The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of love and of generosity and of goodness. It illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things.
-Thomas S. Monson
The holiday season is a time of reflection. During breaks in the madness of baking, decorating, shopping, wrapping, and parties, there are moments of a particular kind of holiday quiet and peacefulness. Winter evenings when it is cold and dark outside and we sit in our homes in the warm glow of the Christmas tree lights, our puppies sleeping peacefully around us. Those moments are my favorite part of the season.
It is a time of year that inspires a spirit of greater generosity, love, patience, and charity. For me this generosity extends to my dogs, as well as my human family. I buy them special gifts and make them each a stocking. Not for them, but for me. I love to see them play with their silly red and green Christmas toys and get special chewy treats without have to ‘sit’ first. They seem pleased and excited by the sudden, unexpected appearance of new toys and extra treats.
However I try to remember that dogs don’t understand the holidays and for some dogs it can be a very stressful time because so many things change all at once. There are new decorations that are off limits to them. Furniture is rearranged to bring in a big tree that they get scolded for whacking with their happy tails. Cherished schedules and routines are disrupted. Strangers drop by to visit. In my house the dogs are all are made to dress up in ridiculous holiday outfits and have their pictures taken. Its a hard time to be a dog.
Our dog Obi is about as easy going as you can imagine. Obi loves any season that allows him more opportunities to go out and about and to visit with people, even if it means wearing reindeer bells and antlers. Obi loves Santa as much as he loves everyone else and he has had so many pictures taken for so many events that he has a “picture pose” in which he holds his head high and gazes off into the distance with a sort of noble expression. I don’t have to worry at all about how Obi will handle the holidays. Mocha, the new little dog, is game for wearing an elf hat, and she doesn’t mind the holiday decorations or the chaos of family Christmas gatherings, but it turns out that she has a mortal fear of Santa Claus. Lesson learned and this will be her one and only picture with Santa…
Kira is a whole different ball game and this year I was especially mindful of the chaos of the holidays. I was very nervous about how she would react. I tried to think through everything with an awareness of how the world might look through her eyes. Generally, when you read books about fearful behaviors in dogs, you might find that one or two things apply to your dog. With Kira, its every single thing, and then some. I made every effort to minimize anything that would change her routine and schedule. I put out minimal decorations and delayed putting up the Christmas tree for as long as I could.
As you have surely noticed by now, there are no exemptions from the holiday photos. Actually, I would have allowed Kira a pass this year, but she did ok with them. What the pictures don’t show is that I started at Thanksgiving working to get her used to wearing things by practicing a few minutes a day for a couple of weeks. First, she got treats while the Santa hat was on the couch near her for a short time, then the hat was lying on her back while she got treats, and finally in small increments it was on her head.
I was most worried about the tree. I didn’t know how she would react to such a big change in the environment and I thought it was likely that she might be frightened enough to revert to spending all her time in her crate again. This is a dog that a few months ago wouldn’t walk through the house if a jacket was hanging on a door knob or laying of the floor. I planned to take the tree down the day after Christmas if need be.
What I discovered is that Kira has come a long way! She retreated to her crate as soon as the Christmas tree box came out. But once the tree was up and decorated and the boxes put away, she came out of her crate and looked curiously at it. By that evening she had returned to her place on the couch – a mere 10 feet from the Christmas tree! For the first few days she was wary and wouldn’t walk near the tree. She studied it carefully from the couch. I would watch her eyes go to the top of the tree and move slowly from top to bottom and then back up. She looked like she was memorizing every detail of it. But she was in her spot on the couch and that meant that she felt safe! I was ecstatic!!
Last night as she lay on the couch, I caught her gazing quietly at the lighted tree with an expression of complete contentment. To see her there, you would never know that she had ever lived any other way… She looked completely peaceful and happy, eyes half closed, head nestled against a pillow, contemplating the lights on her very first Christmas tree. It was such a beautiful, perfect moment. I was overwhelmed with thankfulness that I get to share this special Christmas with Kira. Her enjoyment of it is the best gift I can imagine.
My wish for you this holiday, is that in the midst of busyness and family gatherings, each of you will be surprised by special moments of contentment, peace and quiet contemplation.