How to Thrive During the Holiday Season

How to Thrive during the Holidays


thriving during the holidays with Chinese medicine

Do you thrive in this season? Thriving during the holidays is different for each person.

What is it for you? To thrive has changed course for me. This season has become an emotionally challenging time that I have had to navigate for the past 4 years. Starting in November 2019 my husband began his journey towards his death which occurred just after New Year’s Day in 2020. So, each year since, as the holiday season arrives, I have had to focus and care for myself in a very intentional way. As the outer world demands joy, I have had to reconcile grief and loss. I know I need time alone to reflect, I know I need time to ground myself in my body and to be with people whom I love and love me.


Even without loss and grief the external demands of the holiday season can be taxing, stretching our inner resources thin. The social pressures, gatherings and memories can be triggering. The flurry of activity, food and drink can mix up our energy and be exhausting. Let’s lean on the yin power of the emerging winter to help us care for ourselves and navigate this season.

The winter season when yin is at its apex is a season of regeneration. If we listen to the cycle of the days, we will naturally seek warmth and more rest, warmer and slower cooked foods. This is a time of nourishing our yin and protecting our yang, to restore our innermost treasures. Soon we will be at the darkest and most yin time of the year, the Winter Solstice. How do we align our internal environment with the qi of this season? The climate and season asks us to slow down and the holidays, no matter which tradition you belong to, are often busy and demanding. How can we find balance??

In Chinese medicine our whole being health is dependent upon balance – the balance of yin and yang, activity and rest, warmth and cooling, interior and exterior.

During winter our qi and yang move from the surface to the innermost foundation of our bodies. We move inwards. It is a time for us to deeply rest, to contemplate, reflect and restore. This is a time to protect our most precious yin and yang; and we can with grace and pleasure.

Here are some tips to do just that during this holiday season:

·      Feeling stressed, tense? You are not alone. This is common during the holidays. We can over commit to people and events, making us feel stretched a bit thin. We may be eating richer foods, drinking a bit more and sleeping less. Stress inhibits flow, causes body tension (neck and shoulders anyone?), inhibits digestion and sleep.

What can you do? Try not to over commit. Know your boundaries and check in with what you need. Choose your activities according to what is nourishing for you and your family. Who do you love spending time with? What activities are nourishing? Slow down. You will feel better.

·      Carve out time for breaks from activity. Even 15 minutes of quiet (without the phone) or meditation can make a huge difference

·      Move to release stress and encourage qi flow.  Get in daily movement that you enjoy, whether it be walking, biking, dancing, yoga or qi gong. It will send some endorphins into your body; helping to ground your energy, let go of stress and relax.

·      Support your liver qi flow. Overdoing things can activate your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) inhibiting the harmonious flow of qi in the body, regulated by the liver organ system. Movement, stress relief, dark leafy greens and a stronger plant based way of eating can help. Watch your alcohol intake: a little can warm you, a lot can disturb your sleep, mood and digestion. Add in some calming tea such as chrysanthemum with goji berries or mint with ginger or dried orange peel.

·      Nourish the heart. Support the liver by adding in some wonderful bitter greens and foods such as: broccoli rabe, chicories, endive, arugula, mustard greens, watercress, bitter melon, white grapefruit, or raw cocoa. Try a roasted dandelion or chicory root beverage instead of coffee. The bitter flavor helps clear any buildup of internal heat.

·      Rest. Be sure to get your rest. Winter is a time to “hibernate” and restore. Try breathing in for 4 counts, holding for 7 and slowly exhaling for 8 to regulate your nervous system and reset.

When it comes to foods, try some brothy soup. Soup was one of the original medicinal foods. If you are tired, your appetite is low or not up to what it is usually a bowl of soup will nourish you and be easy on your digestion. I love brothy soups infused with fresh vegetables and herbs. In fact, when you have leftover soup you can enliven it with fresh sliced scallions, ginger, leafy greens or left over rice. This wonderfully warming squash soup will be most welcome in this holiday season.

Warming Winter Squash Soup


Warming Squash Soup

Sweet, earthy, deep and pungent flavors are what make this winter soup so enormously satisfying. The crunchy seed garnish is a lovely contrast to the tender vegetables and broth.





1⁄4 cup buttercup squash seeds

1 leek

2 tbsp avocado oil

4 cups cubed peeled seeded 1 L buttercup squash

2 cups coarsely chopped napa cabbage 500 mL

2 tsp grated ginger root 10 mL

2 tsp salt 10 mL

  1. Place seeds in baking pan. Roast in preheated oven for 15 minutes or until golden and fragrant. Let cool. Using clean pliers, remove shells from seeds and discard. (Or, using a rolling pin, gently tap seeds along edges to split open; discard shells.) Set seeds aside.
  2. Trim roots and all but 3 inches (7.5 cm) of the dark green leaves off leek and discard. Cut leek in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1⁄2-inch (1 cm) wide pieces. Rinse very well in 2 changes of water to remove grit.
  3. In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add leek and saute for about 5 minutes or until translucent and edges are lightly browned.
  4. Add 4 cups (1 L) water, squash, cabbage, ginger and salt and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes or until squash is tender.
  5. Ladle into serving bowls and sprinkle with seeds.

Serve immediately.


The baking pan dimensions aren’t critical for toasting the seeds, so use whatever size you have in your cupboard. If you like, you can use shelled raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas) instead of the seeds from the buttercup squash. Reduce roasting time to 10 minutes. If napa cabbage is unavailable, use the regular green cabbage commonly found in North American grocery stores.

Health Tips

Winter squash is a sweet, warming vegetable that nourishes and supports the digestive system. Warming, pungent leek and mild napa cabbage are also superior at promoting good digestion, while ginger is an outstanding herb for the stomach. This soup is a good remedy for people suffering from a cold, chills, or a cough with clear phlegm. It also works well to combat indigestion.


Recipe Courtesy of Nutritional Healing with Chinese Medicine by Ellen Goldsmith © 2017 Recipes copyright

© 2017 Maya Klein and Ellen Goldsmith Reprinted with permission. Available where books are sold.

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Gift a copy of Nutritional Healing with Chinese Medicine by Ellen Goldsmith.


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Ellen Goldsmith

Ellen Goldsmith

Ellen Goldsmith is a licensed and nationally board certified acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist. She has been in the field of Asian medicine for the past 30 years, teaching, speaking and working with thousands of people to give them the resources, skills and tools they seek to improve the quality of their health and lives. Ellen is the author of the well respected book, Nutritional Healing with Chinese Medicine: + 175 Recipes for Optimal Health. She is on faculty at the National University of Natural Medicine’s College of Classical Chinese Medicine in Portland, Oregon.

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