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Whatever our personal beliefs or inherited traditions, it’s impossible not to get caught up in end-of-year celebrations. From office parties to family get-togethers, gift-sharing to elaborate feasting, almost all religions and cultures schedule important rituals during this period. For example, since the Northern Hemisphere’s winter darkness occurs during this period, Jews have a Festival of Lights, Christians light up evergreen trees and Hindus set off firecrackers. December has become a fascinating mix of religious events.

Despite meticulous planning, the last six weeks of the year tend to be frantic and tiring for most of us. We have high expectations for this transition period – family reunions without arguments, exuberant entertaining, whirlwind shopping and much time with old friends ­– plus meeting work deadlines so we can relax during the holiday break. Unfortunately, we never have enough time and end up exhausted and disappointed.

This year, why not leave all expectations behind? Keep things simple. Focus on slowing down so you can say good-bye and bring closure to what’s already been a very busy year.

RITUALS OF GRATITUDE AND PURIFICATION

Forgiveness

The end of the year is the ideal time to let go and move on. While resentment hardens your emotions and clouds your mind, practicing forgiveness liberates your feelings and helps you find meaning in even the worse aspects of your life. Initially it may seem that there is nothing you can do – you can’t break your bad habits, you can’t stop feeling angry about being by-passed for a promotion or accept acts of terrorism you see on the news. It happened. It was awful, and your day, month, year was ruined. Gradually, after reliving the situation again and again, you begin to realize it’s not the trauma, or even the perpetrator, that’s hindering you from moving on. It’s you who are clinging to the trauma in shock, guilt and hurt. You begin to understand that as long as you continue to do so, you will never be free, and so you begin painful inner work. Forgiveness takes a long time but it can be cultivated with a three-part loving kindness meditation practice. Ask forgiveness of all those you may have harmed through thoughts, words or actions. Offer forgiveness for any harm others have caused you through their thoughts, words or actions. Finally, offer forgiveness to yourself for any harm you have done to yourself. Let go of the resentment and move on.

Farewell

December is generally an upbeat month, but it can also be a poignant and emotional time for those who have recently lost loved ones. Performing a farewell ritual to honor a lost parent, grandparent, sibling or any other person who was close to you can be a helpful way to celebrate your relationship with them. Set aside some quiet time. either alone or with others who were close to the departed, and create a small shrine with their photograph. Read a poem they loved, play their favorite song, scatter petals of their favorite flowers, sip their favorite drink and light a candle in their memory. Recall your times together and move on to a new year with those memories sealed in your mind.

Give Thanks

The gratitude ritual is a powerful exercise to increase mental, emotional and spiritual health. It readies you to embrace the new year with satisfaction and joy. At the end of each day, take a few moments to write down five things in your life for which you are grateful. Give this ritual importance by using a special journal and consistently make your lists for two weeks. By the end of the second week you will notice a shift – you are looking for the good and positive in the world around you.

Friendship Feast

It is difficult to visit all your family and family and friends separately, so why not hold a friendship feast and invite whomever can come. You may get an assortment of ages, religions and opinions but they’ll have something in common, they all love and know you. If space is a problem, hold the feast open-house style over the course of an afternoon so guests can pop in for an hour or so avoiding one big crush, You provide the atmosphere. Fill your home with scented candles, flower petals and music, and keep the refreshments simple, try spicy chai and scrumptious chocolate brownies or ask everyone to bring food with them to share and enjoy.

Detox with Yoga

While everyone else around you is indulging and merry-making, it is a wonderful experience to purify the mind, body and spirit so you feel free, light and pure, ready to embrace the new. Practicing yoga is an incredible way to do this. Asanas (postures) tone the body and remove toxins, pranayama (breathing) cleanses the lungs, oxygenates our blood and calms our nerves, and meditation clears the mind.

Finish as You Mean to Go On

Spend the last few weeks of the year attending to loose ends so you can be free from clutter, ready to start the new year afresh. Take inspiration from many Japanese households who still observe rituals that go back to the 17th century. Any unfinished business requires attention before the end of the year. Houses are cleaned, debts are paid, and foods are prepared so the holiday can be enjoyed with leisure. Resolutions are made to bring prosperity and happiness for the future. Wearing new clothing, family members rise early on New Year’s morning and visit ancestor shrines. Then they enjoy a traditional breakfast and make a toast for good fortune with Otoso (sweet sake brewed with cinnamon and other spices) that is believed to prevent sickness and bring peace to the household. Friends and families spend New Year’s Day visiting one another ­– it is a time of forgiveness and cordiality.