Ho ho ho, jingle bells, and all that stuff. This season seems to throw people for a loop. I do understand why a lot of people have so much anxiety at this time of year. I think the anxiety that everyone feels during the holiday season (whatever holiday you choose to celebrate) is because we’ve been sold a bill of goods. We’ve been sold an idea of what things are supposed to be like. It’s supposed to snow on Christmas Eve, and sugarplum fairies are supposed to dance on top of my head, and it just sets us up for disappointment because things aren’t always going to turn out that way. Your holiday season isn’t a Norman Rockwell painting. 

Everybody knows that guy, Norman Rockwell, right? He painted all those amazing family gatherings, snowbound Christmas pictures which are gorgeous and wonderful and heartwarming, and I appreciate them very much. BUT they set a precedent in everyone’s mind of what this holiday season and time should be like. I’m not in disagreement, but let’s talk about reality. It isn’t always like that. I actually never remember having a Norman Rockwell Christmas. Do you? I feel that that it sets up this bad precedent of expectation and creates this huge amount of anxiety. You think, Oh my goodness look at everyone having the best time of their lives. They’re enjoying the holidays, decorating, doing this, doing that, and you, me, and everybody else, we’re sitting here going, Why don’t I feel like this? What’s the matter with me? I’m not telling you not to strive for a happy holiday, but I think you need to just be chill. You can’t force the issue. Don’t force things to be a certain way. Just leave it alone; it’s going to be what it’s going to be. Christmas is just another Tuesday. I’m not going to get into religion or anything like that because that’s not what this blog is about. This blog is about not having the crushing levels of anxiety that many people have this time of year. There’s no rule that you must have an amazing time this holiday season. If you don’t, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you. You are actually very normal. The Norman Rockwell version of Christmas sets up people for terrible disappointment which is unfortunate because that’s not what holidays are all about. 

Everyone is rushing around accumulating credit card debt, spending money that they don’t have to spend, trying to impress people with the amount of stuff they can buy. Is that what it’s all about? Why do we get caught up with the superficial activity of running around and buying gifts for everyone when I think that the greatest gift you can give to someone is your love and kindness. It may not be physically tangible, but I think it will last a lot longer, and I feel that there should be no negative backlash from that. You don’t want to wake up January 1 after your hangover and see your credit card bill and all the money that you spent on food, wine and gifts. I’m not saying don’t be merry and don’t buy presents, but is that what it’s about? How can we get over that? What should it really be about? Shouldn’t it be about family, friends and loved ones, and coming together and cherishing one another and being good to each other? And if that’s what it’s about, shouldn’t that be an every day thing that you strive for? Why do you have to wait for once a year to reach out and be good to your friends and family? 

Holidays should be about being happy, joyful and thankful for the things that we have, not necessarily the things that we have to go out and buy. I’m so much of a Grinch that now that the kids are grown, I don’t buy anything for anybody, and if I buy anything for anybody it’s probably for myself. Sounds selfish, right? But I don’t think it is. I had a discussion with my teacher many years ago and it stuck with me to this day. We concluded that every day is Christmas. Every day is New Years Day; every day is your birthday. Every day that you get up in the morning and breathe and set your foot on the ground is the best day ever. To avoid the holiday blues, we need to adopt a new attitude and view every day as the best day ever. If we have this preconceived notion of what the holidays are supposed to be like and how much fun we’re going to have (which we are), you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. The big holiday party usually disintegrates into a family row and that’s okay. It’s okay not have a wonderful Christmas. It’s okay that Santa Claus didn’t bring you what you wanted. Why do you set yourself up for disaster? It’s unnecessary. You first and foremost need to make yourself happy on a daily basis, and then you can in turn try to make everyone else happy. 

What you need to do every day is make one person happy, and that’s your gift to them and yourself. Because what you give out in terms of kindness and generosity to others, not necessarily in a physical gift, but rather in a kind word or a gesture, goes a really long way and is much more impactful than if you bought them something at Macys. And hopefully it will be returned back onto you… sort of like a karmic Christmas. On a daily basis, I try my best (even sometimes when I’m in a funky place myself) to make everybody have a good day, have a good class, have a good lesson and be happy. Case in point, I have a wonderful student who is a Broadway star on a major Broadway show that has been running for 20 years (unfortunately I can’t tell you her name or the show, but you know it.. RAWRRRR!) She came in for a lesson today, and I actively said to myself in my mind, I want to make this a great class for her. I want to make this class like a Christmas Day class for her. Instead of doing the same old dry stuff that she’s accustomed to, I broke out a weapon matching set and an empty hand matching set and we had so much fun for almost an hour and a half. I tried to make her class like a Christmas gift for her, but it wasn’t a physical thing that I gave her. It was the connection, the energy, the happiness in teaching her something fun and exciting, and I think it will resonate with her much longer than if I had given her a Christmas card or gift. So, giving of yourself to others is what I think what the holidays should be about, and hopefully that will come back to you, too.

A lot of times, people think, all right, well, when Christmas arrives, then I’m going to start to feel happy, but it doesn’t happen. Okay then, they say, well, when New Years arrives, I’m going to turn my life around, and then I’ll be happy. This attitude is another thing that bothers me about people at Christmas. My point is, if every day is New Years Day, if every day is Christmas, why do you need to wait to be happy? Why do you need to wait to change your life? Why do you need to wait to make yourself better? Why do you need to wait to go to the next level? Live in the moment. Now it’s the holiday, so live in the holiday, but remember that every day that you wake up is a holiday because you’re alive. Don’t waste time wondering, what am I going to get for Christmas? Or, what do you think Johnny, Joey and Janey need for Christmas? Why do you need to wait for the holiday season to do something good for somebody else? 

In conclusion, now I understand why myself and the Grinch are kindred spirits. We don’t hate Christmas; we hate people. And more specifically, it’s not because I hate people. It’s because I hate what we do to ourselves during this season. It’s unnecessary to put ourselves through that anxiety; if it’s not necessary, don’t do it. In the last year, there have been several incidents where people have passed away or have gotten gravely ill, and that forced me to think even more along this line and say, What are you waiting for? Time is fleeting. The holidays mean nothing unless you have the right people around you. Why do you wait for the holiday time to express your feelings and love toward them? Why don’t you do it every day? Because there will be a day when they’re not there for you and then no amount of holiday cheer is going to bring them back. Now knowing this, we can empower ourselves to eradicate those feelings of anxiety, depression and holiday blues by understanding that the holiday is what we make of it. The holiday is the joy and energy that we put into every moment of every day that we have together, and taking those opportunities to give of yourself when you can. I think making others happy is the real meaning of this time, and reminding oneself of the importance of that is a better way of looking at it. During the year you get tunnel vision. You’re so busy working and pushing your career forward, and you need a holiday like this to remind you to stop and think about everyone that has impacted your life and how to reach out to them, and “make the heart light”, make the heart happy, and remember what’s important. So… enjoy your “Who-feast” and have a happy holiday.

— Sifu Paul Koh