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Class aims to maintain sanity and keep sacredness during Christmas
New priest to teach course at Grace Episcopal Church
LIFE CanclLlighting
Cynthia Park, the newest priest at Grace Episcopal Church in Gainesville, lights the candles before the noon church service Wednesday in the church’s chapel. Park, who is also a therapist, will teach a class titled “Staying Sane During Sacred Seasons,” to address the pitfalls that detract from the holiday enjoyment from a psychological as well as spiritual level. - photo by J.K. Devine

Staying Sane during Sacred Seasons

When: 9:30-10:30 a.m. Sundays or 7 p.m. Wednesdays fron Nov. 30 to Dec. 24

Where: Grace Episcopal Church, corner of Washington Street and Boulevard in downtown Gainesville

How much: Free

More info: 770-536-0126

As we inch closer to Christmas, the holiday season can start to feel less like a stroll through the snow and more like a marathon.

At Grace Episcopal Church on Brenau Avenue in Gainesville, parishioners have several options to keep the joy during the most wonderful time of year. A big part of the holiday season for the church is the celebration of Advent.

From the Latin “adventus,” Advent is a period of waiting and expectation in advance of Christ’s birth. Sunday will mark the beginning of 2014’s Advent season, which concludes on Christmas Eve.

Advent is an opportunity for members at Grace Episcopal and Christians everywhere to focus on something other than the hustle and bustle of the holiday.

“(Advent) is just really to reflect on waiting on the coming of Christ, in the midst of all the business of the season,” said Jennifer Williams, Grace Episcopal’s director of communications.

On Dec. 13, Grace Episcopal will host a “Quiet Day” — six hours during which the church grounds will be devoted to meditation, prayer and reflection. And all will be done in silence.

But if your holiday blues are the opposite of silent, the church’s newest priest, Cynthia Park, has you covered.

Park, who is a therapist as well as an Episcopalian priest, will teach a class titled “Staying Sane During Sacred Seasons.” The class is meant to address many of the pitfalls that detract from the holiday enjoyment from a psychological as well as spiritual level.

“I have noticed for many years that beginning with Thanksgiving and going through Valentine’s Day, people are particularly susceptible to real emotional, psychological train wrecks,” Park said.

Many of those are the results of pressures residents put on themselves, she said. A big factor is “expectations that are unvoiced,” or “desires we have for others’ behavior” during the holidays, Park said.

For example, if you expect a spouse or a relative to help cook a holiday meal or chip in for a parent’s present, it’s best to discuss it beforehand rather than get angry when they don’t pitch in.

Some environmental factors can also be at play.

“We suddenly enter into this period right after daylight saving time changes, and we’re going into colder days and fewer hours of sunlight,” Park said. “We start adding things like people eating a lot of food and feeling gross. That affects many people.”

The presence of visiting family and friends can stir the pot.

“We force people to be together who are not ordinarily together for very good and healthy reasons,” Park said. “We force them to be together during this time and force them to spend money they do not have on each other.”

However, several solutions exist to make sure those wanting to experience the holly jolly Christmas don’t get caught in the fallout. Park will teach several in her class on Sundays and Wednesdays at Grace Episcopal.

Talking with family and friends about holiday expectations in advance, such as what traditions to preserve and last year’s pitfalls to avoid is key.

“We talk about how to have conversations around the holidays, well in advance of the holidays,” Park said. “Then we talk about how to manage eating and drinking, how to set some standards ahead of time.” 

Individuals who turn to alcohol to cope with the holiday blues might do well to leave it off the table — as a depressant, it will only worsen the problem. Quick walks outside when the weather permits are also great ways to alleviate stress and fight post-holiday meal lethargy.

To alleviate family situations that inevitably cause tension, consider asking relatives to stay at a hotel rather than feel pressured to let them stay in the home, where the opportunity for conflict is maximized.

“Surprise, surprise, we also talk about the sacred aspect of (Christmas), which gets completely hijacked by a secular culture that wants it to be about helping merchants at the end of the year (get) in the black at whatever cost,” Park said.

Ultimately, Park’s holiday coping skills class and the season of Advent are all about one thing: the birth of Jesus Christ. 

“Hopefully (the class) empowers individuals to live counter-culturally because of a better understanding of who they are as beloved children of God,” Park said.

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