When you think about Christmas what comes to your mind?
Festive lights, Christmas trees and decorations, parties, large amounts of food and alcohol, spending time with loved ones, and giving and receiving gifts throughout the whole season?
Ok now ask yourself what the run-up to Christmas looks like and how that feels for you?
My experience was always centered around Christmas gift and food shopping in overcrowded chaotic shops, possibly having to meet up and spend time with family members Id rather not see, which made me feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed. And often Id hear stories of children writing large lists to give to Santa filled with lots of expensive presents, and the stress of people wondering how they will be able to afford all this and keep everyone, including themselves happy all at the same time?
I’ve personally always struggled around this time of year and as I get a little older and I deepen my spiritual practices I’ve come to realise why this ‘festive’ season has never really sat well with me.
When I was growing up Christmas for me was a somewhat fearful time that was filled with uncertainty, it was a time that always felt in-authentic and it never seemed to meet my expectations. My family never really got on and arguments occurred on a daily basis, with Christmas being no exception, it was just a matter of time before something irrupted to spoil this supposedly happy and festive holiday.
I was also under the impression that Christmas was a religious holiday, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, yet being brought up in a Muslim household it truly puzzled me why we still celebrated the holiday. I’m sure there are some who still use this time to practice their faith but it does seem that for the most part, Christmas has come to be a consumerist cultural norm that people tend to go along with, because they have to, or because it’s what people expect of them. And the one thing I never could quite grasp, which continued to feed those unmet expectations of mine, is why everyone on TV adverts, programs, and billboards with scenario depicting Christmas were always having the most incredible time, yet for me and perhaps for a lot of other people, the reality was quite different.
We live in a society that is built upon lies and material gain, the advertising market is huge and it is also very clever. It’s designed to suck us in so that we become better consumers because big companies have a very specific goal in mind, and that is to make a profit. We are told that material gain, possessions, and gluttony brings us joy and happiness. It’s like somehow we become better people if we have the fastest car, most expensive iPhone, or the coolest Nike Air Max trainers. It’s drummed into us that we should and need to strive to achieve more in wealth so that we can purchase things in order to feel some sense of worth in our lives.
At Christmas time this notion gets magnified and even more, these materialist ideas are shoved down our throats, like the figgy pudding grandma made that we literally have no room left to swallow. From talking to people around this time of year it always seems like so much pressure. Everyone always asks, ‘are you ready for Christmas yet?’ There’s this compulsion to complete the Christmas shopping, make sure everyone gets what they want, and that all the food is purchased before it’s too late. The pressure to decorate the tree and put the lights up, attend social gatherings, and to see family whilst trying to fit all of this in and around our very busy lives. Often people seem rather stressed with the process of preparation yet we are led to believe that this is ‘the most wonderful time of the year!’
We are hearing more and more stories nowadays of people getting themselves into debt at Christmas time because they have to have this elaborate Christmas, spending more money than they have on gifts for everyone, so much food, (which a lot will probably go to waste), and it’s like there is this underlying pressure and expectation to perform and provide even when circumstances do not allow financially, or when people feel that complying in this way actually no longer serves them, and what for? In the name of Jesus Christ’s birth? Because society says so? Or is it because of those advertising campaigns that make us believe that if we can have this type of experience then it makes us a better people?
Aparigraha is the last of the Yamas in the 8 Limbs of Yoga and the Yamas are essentially moral guidelines by which to live with regard to our relationship to ourselves and the world around us. This Sanskrit word is loosely translated into non-greed, non-possessiveness, or non-grasping, and it teaches us that we should only take what we truly need, keep only what serves us, and to let go of what does not. It allows us to see our desire and strip it away as we come to realise that the happiness we once thought could be cultivated through materialism, ideas and expectations are in fact already deep inside of us… all of us.
Aparigraha totally goes against everything that our current society in the West stands for, especially around Christmas time, but when we practice this moral code we can become liberated as we start to think, feel and act from a more authentic place, not bound by conformity and Western cultural ideas, but from a place that’s in line with our higher self.
This is a valuable lesson to be learned when we are subject to the gluttony of the festive period, but Aparigraha is about more than just materialism. We can also adopt this idea in regards to anything that we can take ownership of or hoard. That could be someone’s energy or time, or even the expectation of a benefit or a reward from doing something good, like giving a gift at Christmas time, rather than giving for the sake of giving.
My yoga practice is focused on calming the mind so that I can find inner peace and stillness. In the midst of all the Christmas craziness over the years, I had to keep asking myself the same question… why? What is the intention behind all of this…? Why do I and so many others put so much stress and pressure on ourselves around this time of year?
My conclusion was inconclusive, and I couldn’t really find any reason as to why I would continue putting myself under extra stress for a holiday that was rooted in a faith that I did not follow or to conform to society’s idea of western culture. I mean come on… my life was stressful enough! So I decided to let it all go, I only do what I’m comfortable with and I make sure that I am acting authentically and well within my means. If I don’t want to get involved then I don’t, and quite honestly the hardest part of this has been other people’s shock to hear that I don’t really celebrate around this time of year. But for me it’s been a wonderful practice to incorporate into my life, one which fills me with pure joy and freedom.
If you feel stressed around this time of year then take a moment to stop… breathe… and check-in with yourself. Start to tap into what it is you truly believe and do only what you willingly want to do. Let go of all the rest. It’s all too easy to get sucked up into the madness and start acting in ways that do not serve our best interests, spiritually, emotionally, and financially. To feel that we must conform to the ideas of this holiday just because this is what people have done over the years will only do a disservice to your true nature, your inner peace, and to those around you.
Be unapologetically you, and if that means not following the Christmas crowd, then I hope you enjoy the sweet taste of liberation and the stillness of mind that follows.