Holidays vs Holy Days: Presence vs Presents

holy daysWe all know that the holiday season – while “merry and bright” – can be full of grand expectations. There should be peaceful, loving family gatherings where everyone gets along famously. There should be boyfriends and girlfriends and life partners who appear magically to fulfill us in every way. There should be only successful business ventures. Nobody should be lonely… you get the drift.

So, in the holiday spirit, and as we approach a brand new year, Gary shares some profound insights about expectations, acceptance and abundance in our most recent podcast. He discusses his own personal transformation surrounding the holidays, which has led to much greater enjoyment and peace during this time of year.

Gary’s story begins over 23 years ago, while still suffering post-divorce paralysis. His desire to get un-stuck merged with the meditation portion of the 11th step in a 12-Step program. The insight he gained was this: addiction is associated with expectations. He came to call the holiday season, “The Disneyland of Addiction” – a time of high emotionality and expectations where trying to satisfy feelings, similar to a child in the “terrible twos,” takes precedence over principle-based behavior. He realized that this high-emotionality-combined-with-high-expectations can lead to our suffering.

Consequently, Gary explains that holidays are about expectations, while holy days are about being responsible, living by one’s principles, and treating others in a compassionate, respectful manner. Said more simply, the goal of this shift in perspective is to “have my butt and my brain in the same place and time zone.”

Gary’s Buddhist practice comes into play in helping develop daily habits to stay present, aware, and “in” life, moment by moment. This leads to loving-kindness for self and others and puts the “holy” in holy days.

The switch to embracing the notion of holy days at this time of year has allowed Gary to remove himself from the trap of expectations. Life is simpler. Pain doesn’t necessarily go away, but suffering lessens. This leads to an increase in acceptance. This acceptance leads to the development of options and better decision-making – rather than being hung up on a given expectation.

Gary believes that when we hang onto expectations, a tightfistedness sets in that is very controlling and leads to misery (e.g., My cookies didn’t come out right… The kids better behave perfectly in their Christmas best clothing… My sister is being passive-aggressive… Doesn’t Aunt Jane remember I have peanut allergies?… He didn’t call me so my holiday is ruined… I’m surrounded by all these people, but I feel lonely…)

One not-so-obvious option during the seasonal “expectations vs. reality” stupor is to be prepared to still take care of oneself even when plans fail. To actually take that energy from the disappointment and move it into something constructive. And, if a plan does come to fruition, you can move that energy as well into something greater than can be built.

We certainly don’t need to dismiss our heritages and traditions during the holiday season. Our favourite foods, music, activities and cultural traditions should be enjoyed as there is much opportunity for warmth and closeness, and a sense of belonging. AND looking through the lens of holy days instead of holidays can also create abundance and expand the space in which the abundance can grow. Joy can result!

You can listen to Gary’s wisdom and insight on holy days in the podcast here.

We at Aurelius Press wish you much love, joy and abundance in the new year!

Do you have your own story about holiday expectations and transformations? If you’d like share your story on our blog because you think it could help others and build connection, please feel free to contact Jennifer (also our Blog Editor) at