I love Christmas. I love the lights and the decorations, the music and the special holiday events, the baking and the wrapping, the excitement and the anticipation. And most of all, I love the feeling of hope and goodwill that permeates the very air around us, the heightened expression of love and kindness to each other and the renewed commitment to have more compassion in our hearts.
But my relationship to Christmas is conflicted. As much as I love it, it also makes me sad.
In my attempt to wring as much joy out of the season as I possibly can and to ensure my children experience the maximum amount of wide eyed wonder and magic, I set my list of all the things I think we should do in the lead up to the big day to make it a perfect Hallmark holiday. There’s:
- carolling (who even does this anymore?)
- walking in the snowy woods
- sipping hot chocolate around the fire
- baking dozens of cookies to give to friends and family
- putting up a tree
- decorating the house inside and out
- opening each day of the advent calendar
- watching classic Christmas movies
- attending holiday concerts, plays and parties
- visiting Christmas light displays
- attending holiday craft fairs and Christmas markets
- buying meaningful and treasured gifts for loved ones
- beautifully wrapping and delivering above truckload of gifts
- writing heartfelt Christmas cards
- getting said cards in the mail in time to reach their destination before Christmas
- having special get togethers with family and friends, making sure to balance time spent to ensure no one is feeling slighted
- volunteering and donating to charities
- preparing delicious Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners with traditional dishes
- *Fill in your own perfect holiday images here*
Looking at all the things I think I need to do zaps my ability to muster the energy to tackle even one item on the list.
And then the sheer weight of trying to accomplish all of the things on my list makes my head ache, my body tired and my spirit wane. Looking at all the things I think I need to do zaps my ability to muster the energy to tackle even one item on the list. I wish I could just go to sleep and wake up on December 26!
Each year, as the days in December tick by and my time is taken up with all the regular activities that still need to be done, I find myself crossing things off the list that we won’t have time for and feeling bad about missing out on the happiness of those special times and all the lost magical memories they surely would have created. I get depressed believing I won’t be achieving the perfect Hallmark production. Like Charlie Brown, Christmas coming makes me unhappy, not the way I’m supposed to feel.
Check That Thinking
The irony is that I think I need to do these things to give my children a perfect Christmas, but where does that thought come from? Have I considered what it is they would like to do? What makes Christmas special for them? Am I dragging them to another production of A Christmas Carol when they would rather stay home and do something else? (Quite likely!)
Expectations and Perfectionism
And yes, all those things on the list are wonderful, but is it realistic to try to accomplish them all? Are these traditions still serving me or stressing me? Is it worth doing everything on the list if it results in a frazzled mom and a stressed out family? Instead, can we pick a few Christmas traditions that we want to, and can easily, do, and enjoy those activities without feeling like a failure if we don’t do them all.
Part of my sadness associated with Christmas comes from knowing the magic ends on December 26 and there’s only so much time available to squeeze in all the joy I can before it’s too late. The lights come down, the decorations get packed away, the music doesn’t invoke the same feelings anymore and I have to wait a whole year to experience it all again.
But maybe there shouldn’t be so much pressure on poor Christmas. I can take my list and spread it over the whole year. January skating and hot chocolate parties, cards and cookies to friends and family for Valentine’s Day, an annual St. Patrick’s Day feast featuring all things green. You get the picture. If I shift my thinking, December 26 doesn’t have to be an end, it can be a new beginning and I can have those feelings of kindness and goodwill all year long.
The Gifts of a Covid Christmas
This year offers a unique opportunity to do things differently. A Covid Christmas will already be a Christmas like no other, so it’s a good time to change things up. Because of the pandemic, some of the things on my annual list have already been taken off for me, making it more manageable and leaving more time for the things that remain. The pressure of perfectionism has been decreased too.
We did some Christmas baking the other day. The cookies were tough and the icing too sweet, but my kids loved them! On Christmas Day, I’ll only be cooking dinner for 4 instead of 15-20 people. If the turkey is not done on time, maybe we’ll eat dessert first. And if it doesn’t turn out at all, we can order pizza. I’m sure the kids would be thrilled and it would definitely make it a Christmas to remember!
Hopefully the lessons from this Christmas will stick with me and if I find myself obsessing about the perfect Hallmark holiday in the future, I can channel my inner Charlie Brown to appreciate what Christmas is really all about and the joy that can be found in the simple, even imperfect, pleasures. Turkey and stuffing pizza anyone?!
This post was written by one of our wonderful certified coaches, Maureen Geres.
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