December 26th, 2013


By Manduka Ambassador, Dana Damara

I love the holidays … I love decorating the tree, baking cookies with my daughters, pulling out holiday lights, lighting candles, the smell of pine cones and evergreen, pumpkin pie spice and the quietness at the end of the day that ends so early.

When I was a kid I loved baking with my mother, making decorations with my grandmother, eating homemade everything and running around the house with my cousins. I grew up around the corner from my “Auntie” and about six blocks from my grandmother. The holidays started the weekend before Thanksgiving and didn’t end until after the last football game was over on New Year’s Day.

I think that the holidays were the best part of my childhood. I was raised Catholic Italian in a family that was loud and boisterous. My grandmother’s home always smelled like spaghetti sauce and garlic, and when the holidays began it was a flurry of connecting, cooking and chaos. Actually it was always like that, holidays or not.

In the basement, my grandfather encased sausage and boiled live crab. Upstairs in the kitchen, my grandmother rolled out her homemade pasta, had her sauce going on the stove, basted the turkey in the oven, tended to the ham in the garage and us kids had to set the table and chop vegetables. My mother and my aunts talked and laughed a lot!

I can remember music playing, grown ups dancing, food and lots of wine. My grandmother sipped from the same glass of wine all day that had melting ice cubes in it. She had a house-coat for every meal, Jesus and Mary medallions around her neck, a Kleenex in her bra and her glasses on top of her head.

My family danced together, we laughed together, we teased each other, we fought loudly and we loved fiercely. We didn’t need the holidays to have a great time, the holidays just amplified everything.

There were several of us “little ones” who played pool, jumped on the beds, ran around outside without a coat, and played board games in the quiet of someone’s bedroom until we all fell asleep, usually on top of each other in one big bed.

A lot has happened since those days and times have changed. However, every holiday season comes and I feel the love from that time fill my heart. I can smell my grandmother’s homemade sauce, hear her voice singing in Italian while she worked in the kitchen.

I don’t “do” the holidays like my grandmother did; I wouldn’t even try! She was amazing! And unfortunately, I don’t have the opportunity to see my family over the holidays either. But the love I experienced during that time in my life fills me with such joy and gratitude.

Families move, they break up, they break down, they shift and they change. For many years I lived by the credo that “Your family can be one of blood or choice – either way, you have family.” I did this because when my family broke down I rebelled, I moved away, I made my own “family” and I did this to survive the pain I felt when all of that “connection, cooking and chaos” ended.

Now, some twenty odd years later, several thousands of hours on my mat, and at least hundreds of hours in church, I hold my family in my heart… my blood family. The ones that brought me into this world, that can trigger me and that love me unconditionally, even if I didn’t know that for years.

This year, give thanks for your family – the one that holds the reflection of who you were, who you are and maybe even a nugget of who you are becoming. There is nothing like family, nothing. When we deny our family we are denying our greatest gift. You needn’t see them, hang out with them, spend holidays with them – you can just love them.


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