“Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words.”
Holiday get-togethers at home are as much a part of this season as menorahs, tinsel, gift-giving, and Charlie Brown on TV. All year, we look forward to the joyful traditions of fabulous food, dazzling decorations, and the warm embrace of family and friends. Whether we dress up and splash out the champagne or don silly sweaters and stock up on beer and chips, home is where it’s at for seasonal socializing.
On the other hand, family gatherings might feel like dreaded obligations, filled with tension and conflict. We may remember past holidays as minefields of arguments, put-downs, hostility, and ancient rivalries and competitions. Anticipating trouble, we arm ourselves with a list of topics to avoid, memorized comebacks designed to sidestep personal information or unpleasant truths, or excuses for an early wrap-up.
This year, we hope, things will be different. We’re not going to let anyone get to us or anything bother us. We’re going to smile and keep our mouths shut. These plans cause their own anxiety, as we take responsibility upon ourselves for everyone else’s behavior, which we cannot control. However, using some simple Feng Shui practices to prepare our home’s gathering spaces for the festivities to come, we can ease the flow of energy and set the stage for happy, harmonious holiday happenings.
Gathering areas — our living rooms, family rooms, recreation rooms, dining rooms, and kitchens — are always more yang than yin, more active than calm, with brighter lighting and bolder colors. This is great for a cheerful holiday party atmosphere. But yang energy may also raise emotions and excitement, so we might want to tone that down a bit to avoid disharmony. We want these spaces to be welcoming and warm, to encourage interaction and conviviality, not passionate quarrels and clashes. If last time saw a lot of conflict in our home’s holiday gatherings, we might even consider changing the rooms where we gather this year. We can be creative with this, perhaps converting a spare bedroom, den, recreation room, family room, or even a garage into a new space for our gathering or meal. We can prepare the space energetically, move furniture, and set up a clean slate for this year’s holiday festivities. If you live in a warm enough climate, a great option is moving the party outdoors to a patio or courtyard, or to a screened-in porch.
Decluttering is always the first step in applying Feng Shui to any space, so we begin preparing our gathering spaces for the holidays by getting rid of things we don’t love, don’t use, or that don’t reflect who we are now. We put out the trash and deliver any giveaways that result from this decluttering, rather than just moving them to other rooms or storage areas. However, we may want to remove some items only temporarily, for example, clearing away collections of framed photos or knickknacks on a tabletop or shelf. So, decluttering includes giveaways, throwaways, and some keepers tucked away. We repair what’s broken, replace burned out light bulbs, and then we give the rooms a good cleaning.
After decluttering and cleaning, we can perform a space clearing to help get any stuck energy flowing. Energy always needs to be moving, inflowing and outflowing. One way we slow down or even stop the energy from flowing through the communal spaces of our homes is by not using them. For example, the formal dining room that only sees family and friends around the table on holidays impedes the flow of energy the rest of the year. Same goes for a living room that is only used to receive guests and never to gather together the people living in the home. So we want to get that energy unblocked and moving again. Space clearing also removes negative energy that may still be hanging around from arguments, illnesses, or bereavement, absorbed by the furniture, carpets, objects, and even the walls of the room.
First, we get calm and meditate on our intention to remove the old, stuck energy and get new energy flowing freely through the space. We can burn smudging herbs (usually white sage), incense, or Palo Santo wood sticks to clear the energy and bring in a warm, woodsy scent, or we can soak sliced lemons in water and then flick the water around the rooms. Sounds can also move energy: singing bowls, chimes, bells, or just clapping our hands all around the perimeter of each room. While we do this, we feel our intention to release the old blockages and negativity. Opening a window can allow the old energy to escape
Now we start preparing our home for happy and harmonious get-togethers in the same place our guests will start: at the front door. In Feng Shui, the front entrance is called the mouth of ch’i, the very important place where both people and energy enter our homes. We make sure it’s clean, clear, and everything there — lights, door hinges, steps, doorbells — is in working order. Any landscaping or potted plants can be cleaned up, trimmed, or replaced, as needed. If we don’t already have “greeters” on either side of the door, we can add them now, such as tall potted plants or trees. We can sparkle them up with twinkly lights, and add a welcoming wreath on the door or mat on the doorstep.
Inside, the entryway sets the tone for the rest of the home, and needs each of the Five Elements — Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood — represented. With color providing the easiest and most powerful way to balance these elements, we can make sure reds, yellows and earth tones, white or pastels, grey, black, blue and green are present when our guests first enter our homes. It may sound like a lot to have in one small space, but multi-colored rugs, tablecloths, pillows and cushions, artwork on the walls, furniture and lighting can easily add a bit of each color. Secondarily, we can help create balance using shapes: triangles, rectangles, squares, circles, asymmetrical, and tall, columnar shapes. Finally, lights and candles, animal and human images, ceramics, tile, brick, stone, metals, glass, mirrors, crystals, potted plants, cut flowers in water, and art depicting plants and flowers balance the Five Elements. A basket of small gifts or ornaments to be hung on the tree can greet visitors in the entry, adding color, making everyone feel welcome and included, giving them something to do, and keeping the energy moving along with the moving items.
Once the colors, shapes and items are balanced, we can look into our home from the front entrance to see what our guests will see. A wall? A mirror facing the front door? A bathroom door? Plants and crystal prisms can buffer these inauspicious placements, if they can’t be removed. Doors to other rooms can be kept closed and a clear pathway created to direct guests (and the flow of energy) to the gathering spaces. One way to help lead people along is by locating drinks and food at intervals on the route. If your party is a sit-down dinner, a round or oval table is best, as are rounded edges on everything in the room. Covering sharp edges on furniture and walls with holiday decorations, such as greenery (even fake ivy is fine), fabrics, or strings of lights will help soften them. Sharp corners can promote disharmony between people, so covering them lessens the potential for emotional outbursts and arguments. We want all our guests, family, and friends, to feel calm, peaceful, and unthreatened in any way, so they won’t feel compelled to lash out or defend themselves.
Holiday decorations offer a way to represent all the Five Elements and keep the energy flowing and happy, especially in Hanukkah blues, white, and silver, and Christmas reds and greens. However, bright lights, candles, reds, and triangle shapes (like a Christmas tree) represent the Fire element, so limiting those and balancing them with other, calmer elements can cool things down a bit. In Feng Shui, green is the color of Health & Family, so it can promote family harmony. Earthy colors — yellows, browns, and tans — are also calming and grounding. We don’t need to go crazy with holiday decorations, since people often feel overwhelmed by too much stuff around them, and clean, clear spaces are less agitating. A simple theme of holiday cheer doesn’t require overdoing it.
If our gathering includes kids, we can create a special project for them, such as icing cookies or making ornaments, playing a game of dreidel or decorating gelt bags. If possible, the home’s Creativity & Children area — as you come in the front door, the middle third of the right-hand third of the home — is the best place for this. Keeping children happily occupied is one sure way to avoid some adult tension and general chaos.
Once the home is prepared and visitors have arrived, there are still a few simple tricks to help keep the energy flowing and positive. Halved or quartered onions can absorb negative energy people might bring in with them. Just leaving them lying around on a plate is especially easy to do without drawing undue attention in the kitchen or dining room. Lemons that have been sliced or quartered and sprinkled with sea salt can have the same effect and be less conspicuous throughout the house, possibly arranged to blend in with holiday decorations. A bowl or shallow dish of sea salt or a Himalayan sea salt lamp is a super easy way to absorb negative energy in any room. Diffusers can run for hours, with certain essential oils, such as ylang-ylang, lavender, orange, myrrh, and many others, offering a pleasant aroma and a calming effect. My favorite holiday scent is homemade, using cinnamon sticks, allspice, ginger, whole cloves, and pickling spices; this is added to water, brought to a boil, and then simmers on the stove, filling the space with delicious aromas. Just make sure to keep an eye it, so it doesn't dry out! As it evaporates, keep adding more water and it will last for hours.
Feng Shui may not enable us to control Uncle Pete's politics or Cousin Claire's criticisms, but as Auntie Agnes always says, it couldn't hurt. By taking the time to clear and balance the spaces where we will gather with our families and friends this year, and keeping the energy flowing throughout our get-togethers, we can help create calm, peaceful, and truly Happy Holidays!