Recently, I have been reading about how important rituals are in our lives. It’s easy to think of rituals as something nice to have, something simply pleasant or decorative, but in fact, rituals honor our values, establish a firm foundation, and help us become the kind of person we want to be. If we’re not intentional about choosing what rituals we want, it’s easy for us to be shaped by the rituals the world gives us: for example, the endless ritual of completing an Inbox Zero or the ritual of grabbing a pricey cup of coffee on the way to work. Being intentional in our rituals is incredibly important to our well-being!
Everyday life is stressful and full of uncertainty. Having a special time of the year when we know exactly what to do, the way we’ve always done it provides a comfortable sense of structure, control, and stability. Rituals can help us enter into a new frame of mind; each ritual can be like a little bridge that we cross into a different way of thinking. From reciting blessings to raising a glass to make a toast, to ordering in Thai food on Christmas eve, holiday traditions are replete with rituals. Many of those rituals may of course also be performed at other times throughout the year. But during the holiday season, they become more meaningful. They’re held in a special place (the home or church or office) and with a special group of people (our closest relatives, colleagues, and friends). For this reason, more people travel during the year-end holidays than at any other time of the year. Gathering together from far-flung locations helps people leave their worries behind, and at the same time lets them reconnect with time-honored family/friend traditions.
Laboratory experiments and field studies show that the structured and repetitive actions involved in such rituals can act as a buffer against anxiety by making our world a more predictable place. Rituals can strengthen and spotlight the values, intentions, and experiences you have chosen to live by; they and can be useful when we are trying to figure out what is important…those that still serve us well need to be carved out and protected. We have been robbed of this connection in the past two years. I truly believe that now, even more so than in years past, we crave our traditions and miss being able to participate in so many of our time-honored rituals. During this holiday season, I want you to take note of your family rituals and understand that, if they anchor you, align with your values, and bring you joy, these rituals will help bolster you in 2022.
As each of you celebrates the holidays in your own special way, we wanted to let you in on some of our Steople staff’s early memories and rituals. We hope you know how much we appreciate each and every one of you. We wish you and your family a holiday season full of peace, rest, and meaningful rituals!
‘ATTA GIRL!’ WAS ALL I NEEDED
By Cristina L. Filippo, Ph.D. – Founder | CEO
Wow! What a powerful memory this picture brings back! Being in a large family (I was the oldest of 6 kids) growing up, the holidays were always eventful! I remember the silver tinsel on the Christmas tree, the nativity scene that each of us would play with (and sometimes fight over), and the race down the stairs to see what Santa would have brought us. Growing up in the ’70s and ’80’s meant long road trips in our woody station wagon, with no seat belts, through the cold winter weather to travel to see my grandparents during the holidays.
In the year 1975, my Grandparents had moved from where my dad grew up in Van Wert Ohio, to settle in El Paso, Texas. I remember driving up and my grandparents coming out to greet us. My dad always had his big camera in tow and immediately took this picture in the street where we parked. Of course, back then you couldn’t “see how you like the picture” before you moved on…you saw the picture when they were developed weeks later. It’s part of the charm of the picture – seeing the looks of happiness and travel stress at the same time.
Of course, I loved both my grandparents, but my grandpa has always held a special place in my heart. He was a child of the depression, had a 6th grade education, was a boxer in the Navy, always drove a Buick, loved to read the paper every morning, and heavily invested in commercial property…as a result, he did very well for himself. He knew everyone and was incredibly busy but spent as much time with me just hanging out and doing nothing in particular. Now my grandpa could come across as a little grumpy to most, but to me, he was my buddy. During my visits, we would go on walks, climb trees, balance on cement block walls, jump rope, and play jacks. During our adventures, my grandpa would introduce me to his friends, talk about the weather, and encourage me to be the best I could be. He loved seeing me active and happy and, most importantly for that time in history, he treated me the same as my younger brother.
To this day, I can still hear him saying “Atta Girl!” essentially always encouraging me to be as big and strong as possible even though I was just a little 7-year old girl with huge dreams. In fact, I would venture to say that he was one of my biggest fans! Having my grandpa believe that I could do anything, encouraging all of my crazy adventures, and looking at me with such pride was instrumental in making me who I am today. How I miss those long walks and talks during the holidays!
A RELUCTANT SANTA CLAUS
By Isaias Centeno. – Chief Strategy Officer
Years ago when I was in college and in need of a temporary job between semesters. I happened upon an ad in the paper looking for Santas and stopped to consider it. I wish I could say that I was interested because of the joy I might bring to the tiny tots that would tell me their secret Christmas list. But, when I saw the ad I was definitely in it for the cash! I decided to fight the LA traffic and head to the local mall to put in an application. When I arrived, I definitely knew I was out of my element…Santas everywhere, kids going crazy, parents were frazzled. Definitely not my scene and way out of my comfort zone. What was I thinking?
After taking a look at the ads one more time and realizing I had limited choices, I shook hands with the guy offering me the job and got suited up. I had envisioned focusing on the scratchy beard or how hot the suit was or getting impatient with parents…but, unbelievably, none of this happened. As I stuffed my red suit, cinched the belt, and put on my Santa hat, something magic happened! Walking to the big Santa chair with elves in tow, I became a star in the eyes of these children. I listened to children talk about the toys they wanted, saw them advocate for their siblings, heard stories of the tough year their parents had, and best of all…how much they loved and believed in Santa. I totally enjoyed the next two weeks and it still is one of my favorite Christmas memories. What did I learn from that? Turns out, getting out of your comfort zone and throwing yourself into a new role can have a big payoff!
I’M SO GRATEFUL!
By Claudio Toyama – Principal Consultant
This picture was taken at Christmas the year I got divorced. I wasn’t feeling much like celebrating as the divorce was so recent but I focused my attention on my daughter and on her joy. As I focused on her happiness, I started feeling extremely grateful for having such a wonderful human being by my side.
This moment reminded me that we have the choice of what to focus on, even when we are feeling down or sad.
From that moment on, I have been counting all of the blessings that I have in my life and it’s funny how when you are grateful, life tends to send you more of what you are grateful for. This little Christmas lesson continues to inspire me!
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS: TWO CULTURES…ONE HOME
By Layla Bokhari, Ph.D. – Senior Consultant
Growing up in two different cultures taught me to be agile and open-minded. As a kid, I grew up in Saudi Arabia before moving to the United States. We celebrated Christmas and Eid. The two events are significant celebrations in each culture. My mother introduced her American traditions with the family and meshed them with my father’s Saudi traditions. I was used to seeing my dad in the traditional Saudi wear and our home filled with friends and family during Christmas. We decorated the Christmas tree and celebrated the true meaning of the holiday. I also remember celebrating Eid with family and friends in our home with good food like the traditional Bukhari rice with lamb and delicious desserts like Kanafe and dates along with Arabic coffee.
My mother always said, “Home is where the heart is! As long as you have family, friends, and laughter, you can thrive in any country”. Even after moving back to the United States in my teens, my mother kept our traditions of making a great Christmas dinner for the family and cooking the traditional Bukhari rice stuffing for the turkey. My brothers’ family, sisters’ family, and my kids and I still continue this tradition to this day. We top it off with family stories, Arabic deserts, sitting around the sparkling Christmas tree reminiscing about the past and dreaming of the future. Moving back and forth from the Arab culture to the American culture throughout my life has taught me to be agile, open-minded, and flexible.
CHRISTMAS MAGIC FOR A SANTA
By Kristi Gifford – Client Account Manager
What a surprise to have Santa come to your home for a special visit! I was 4 years old and living in England when Santa first picked our home for a “drop in” visit. You can imagine the excitement I felt by the size of the smile on my face. The second time (yes, 2nd time!) that Santa made a surprise visit to our home was 12 years later in Oklahoma. My family was sitting around the dinner table on Dec 24, 1984 having our special Christmas Eve dinner. Our longtime family friends were joining us that year with their 4 year old twin girls. In the middle of eating and sharing stories, our front door suddenly opened and in walked Santa… AGAIN!! He walked right in with a hearty “HO HO HO.” He gave each one of us candy canes, wished us a Merry Christmas, and disappeared back out the front door. There were smiles all around, and the twins were over the moon!
The adults looked at each other with a knowing, grateful smile for the person that made the effort to ensure we had Christmas magic happen again. Quickly, it became apparent that none of us were going to claim it. The truth was that nobody actually knew that Santa was going to pay us a visit. How was that possible?! It took a couple weeks before we discovered the truth behind the visit and the alternate identity of our mystery holiday guest. The smile on my face, nearly 50 years later, looks close to the same as the one of 4 year old me. Unfortunately, we didn’t capture the magic of Santa’s visit in 1984 on film as our phones were still attached to the wall rather than our hips back then. 😉
I always feel blessed by the small, thoughtful actions of others like my “drop in” Santas. Kind words, small gestures, unexpected compliments, and special moments still mean more than anything to me. As a leader, remember that giving your unscheduled full attention, asking a follow-up question about a loved one (showing you WERE actually listening to them), or showing genuine appreciation may be exactly the “Christmas magic” your team needs. May the magic of the season find you this year!
EMBRACE THE IMPERFECT AND FIND THE FUN!
By Susan Kight – Executive Assistant
Every year since my children were infants, I have tried to create the “perfect” holiday photo of our “not-so-perfect” family. I can remember feeling overwhelmed by the thought of getting all of us cleaned up and dressed up in coordinating outfits that were pressed and wrinkle free. I also remember the stress of trying to keep everyone in a good mood and happy to be there while saying “cheeeese” over and over again. It was never a simple task!
In 2012 I decided I’d had enough. I was tired of directing (and re-directing) children, telling them to “smile” and “sit up straight,” and by the end, wondering if I even got a single quality shot. I finally told myself that I would no longer let perfectionism drain the joy and fun out of my holiday…especially when it came to holiday photos. This was the year I would embrace good enough and accept my family just as it was….beautifully imperfect….AND it would be fun!
We would throw on some ugly Christmas sweaters and do whatever we wanted to do in front of the camera. It wasn’t easy at first because I knew I had to let go of the magazine quality, flawlessly staged family photo. I had to recognize that wasn’t how real life was then or even now. Most of the time, my teen’s attention was on her phone, my seven-year-old was whining for a snack and my husband just wanted to take a nap. This was my family and seeing them all sitting up straight, smiling and looking natural in a perfect family photo, while impressive, just wasn’t a reality.
So, letting go in 2012 was taking a photo of us being us. Our photo shows my husband just sitting back and relaxing, my oldest looking annoyed with phone in hand, our middle daughter being her positive cheesy self, and our youngest embarrassingly picking her nose. I must say that it is a perfect snapshot of our family and what life was really like for us during that time. I have no regrets when it comes to that photo. I smile when I look at it and I am reminded to never again let perfectionism rob me of a joyful holiday experience. So may I remind you to find the fun by embracing the imperfect and the ordinary. Enjoy your family this holiday season!