This is my daughter's first Christmas. Naomi will be nearly nine months old and eager to explore all that the holidays have to offer. Within a few weeks after conception, babies develop the sense of touch, with taste, smell, hearing and sight following in that order. At birth, babies possess all the senses they will have through their lives, just waiting for sensory experiences to learn about the world. The senses quickly become more acute, until adulthood when they are taken for granted. Each sense has its own role in helping create a magical memory, whether you are celebrating Solstice, Diwali, St. Lucia Day, Hanukkah, Christmas, First Night, or Festivus. This year, experience the holidays as a child again. Even if this isn't your first Christmas, you can make it joyful and loving by using all your senses.
· SEEING IS BELIEVING
Sight is the least developed sense at birth, but one we use daily without much appreciation. A thousand years ago, St. Francis of Assisi tried to explain the first Christmas to folks who didn't speak his language. The natural solution to overcome this barrier was to tell the story with images. Church crèches had become overly bejeweled and expensive, but Francis wanted to tell the poor about the humble beginnings of the Christ Child. And so the first live nativity was created, complete with donkey and stable, to get the point across that God's love is not reserved for the wealthy. You can use your sense of sight for a joyful holiday by attending a live performance at a local theater or driving around to find the best neighborhood light displays. Bundle up and walk outside on a wintry night to find the Star of Bethlehem shining. Decorate with bright colors and shiny ornaments. Sense the anticipation of the season with candles being lit one by one. Read children's classic stories such as The Polar Express, The Gift of the Magi, or How the Grinch Stole Christmas. And, don't get SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)- invest in some good full spectrum light bulbs to combat the winter blahs.
· HEAR THE WONDER
Sleigh bells ringing, snow crunching, reindeer munching; of all the cheerful holiday sounds, these are not the ones I remember most. It is the music of Christmas that I carry with me all year. Make your ears an active participant in the holidays this year by attending a local concert or sing-you-own Messiah. Play holiday CDs at home (or work if you dare) and sing along as loud as you can. For an instant make-your-spirits-bright, eat your lunch at a neighborhood playground and listen to children's laughter.
· SMELL THE MAGIC
When smelling an odor, you do not think, you react. The sense of smell is linked to the part of our brain that controls our emotions, breathing and heartrate and holds the longest lasting memories. It is estimated that smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than other senses. Do you remember the comforting aroma of sugar cookies baking or coffee brewing in your mom's kitchen? This Christmas, breathe in the fresh scent of evergreen wreaths, the spicy fragrance of gingerbread or the bouquet of juicy tangerines (a favorite stocking stuffer). To scent your home, make your own holiday potpourri on the stove by simply gently simmering orange slices and cinnamon sticks in a saucepot of water.
· TASTE THE JOY
Turn on the oven?turn up the joyaliciousness. Take comfort in holiday traditions by keeping a tried and true family recipe, or blaze new trails and create one of your own. Do you want to honor a cultural heritage or celebrate a different holiday this year? Try a new recipe and whip up some blinis, stuffed grape leaves, tamales, latkes, babaganoush, pad thai, or some Joululimppa. Indulge in a creamy chocolate truffle, some crunchy peppermint candy canes, or my favorite, salty Chex Party Mix. Use all your taste buds - salty, sour, sweet, bitter. Low carb? Who cares! Stop obsessing and celebrate.
· FEEL THE LOVE
Touch is the first sensation to develop in the womb and the last we lose. This Christmas, reach out and touch someone with a hug. Hugs are one size fits all, they're returnable, everybody needs one, and they're free. Don't be stingy with hugs, give them and receive them and give them again. Hugs are the only gift you can "re-gift" without regret. After all, this is the season of love, and what better way to show it than with hugs and some kisses thrown in for good measure. We are God's arms and legs, so use them. Volunteer at a nursing home or hospital and hold the hand of someone in need. On December 26th, when Christmas is over, and all the senses explored, I want my daughter to know the real meaning. I want her to remember the hugs and know that the joy comes from the love.
Lorraine Aho is the founder of SacredHome.com ®?for the art and soul of your home. She lives in Sonoma, California with her husband, baby daughter and two cats. To learn other tips for creating a sacred holiday, visit http://www.sacredhome.com
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