We sure do a lot of “holiday” things around this time of year. We shop for gifts, decorate our houses and offices, take gifts back for other gifts, re-gift gifts from last year, make candy and treats, write Christmas lists, juggle amazing schedules and frenetically drive ourselves to the brink of nervous exhaustion. In our family we celebrate Christmas and over the years I have found myself trying to create the perfect Christmas - which really means trying to make Christmas into what I think it aught to be. Is there a secret to escaping the tyranny of Christmas expectations?
I believe we have this picture in our mind of what we expect out of Christmas. It includes the smiles on the faces of our children or spouse, the warmth of being together and the aromatic incense of past Christmases as children. The perfect meal, the perfect gift, the perfect ritual, decoration or setting are all part of the complicated ingredients that envelop our feelings about this time of year. These expectations start out as idyllic and whimsical longings for childhood and the beauty of hearth and home.
Unfortunately these expectations often morph into individual little tyrannical demands that cause us to rush around trying to make everything perfect. It doesn't help that our culture sends us messages constantly about what a perfect Christmas might be like. The end result is that we purchase and schedule the joy right out of the celebration of "peace on earth". And the amazing thing about it is that we feel guilty! Because the season doesn't measure up to our own expectations we feel we have let ourselves and our loved ones down. We didn't buy enough, plan enough or cook enough.
Here's my advice. Instead of setting an impossible standard and trying to live up to it, let go of your expectations. You may even have to do a little mourning in the process - especially if you have lots of emotional baggage (like me... but I don't really want to talk about it [sob]). Instead, let's approach the season of Joy by looking for joy where we find it rather than trying to create it for ourselves and those around us. Sure, follow through on those important traditions and rituals. Have your Christmas morning, open your presents, read the Christmas story and cook an enormous meal... and then just see what happens. Tear up the mental scorecard and look for opportunities to bless, love, laugh and experience the life and love within your traditions.
Give yourself grace! Didn't spend enough? You are forgiven. The Turkey's dry? Forgiven. Can't fit tab A into slot B? Forgiven. Trying to connect with your folks and running into that same old wall? It's covered - you're forgiven. Kids not thrilled with their gifts? Not your problem - you're forgiven. Filled with fear that you forgot someone? Forgiven. Can't tie a bow to save your life? Forgiven. Your Christmas lights take 2500 fewer watts than your neighbor and your blow-up Rudolph sags and looks tired and deflated? Forgiven!
Now stop putting so much pressure on yourself and on Christmas. Let joy bubble up from all of those holiday trappings. Your 2 year old son likes the box better than the toy and the cat is hiding in the tree. That's cause for joy and laughter - right? Your parents are home and they adore their grandkids and they are always genuinely glad to see you. Have you forgotten how precious that is? How that sense of belonging occurs so rarely in your life - in spite of the fact that they drive you crazy? Joy! The snow is crisp and brightly white and the fire generates that warmth that seems so personal - like the hug of an old friend. Joy! Your Christmas feast is bountiful and no one wants to leave the table. Joy!
I am a joyful lover of Christmas. My kids think I'm pretty geeky but I love the music, the lights, and all the little tokens that say it's the Christmas again. It wasn't always that way. Years ago my expectations sucked the life out of the Christmas Season for me and my family. What I've learned is that joy is discovered where it has been placed it in our lives - not somehow created by us. For my part I'm looking for joy to find me this season. And may I say from the bottom of my heart to all my muse readers - Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May the year ahead be prosperous and healthy for you and your family. We here at CF Webtools wish you all the best that life can offer.
(NOTE: For those of you who will appreciate the more overtly faith based version of this blog you can find it at TW Choir. But be warned - I do mention Jesus:)