November 2020
Spiritual Wellbeing

Ten Ideas to See You Through the Holidays

If you're anything like me, you're approaching your first holiday season in a global pandemic. Even people who typically thrive in this season wonder how they'll make it work. Taking better care of ourselves and each other is the best gift we can give to help us stay healthy and motivated and able to cope with loneliness and loss. Here's how my family plans to manage, along with suggestions from my daughters.

Give yourself permission

Today my social media feed offered timely wisdom. One was a bumper sticker that said: "Don't let the world change your smile, let your smile change the world." Another post quoted W.E.B. DuBois: "I am especially glad of the divine gift of laughter; it has made the world human and loveable, despite all its pain and wrong." Give the gift of your smile to others. Cry when you need to cry. Permit yourself to do whatever you need, as long as it's lifegiving and legal, to get through.

Treat yourself like you treat others

You know the commandment about loving your neighbor as yourself. Lots of us fail to complete that thought: love your neighbor as you love yourself. If we believe that God created us and everything on the earth, God must love us. If you find yourself giving and giving, pause. Is your name on the list of those you bless?

Talk to yourself like you love yourself

Listen to how you talk to other people. Write down something you say. Then write down some of your self-talk. Does the language match? Are you hard on yourself, admonishing yourself for things you've done or left undone? Talk to yourself like a loving sister, brother. Notice how it makes you feel. Repeat!

Eat well and drink water

In my teaching days, we had a saying: repetition breeds familiarity. What does it matter how many times we hear good advice if we don't heed it? Add one healthy food to your grocery list this week. Replace one sugary drink from your day with water. I drink fizzy water because I love bubbles! It's amazing what happens when you drink more water and eat healthy food from God's creation.

Start a new tradition

My mom loved Thanksgiving. Being Southern meant the menu would consist of some basics: turkey, stuffing, candied yams, macaroni and cheese, canned cranberry sauce, greens, mashed potatoes, rolls, salad – and believe me when I tell you there were stll more dishes. After my mom died in 2001, I kept cooking those foods, even though I was not too fond of some of them.

One year, I decided to start a new tradition. Everyone in the family got to choose a menu item, and that's what our dinner would be. If things get added, everyone has to agree on them. I had no idea how liberating this would be until we did it. And now, every holiday dinner is like this at our house. We all decide what we want, and that's what we eat. It's also easier to get help when we're making the food we all want.

Stop doing things

My daughter Nia, 25, says: “It’s okay to realize that you might need to quit doing something for a while – and come back to it later or never again. There’s a lot of self-care in letting things go, like a tradition that's saddening instead of fulfilling.” Letting go of our Thanksgiving tradition allowed me to stop doing something I only kept doing because I thought other people liked it. In recent years, we’ve returned to some of the foods we grew up with, and now we enjoy them.

Buy or make yourself a holiday gift

My husband tries so hard to be a great gift-giver. Sometimes, he's successful. So I started a tradition a few years ago, which brings me a lot of happiness. Here's what you do: buy yourself a gift. The cost of the present is immaterial. The only condition is that you love it. Get it, wrap it up and put it wherever you put your gifts. When the time comes to open it, get excited. Show your family what you got, and let them know how much you love it! The sharing part shows the people you love that you don't expect them to be in charge of your happiness. Pray that they will want to learn from your example.

Pause and ask yourself what you need

My daughter Jaiya, 17, wants us to pause. “Ask yourself what you need and take the time to figure it out,” she advises. “When you pause, figure out if you need time to yourself or if you need to surround yourself with other people who might also need someone to be with.” Jaiya often wants to be alone, but she is fortunate that her best friend is her sister, who currently lives at home. Once you've assessed your needs, alone or in community, hit the play button and get or do whatever it is you need.

Then, take care of yourself

Don't limit how much time your self-care takes is Jaiya’s warning. Take all the time you need for yourself. “Mental and physical health is much more important than a lot of other things.” she says. Maybe you need to engage your senses in your self-care. My daughter Kaia, 20, loves the scent of lavender. She has lavender oil and candles that she uses regularly. She’s made her room a cozy environment where she enjoys spending time. Sewing, coloring and listening to music are how Kaia and Jaiya tend to their mental and spiritual health. They also walk on most days.

Go outside

Five years ago, I started walking on trails. Since then, I've competed in several races from 5K to 15K. Illness and injury plague me, but I will not give up on the gift of being outdoors. Even if all you can do is open a window and stand in front of it, please do that. If you're fortunate enough to walk, run or cycle, I encourage you to get outside. It might be cold where you are – that's okay. There’s gear for all climates. Invest in some, and you will be blessed.

Pay attention

Sometimes my pain is so great that all I can do is sit in the car in my backyard. I watch the birds play chase. I notice the rabbits eating clover, watching out for groundhogs and stray cats. I look for new insects I haven’t seen before. I observe the hedge that needs clipping. I watch everything and try to see it.

Change direction – turn around

Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum is my favorite place to walk and work. I usually back into a parking place that faces the path I typically walk. Recently, I parked in the opposite direction. My new view of red, yellow, green, sage, pumpkin and brown leaves on young and mature trees welcomed and invited me to a new perspective. My back is to the trail, yet I feel safe and protected. I'm reminded once again of my many blessings, and that leads me to think of a way I can bless someone.

Miriam Willard McKenney works as Forward Movement’s Director of Development and Mission Engagement and as Youth Minister at Calvary Episcopal Church in Cincinnati. In the Diocese of Southern Ohio, Miriam serves on the Commission on Ministry and the Becoming Beloved Community Leadership Team. She received a UTO grant from the diocese to combine radical honesty and picture books to help congregations enter into the work of racial reconciliation. Miriam blogs at and


This article is part of the November 2020 Vestry Papers issue on Spiritual Wellbeing