Not long after the last morsel of food is stuffed into my mouth at Thanksgiving, the next holiday starts to materialize in my head: Christmas. I can feel my anxiety rise, my mind begins to zero in on the negative and my desire to control the next holiday’s outcome begins.
What I want is to have power over is what Christmas will look like, for me.
This vision that I have conjured up in my head is not realistic. Even the one I remember as a child, wasn’t that realistic. The fact is, Christmas is a sad time for a lot of people. Unmet expectations, loneliness and loss are part of the Christmas experience.
It isn’t supposed to be this way! I want it to look like it does on the Hallmark Channel.
The red and green reminders of the season are everywhere. The belief is that I must be happy and joyous, while surrounded by those who love me, and I love back. Sometimes this is possible. I have heard whispers that the perfect Christmas does exist, so I am setting out to find it.
The perfect Christmas begins with the subtle pressure that comes right after I put my fork down on Thanksgiving with either a phone call from, or to another family member, gently inquiring about getting together. Then there is that one family member’s inquiry that feels more like a subpoena, than an invitation.
The pressure to have everyone together is building. Both my boys work jobs that often require them to work on holidays, so I try to get them to take the night off. “Come on,” I tell them, my voice getting stern in protest, “It’s Christmas!” Like they need reminding. I try not to sound like it’s a mandate to spend time with me.
What’s happened is I have fallen into this silly trap the world is telling me: I must be a failure for not having the exact image of what Christmas should look like. The depiction product advertisers want us to buy into, is found everywhere; the happy family gathered around laughing and sharing the tenderness of the season while handing beautifully wrapped packages to each other.
Maybe this happens in some families.
A good friend shared a funny Christmas memory; she used to count her presents under the tree to make sure she had the same amount (or more) than her sibling. If not, she says she would throw a world-class fit until the situation was remedied, which meant one of her parents having to hit the stores prior to Christmas morning, to correct the oversight. We had a good laugh over that one, a little horrified over our younger selves. (I was a counter too.)
I’m putting a stop to that false holiday narrative in my head, the toxic positivity of the season, right now. Even Jesus didn’t have a place to go; His parents Mary and Joseph searching for a place to rest and give birth. He wasn’t welcome anywhere, came into the world alone and had to cope with what He was surrounded by; smelly animals in a cold stable, and it was His day, the day of all days, the arrival of Christ on Earth.
Since that first Christmas travel has been a part of the holiday.
In our family, we are spread out across both coasts, some members are lucky enough to live close by and have schedules that permit them to get together for a traditional Christmas each year, and well, others have to travel to make this happen.
We were always the ones farthest away; it became our burden to travel each year. Fighting in the car, year-after-year, all the way to grandma’s house on Christmas Day, ruined any holiday cheer that existed. Arriving at our destination, one of us in tears, (me) the others not speaking to each other.
Soon, we found ourselves winging it. I mean this literally. For several years, we gave up the car trips. Instead, we’d pick a destination, pack everyone up and flew somewhere. Once settled in, my husband and I would search for the perfectly, imperfect, tacky and cheap tabletop tree at a local pharmacy, (one year it was a purple, the one pictured), buy some joke presents for the kids and voila! Christmas was complete. Our approach to Christmas was even the subject of a magazine article in Redbook. Those were some good memories, but even that tradition didn’t last more than a couple of years.
Because life has a way of changing, along with it any type of tradition I had hoped to create; my goal is joy. Thankful for a few hours with my boys and good friends at some point during the month of December. No pressure, I’m not falling into that trap of feeling victimized by a bunch of marketers telling me how I need to feel. Starting with letting go of the image of the large family gathering, dad slicing into a turkey, the perfect present, abundance and so on. Perfection doesn’t exist.
Now I look at what I do have, not what I don’t have.
This brings me to the question of; how to add joy to every Christmas, no matter who is seated around the table? Maybe no one, many spend it alone, some of us are grieving a loved one, making this time of year intolerable. I wasn’t surprised to learn that Christmas is the loneliest time of year. During the month of December people feel their saddest and most alone.
The impetus for this blog post on the perfect Christmas came about when I was listening to Jennifer Shaw, from Jennifer Shaw Ministries who spoke at our church. She challenged us this season to bring the joy of the birth of Christ into our lives, not the one society tells us to celebrate. For me the message I want to concentrate on is the birth of our Savior and when I do that, I no longer feel alone or missing out. Instead, I reflect on why He was born, the meaning of His arrival, the pain His mother Mary was in having to give birth in a barn and the joy of having a relationship with Him. He’s the real present and the picture of perfection.
When I concentrate on this aspect, my loneliness and expectations disappear, for me, I feel fulfilled.
Here are some resources on deciding where to give money and time. Nothing builds us up more than putting a smile on someone else’s face.
- This is a website guide to various charities. https://www.charitynavigator.org/
- I have so much fun buying and stuffing my shoe box for children around the globe. https://www.samaritanspurse.org/
- A children’s charity with a global impact. https://www.thelifeyoucansave.org/
- Our time doesn’t cost anything but can have such an impact. Eventbrite provides volunteer opportunities. The list has some very fun ways to get out and get involved. Here is one for New York City. https://www.eventbrite.com/d/ny–new-york/volunteer-events/
- Volunteer at a dog shelter, take in a shelter dog for the holidays.
- Visit with the elderly at a nursing home and brighten someone’s day.
Can’t volunteer? Make the day what you want it to be. Here’s a few resources:
- Great article on ways to bring your jolly up a notch. https://www.oprahmag.com/life/relationships-love/a29590722/alone-on-christmas/
- How to cope when you’re alone during the holidays. https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-cope-when-you-are-alone-at-christmas-3024301
- With this list, good luck having a boring day. Lots of activities to engage in or not. https://lonerwolf.com/51-things-christmas-alone/
- Many movies open on Christmas day. Last year we had Chinese food and went to the movies, it was so much fun. And were not alone, the lines were crazy!
Blessings and love to all of you!