Comfort & joy during the holidays are something we all look forward to, right?

Ever since I was a child, the holidays would arrive as a mix of joy and sadness. Though my parents lived separate lives, they shared the strict rule that we “had” to spend the holidays together. Like it or not. Happy or unhappy. There was no rabbit hole. So holidays became this huge balloon charged with expectations, excitement and the eternal “What if….”

Later on in life, married to a Jewish American, I found myself still searching for the perfect holiday, like sitting at the same train station for years, frozen in time, waiting for a train that never seemed to arrive. Despite all the cultural disparities in my marriage, we spoke the same language: fresh ingredients, succulent homemade food.

Finding peace during the holidays is a conscious and yearly exercise. An exercise that can bring both joy and sadness. Call it the paradox of life: We would not know when we were happy if we were never sad. The two emotions go together and we need to be able to experience the two together, it is how we chose to experience them that makes them different. As the Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “It is not what happens to you; but how you react to it that matters.”

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Now, since each year comes with different hues and flavors, I put into practice a few rituals to honor and ground myself-–connecting myself with nature and food is one of them. Cooking works as my active meditation at the same time that connects me with my roots, reminds me who I am. I am reminded that despite divorces, separations, cultural and religious differences, it all comes down to the one shared language and feeling: food. Food always brings people together, creates bonds and enriches everybody’s roots, cultural flavors and textures. Food speaks no languages because it is already a language, knows no frontiers, races or genders. You don’t need to know how to cook anybody’s favorite dish; bring your own and share yourself. Food says it all. Food always creates opportunities to communicate, laugh and grow. My parents would say, “Fix it with food. Heal it with food. Say it with food.”

I started looking inward searching for what it seemed to be the missing link from outside, and provided myself with the solutions to what I had previously labeled as problems. In other words, if I wanted a nice dinner for Christmas, I would treat myself with a nice dinner. If I wanted to be with my family, but I couldn’t be with them physically, I would spend (almost) the whole night with them on the phone—the time difference played beautifully on my side.

Finding that space between the two worlds, between “my roots” and “your roots” takes time. For me, it was only until I was ready to share myself fully and allow others to provide with their own richness, hues, flavors and dishes that I could fully experience my roots, their roots and celebrate “our roots.”

Happy holidays! However you define them, make them yours.