The Tao of Holidays

“When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.”  The Tao te Ching

Do you approach the holidays in a spirit of leaving nothing undone?

I feel your pain.  My holidays used to include a ten-foot Christmas tree, a perfect specimen chosen with a careful eye and festooned with hundreds of carefully placed lights, trinkets, and toys.  It took two ladders and several days to complete it

My family didn’t share my attention to detail.  “Mom,” my eleven year old son said one year, as I was speed-hanging blown-glass icicles moments before dozens of guests were arriving, “The tree is beautiful.  No one cares if you get more stuff on it.  Just relax and enjoy it.”

I thought this was a very uncooperative attitude.

Relax and enjoy?  When there were halls to deck and gifts to buy.  And parties to throw.  And meals served on antique china and vintage linens.

Truth is, apart from admiring my handiwork for a few moments here and there, I was frazzled most of the time.  If I had a spare moment, I’d fill it.  “Florentines?  Perfect! If I go buy hazelnuts right this minute, they’ll be finished by 2 am.  Hmmm…I wonder where I can find organic, fair-trade hazelnuts this time of night?”

Happily, I found a different way.   Here’s how it works—if it feels like love and can be done with ease and my full presence, I do it.  If not, it’s left undone. It’s not only more peaceful, it’s way more fun.

I still love creating a Christmas tree, but now, it’s small and simple and takes about an hour to decorate.  It’s sparkly and beautiful and smells divine, and I have time to sit in front of it with friends and a glass of wine.  I cook on Christmas Day because I love to, but it’s no longer a competition with Martha Stewart.  I might even break out the antique china once in a while, because it’s lovely and these days, because I actually got some sleep the night before Christmas, I have the energy for the hand-washing that follows.

Guided by principles of love and ease and mindfulness, I do less and less, and enjoy the holidays more and more.  Without the long to-do list, I can connect with the people in my life with my full presence.  And isn’t that the point of all the preparations, decorations, meals, parties, and gifts?  Isn’t that connection what really matters, what we really want?

Truly, by doing less and less, all with loving, effortless ease and full presence, nothing that really matters is left undone.

During this holiday season, may you give and receive love and connection with those who nourish your life, and may you keep it with effortless ease in the coming year.

11 thoughts on “The Tao of Holidays

  1. Tami McCall


    I LOVE this! Thank you for reminding me of “effortless ease and full presence”. I am still a novice in this way of thinking, but the possibilities are breathtaking.

    Happy Holidays!

  2. Missy Hooton

    Wow… felt the shift as I read this! Yes, the connection IS what matters and not how perfect everything looks. Hard lesson for a designer sometimes but, what my soul craves is the love and connection! Beautiful post… thanks for the reminder!

  3. Glad

    “Guided by principles of love and ease and mindfulness, I do less and less, and enjoy the holidays more and more.”

    I couldn’t agree more. I gave up the holi-daze a couple years ago. I enjoy it so much more, and am truly present now.

    Thanks for putting this idea beautifully into words.

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  5. Lisa Benesh

    I tried…wish I would have had this on hand to read Christmas Eve when I was spinning out of control. I guess I was to caught up in the menu…I am printing this out and reading it again Nov 2011! Thanks Terry

  6. rebecca @ altared spaces

    Terry, I’m so glad you got sleep on Christmas Eve and had energy to wash those plates. I know this feeling. Just yesterday, as another round of company called from the road (arriving several hours early) I began to panic. My daughter turned to me, “It’s OK, Mom.” and her words worked.

    They worked because of people like you in my life offering a different way. Leaving life undone is the greatest gift to finding it all done. How did this magic trick happen??

    Thank you for this glorious reminder as we finish out this week of company.

  7. Amy Johnson

    Such a great reminder for ANY time of year. Isn’t it amazing how we can ALWAYS do more? Our tasks expand to fill the time we allow for them. So I find that when I consciously limit the time (e.g., 2 hours preparing and that’s it!), the unimportant tasks fall away, too. Thank you for this!

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