Two pairs of hands holding a gift wrapped colorfully with a note reading, "Happy Kwanzaa"

Holidays and Hardships: November 2023 Newsletter


This issue of our newsletter will be the last of 2023. As we prepare for the end of the year and the last stretch of this holiday season, we want to take space to acknowledge all of the heaviness in our world and how it might impact us as individuals and communities.

Stress often accompanies holidays. In times of year that are supposed to be cheery, it’s often that our more somber emotions aren’t tended to by ourselves and/or others. Especially as international conflict weighs so heavily on many of our hearts and minds, it seems insensitive and unrealistic to ask people to put aside hardships for the sake of gratitude and cheer. We know the importance of feeling all of our feelings instead of pushing the difficult ones to the side. So today, we want to make space for hard things.

This month’s newsletter includes resources and practices to meaningfully acknowledge and tend to all of your feelings. Happiness does not have to overpower your other emotions this season. Whether you are mourning the loss of a loved one, struggling to meet the demands of holiday consumerism, or lacking identity affirmation in your families and communities, we hope these resources will support you in showing up fully and authentically to yourself and others. 

How to Survive Toxic Holiday Joy

written by Rebecca Slaby

The winter holidays are upon us, and while this season is characterized by joy and giving, I would like to acknowledge the challenges of these holidays for so many people for so many different reasons. Society would have us believe they are all about family and friends coming together in joy, love, and celebration. While this is true for some, for many of us, winter holidays (including Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, the New Year, and more) can be stressful, overwhelming, and triggering of past traumas, grief, and loss.

A lot has been written and talked about the dangers of toxic positivity as a form of gaslighting of the real struggles, hurts, and harms. One of my favorite authors and podcasters, Kate Bowler, explains toxic positivity as “an overemphasis on the idea that our mindsets determine our reality…Our minds are powerful, but forcing our minds to conjure up optimism is not always healthy. American culture got hooked on the idea that everything is possible for those who believe. But the casualty is honesty. We overemphasize our own abilities and end up saddling ourselves with unnecessary shame and frustration. Life is hard enough without imagining that we are not simply suffering, but failing.”

Featured Book

The Forever Sky, written by Thomas Peacock

In this Ojibwe story, two young brothers miss their grandmother, who has died. Reflecting on their uncle’s stories about the stars, they look to the sky to connect to their grandmother. 

This book offers a powerful example of Ojibwe storytelling, a culturally essential tradition. It offers the opportunity for understanding and appreciating differences as children connect with their own family stories and beliefs about death.

Discussions about grief and loss are important ones to have with children, so they can begin to understand the big emotions that accompany them.


Grief during the holidays

Anti-bias teaching during the holidays

Ethos in Action

Here are three things Rebecca Slaby shares in her article to help us mitigate the stress and unrealistic expectations of this holiday season:

  1. Take time to notice moments of DELIGHT. In his book of essays, The Book of Delights, poet Ross Gay offers us this concept of delight (as opposed to joy or gratitude) to center us in a particular moment of feeling good and the engagement of our senses, even in the midst of the agonies of life. Like a child who, in the midst of a tantrum, suddenly stops to inspect a rock on the ground or taste the salt of their tears, can you stop for a moment when something sparks some curiosity or wonder? 
  2. Live into the both/and and hold multiple truths at the same time. You can experience delight, joy, gratitude, love and fear, anxiety, grief, loss, disappointment at the same time, in the same moment. One emotion does not have to cancel out the other, and there does not have to be guilt or shame in experiencing any or all of our emotions.
  3. Extend grace to yourself and to others. Grace does not have to mean forgiveness or a free pass for rude, harmful, or abusive behavior. Grace can simply be a deep breath that allows you to reflect and respond instead of react. Grace allows us to enter into or opt out of relationships or situations in ways that align with our integrity and values and keep us authentically in ourselves. And when we extend grace to ourselves first, then we can more easily extend it to others. 

Staff Highlight

Andrew Zhao

Andrew Zhao

We’re so excited to welcome Andrew Zhao to the AmazeWorks team as Director of Programs and Partners! He values the importance of relationships in our work and enjoys the complex beauty that comes out of working authentically and collaboratively. He believes that the journey toward belonging takes all of us, and he knows the importance of both propelling towards progress collectively while also trying to meet as many people where they’re at individually.

Andrew has already brought immense value to our team, asking meaningful questions to help us dig deeper and live more fully into our mission. Thank you, Andrew! 🌟

Board Highlight

Priya Narula

Black and white headshot of Priya Narula smiling

Priya Narula, an entrepreneur, speaker and connector, is one of our newest AmazeWorks board members. She co-founded Keyhubs and Neighborhood Forest, two organizations with deep and meaningful AmazeWorks partnerships. When asked what gives her hope for the future, she said:

“The younger generation, specifically kids around the age of my kids, 16 and older… Observing their care for the planet, compassion towards people, and their desire to lead lives filled with meaning and purpose at such a young age is inspiring.”

Welcome to the AmazeWorks board, Priya! 🌟

AmazeWorks staff posing with our arms gesturing outward, toward our photoshopped #BooksForBelonging picks of different AmazeWorks picture books. White text reads, "Books for Belonging; #GTMD23"

AmazeWorks Books for Belonging

Throughout November for Give to the Max season, AmazeWorks staff shared our favorite books from our anti-bias elementary curriculum. This was for our #BooksForBelonging campaign, raising money to bring more identity-affirming books like these into classrooms across Minnesota and the US. Now, we’ve brought them all together so that you can find all of our favorites in one place! Read our team’s Books for Belonging by clicking the button below.

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