The Christmas-tree self-care technique

One cold and dark early November morning in 2016 I picked my phone off my nightstand. Perhaps I and a significant portion of Americans moved in sync that particular morning; laying in bed, glancing at the top news story, putting the phone down, pulling the covers over our heads, and feeling the despair roll in. My husband, face down in the crook of his arm, muttered, “That bad, huh?”

My mental health had a lot running against it at that moment. Included in the laundry list of things outside of my control were two common experiences, the pending turnover of the executive branch and the growing darkness of the changing seasons. After muddling about in bewildered grief for a day, I dug the Christmas lights out of storage and went about wrapping the dogwood tree in the front yard.

I am well aware that not everyone approves of pre-Thanksgiving Christmas lights. My husband only tolerates them and pre-2016 I would have heartily disapproved. Yet I’ve come to think of this impulse as a coping strategy.

Sometime last year, I was watching TEDTalk videos to pass the time. Among them was Ingrid Fetell Lee’s presentation on joy.  How does this intersect with my need for Christmas lights? Among the patterns Ingrid describes in the things that bring joy are abundance and pops of color, attributes of twinkly lights. From time to time, I sit with them. I pay attention to them being just as they are, and this appreciation allows me to reset. Fetell Lee’s elements of joy combine with practices of mindfulness and intention.

This year, as election day came to a close, my ten year old and I went about hanging up ornaments, plastic icicles, and draping the artificial tree in multicolored lights. Each little decoration from the hand-painted and decoupaged trinkets my children created in younger years, to blown-glass fruit and birds are beautiful of their own accord. I sent my bestie a quick picture message, “Lights hung to ward off the possibility of post-election despair (as I question our collective humanity).” Perhaps dramatic, but true.

The last thought I leave you with is that light is a symbol of hope, ever needed in dark times (whether literally or figuratively). So, acknowledging that there is indeed nearly two months between today and Christmas, I invoke the power of the twinkle light and wish us both many days that are merry and bright.

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