Breathing dreams like air – F. Scott Fitzgerald
More than five years as a nomadic family completely shifted our holidays to the gift of experience. We traveled with only what we could fit in one carry-on each. This last stint in the USA has been a bit different and we have gathered more than we could pack, but nothing that would prevent us from downsizing rapidly when the skies open up for travel again.
I know many gift lists are flying around the internet. We have been talking about posting a different kind of list, one that celebrates the gifts the world gave us we carry with us every day. These gifts are free. You can give them to yourself or others every day or several times a day.
These gifts are not about the big reveal, but rather a slow unwrapping of the present moment in a way that leaves the recipient feeling grounded, grateful, and connected to those around them. I am not sure if the countries that taught us these things see them as gifts, but the impact these cultural practices have on our lives is profound. Recalling these practices this season is more important than ever. These practices feed our wanderlust and calm the capitalist creature habits that sometimes get the best of us around the holidays.
A gift from Italy: Passeggiata
Passeggiata is defined as is a slow, gentle stroll through the main streets of the old town or centro storico. To us, passeggiata is one of the greatest presents we carry with us wherever we go. Passeggiata in Italy falls at one of the busiest times of the day in the USA when everyone is finishing work and school and we have a million errands to run and things on our “to do” list.
To go for a walk, however, changes everything. Passeggiata is very social, but we find at times, walking alone works too. The key is not to have a destination in mind, not to rush, and not to have a cell phone accessible to distract you. Walk and talk and greet others you pass (from a safe social distance of course). That is it. Simply go for a walk. Even something so simple can be complicated to fit in this time of year. As they say in Italy, “Buona passeggiata.” Have a good walk.
A gift from Bali, Indonesia: Daily Offerings
Eight-four percent of Balinese practice Hinduism and Canang Sari, is one of the offerings made by Balinese Hindus to give thanks every day. These offerings are composed of fragrant flowers and petals, with added frangipani incense and various other well-placed trinkets and coins.
No matter what they are composed of, Canang Sari is a miniature work of art that transcends its small stature and placement on the crowded, pocked, sticky sidewalks in parts of Indonesia. The placement of everything in this gratitude ritual is deliberate and mirrors the feelings and purpose of the one creating the offering. It is a complex creation that tells an eternal story and yet speaks to the impermanence of our existence, as the offerings are swept away every evening.
Because we are not Hindu and we are not well-practiced in the art of creating Canang Sari, even after numerous classes to learn how during our time there, we take the lessons we learned from this practice in the simplest form. We arrange Christmas cookies thoughtfully on a plate and leave them on a neighbor’s doorstep, take extra time arranging flowers in a vase, or leave something special for the mail carrier in our box. The opportunities are endless but what matters is the intentional arranging of something in a way that you see as beautiful and purposeful.
The only thing our offerings have in common with those we witnessed in Bali is the underlying purpose which is a prayer for peace and balance. The offerings start again every single precious day.
A gift from New Zealand: Multigenerational Living
In many cultures we have lived, multigenerational living is the norm. Couples and their kids live with their parents and grandparents. Families work together and run businesses together, often out of their multigenerational home. The difference in New Zealand is that we lived with extended family so we were able to experience firsthand the gracious exchange and intimate familiarity that can only come from cohabitation.
It is difficult right now to spend time with extended family, let alone move in together given the pandemic, but there are some things we can do. We can make time to connect in meaningful ways online. Asking for family recipes can stimulate conversation that prompts the storytelling of holidays past. We can listen more than we talk, and we can write real letters to family members full of appreciation for their presence in our lives. Strengthening the bond across generations is gracefully done through storytelling and it is effortless when we carve out time to connect in whatever way possible.
A gift from Portugal: Music
When I asked a Portuguese man sitting next to us in Porto, as we listened to fado music, why this music was so important to his country he said, “It isn’t just music, it is the air we breathe.” Fado is Portuguese for fate or destiny and it is music that you can’t help but experience on a deeply personal level when you give yourself over to it.
Fado is often explained through its connection with saudade which roughly translates to “a feeling of longing or nostalgia.” While we won’t find many fadistas tucked into back street bars in Seattle, what we try to do to honor saudade is listen to music that makes us feel something every day. It is a great topic of conversation to have kids share a song that moves them or inspires nostalgia for them and then listen to the memories the music invokes. We know one thing for sure, and that is music, especially fado, transcends language and connects cultures globally through its power. Music cracks us open in beautiful ways.
A gift from the USA: Vegan Eats
We had our first fully immersive vegan experience when we lived and taught in a vegan ashram/orphanage in Indonesia. After leaving Indonesia, we moved more toward vegetarian and eventually reintroduced animal products when we returned to Europe.
Shortly after landing in the USA in 2018, we were not feeling ourselves. We had been out of the US for many years and our bodies were not adapting well to the American food system. After trying various paths, eight months after landing in America, we became a whole food plant-based family. My dad was a huge inspiration for this transition and has been vegan for almost 20 years and looks younger at 83 than he did at 63 and my mom is also aging in reverse after her conversion to a vegan lifestyle last spring.
It is a commitment for all of us every day and we wouldn’t have it any other way. America gave us this gift because it is a country of options. It is the only place we have lived where any ingredient can be found 24 hours a day 7 days a week. What a gift to live somewhere that has shown us so much contrast in its food system and led us to make such a dramatic change. No matter what path you choose for your health and wellbeing, the gift we have received from the USA is a tangible feeling of possibility. If you decide to make a change, there is so much information to support your path and so many ways to learn affordably and grow one’s knowledge base in any direction.
Saint Lucia day is celebrated this week in Scandinavia (and many other parts of Europe). The thing I remember most about this festival overseas is feeling surrounded by the warm glow of burning candles. It seems the perfect day to post this blog as a virtual holiday card of sorts because I know that if we all light a candle or two today, we will be adding to the warmth and comfort in the world by connecting ourselves to traditions near and far.
There is a theme as I look at these gifts. Each of them gives us time to take a deep, quenching breath. These cultural practices give us pause as we long for those we are not able to see face to face today, and they provide us enough air not to just keep our heads above water, but to dream anew. Happy holidays from our family to yours wherever you are in the world today.