The Joy of Doing it Differently

Releasing worn-out traditions, creating new experiences
By Sara Wiseman

For years, I traveled north for Christmas— packed up my partner, kids, dog, and a car full of gift-wrapped presents and hustled the I-5 corridor from Portland to Seattle.

The trip was no over-the-river-and-through-the- woods … everything about it was stressful! Traffic on Christmas Eve was difficult, at best. We were cooped up and restless in my mom’s tiny one bedroom condo, stuck in the city instead of the nature we loved. And yet, I gritted my teeth and did this trip for 29 years because it was my family tradition.

Until last year, when the Universe stepped in and simply said “no.”

Early that fall, I’d had two (successful) surgeries for cancer. I was still in recovery, and by the time the holidays rolled around, the Universe started informing me—at first gently and then persistently—that I wasn’t up for the trip.

What? Not go to Seattle? Not do the family trip? Really? Yet every time I asked for guidance, the answer came back loud and clear: No, not this time. And so, after a very long family discussion, we opted out.

For the first time ever, we stayed home in Oregon for the holidays. We cooked a little food, and opened a few gifts: inexpensive, silly things. We decorated our tree. We slept in late and took long winter walks in the woods. At night we bundled up in blankets on the porch and watched the winter stars move across the sky.

It was low key, it was real, it was absolutely us … and it was one of the best Christmases ever.

Since then, I’ve let go of all the old ideas about how the holidays “should” be. I’ve started to recreate them as truly authentic celebrations—genuine expressions of gratitude for this amazing human journey. I’ve recognized the holidays for what they really are: holy days, outside of any religion, that ask us to go quiet and still as we give thanks for our lives. A beautiful time, filled with deep appreciation and joy.

I’ll admit, it wasn’t easy. It took a very active releasing of the cycle of overabundance in all its forms—food, gifts, socializing, family, tradition, and group thought—to allow this lovely clarity to shine forth.

In fact, stepping into this way of living authentically can be quite difficult at first—it may require letting go of tradition, of what the mainstream dictates. It might mean something as big as deciding not to visit home during the busy season. Or it could be as simple as choosing to not indulge in holiday foods, so your body—and you—feel better. Or giving only a few inexpensive gifts. These decisions are yours to make.

When you allow yourself the freedom to create your holiday your way—not the one dictated by mainstream society, or handed down from your ancestors, but yours alone—everything about the season shifts.

Gratitude, which might have seemed the furthest thing from your mind in that cycle of “must-dos” and mainstream stress, becomes alive in you again.

Most importantly, you begin to understand that overabundance isn’t actually what you need—after all, you don’t really require a cup that’s overflowing. You just need a cup that’s full.


Spiritual teacher and intuitive Sara Wiseman is the author of six books on spirituality and intuition. Visit her online at