Emotional Health · Family & Friends

Looking Back, Moving Forward: The Holidays as a Time to Reflect

Counting today, there are, somewhat auspiciously, 13 days left in the year.  Thirteen days to get through Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and the many other holidays and parties that simultaneously brighten and burden the end of the year.  And what a year it has been. From international calamities and political uncertainty to each of our own personal struggles, this has been a year that some would prefer to forget.

2016?  [Shudder]  Oh, we don’t talk about that.  

But before we all push 2016 into the rubbish bin, I’d encourage you to take a moment to reflect on your year that was.

Many years ago, my grandmother started a family tradition. For all five grandkids, she asked us to make a Christmas ornament by cutting our hand out of construction paper. On one side, we wrote something we did in the past year on each of the fingers, while, on the other side, we would write our goals for the coming year.  And our Christmas presents were contingent on making our hand each year, ensuring our yearly contribution of these personalized Christmas decorations. Now, while she is in her 80s and I am well into adulthood, she continues to mandate the annual creation of these ornaments, which she tapes to the window as a Christmas tree has become too much of a bother. So there are dozens of hands at this point, stretching nearly two decades. Each captures a moment in time. While some years are filled with big life events — “graduated medical school” and “bought a new house” — in others it is life’s small gems that make the handprint — “went camping with friends” and “Alec (a German shepherd) joined the family.”  All offer a chance to look back and stop to consider the year ahead.

So often, we make our New Year’s resolutions in a rush of good intentions and unrealistic expectations. This will be the year I lose 20 pounds; organize my life; get fit; find the perfect spouse. Rather than make a hurried promise to “do better” in the coming year, the hands give us a chance to pause and consider next year in the context of the one that came before it. What do I want to be able to write on my hand in the Christmas of 2017?  Five goals to mull over and consider.

This year, I was home for Thanksgiving and dug around in the closet to find a piece of green construction paper. Sitting down at the family dining room table, I traced out my hand and carefully cut around the fingers. I stared out the window and reflected on the year that was. Despite the losses and the setbacks, I realized that this year has had several highpoints – new friends, new opportunities, new adventures.  It was easier than I expected to fill all five fingers.  And the year to come? My goal is to push myself out of my comfort zone. Rather than trying to shrink my waistline, I want to expand my horizons.

Søren Kierkegaard wrote that “life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”  I won’t make you cut out a hand, but, as 2016 comes to an end, I hope you give yourself the time to reflect on the year that was and the year to come.

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  • Megan Riddle December 20, 2016 at 12:23 am

    My grandmother will be delighted to hear that!

  • Jan Hersh December 19, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    What a marvelous idea…I will share this on Facebook!