endure. Wait, is it really that bad? For some of us, yes. For others, well, there’s a reason those “Live, Laugh, Love” pillows exist.
Recently I was in Vermont and New Hampshire ripping and running and something strange jumped out at me. It wasn’t a coyote or a cougar, or to my chagrin a moose, it was all the houses attached to houses attached to houses that I remembered learning about in my elementary school Social Studies class. Whoa, this stuff still exists! Who lives in those houses attached to houses attached to houses? Are people and their “kin” still occupying these multi-generational domiciles or have they all been converted into Airbnbs?
Family. What do you do with them around the holidays? For Thanksgiving, we went to friends of my parents where we existed as the awkward black sheep edition to their wholesome family fun, as we lived 3,000 miles away from our extended family. Christmas was spent with only my dad and two sisters, as we’re Jewish and the extended family didn’t celebrate it. With no real traditions to carry on to single adulthood, all that was left to do was eat the most unpalatable takeout and watch It’s A Wonderful Life. It was just me, my dog, and an old tinsel tree that stood at a slant reminding me of times I no longer shared.
Ugh. The holidays. Not that I hate them, I just hate the expectations around them. It’s like summer; half the people I know secretly hate it, but we all put on a happy face and dive into the pool as if it's the greatest gift the year has to offer. Alas, the holiday season is upon us, and I’m committed to giving it the old college try once again. I string up winter wonderland lights, hang the ornaments on the tree, watch the Yule Log on TV and fight the urge to take it all down on December 21st. Admittedly, there were a few years I did just that. A huge sigh of relief was felt as I tucked Rudolf away for another year before he even had a chance to shine his nose so bright.
Okay, where’d we go? Oh right, New England. It wasn’t all just houses attached to houses that caught my eye. The trees were the real show stoppers. Wowza!
As I ran through the trees I marveled at how each one seemed to be giving a grand recital after months of diligent practice. Each tree took to the stage giving it everything it had. The colors changed and shifted as if doing the Dance of The Seven Veils. I felt like I was at the bottom of a bowl of Fruit Loops left on the table a little past its prime, color swirling in an over-saturated glow above my head.
As I looked at the trees I thought about what they endure. Whether it be sun, rain, snow, or ice they do their best to hold themselves together. They give home to animals and insects, shade for passersby, and oxygen for us to breathe, among their many talents. Trees grow and die, they produce saplings birthing other trees. They stay firmly planted, yet continue to grow and come into their own, just as we do. Their grace and versatility astound me. I like to think of myself as a tree, with each person in my life representing a leaf. Some are bigger, smaller, twisted, stiff, subtle, different colors, newly grown, weathered by the elements; all unique in their own ways. Sometimes the leaves are closer in near my trunk, some are further out all the way to the tips of my branches, and some are taken away by a strong wind when they’re no longer needed. If we held on to all of our leaves year-round we’d risk endangering ourselves with the added weight of snow and ice heavy on our branches.
When the trees lose their leaves many people seemingly lose their joy. Fear of the dark, cold, wet winter months and pressure of family traditions around the holidays make some recoil so far inward they fall into depression, lack motivation, and lose inspiration. How can we fortify ourselves against the barren winter months and the fears and anxieties we hold about being both with and without family? Can we learn to be graceful like the trees? Can we use this time to allow others to take up space on our branches, can we shed what we don’t need for our survival?
Like trees grow, so do we. Like leaves float away from the tree itself, so do we from our families. Some view the holidays as a time to get together, for others it’s a time to create their own family or friend traditions or spend their time alone. Every year the leaves come back, but not every year the family does. I think there’s beauty to be found in it all, there’s opportunity for change, introspection, support, resource, staying firmly planted while continuing to grow and develop, to move gracefully throughout the seasons knowing that even though it’s cyclical, there’s opportunity to adapt and change with every passing season.
Whether we spend the holidays with or without family we can use the leafless season to regroup, to hibernate, to refuel, and well, for those of us who stay motivated, to run another mile.
Amy Rose is a hair stylist, trail runner, photographer, writer and mental health advocate. She has been using trail running and hiking as a tool to help battle depression and anxiety for over 5 years. Amy credits running and her discovery of nature as a muse as critical to assisting in her recovery and transformation. Her unique perspective is apparent in her writing and photography and shines a light on the pursuit of seeking alternative mental health and lifestyle choices. This year Amy’s run goal is to surpass the 1,075 miles she ran last year. Let’s see if she can do it!