Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas: it's time to lower our expectations

There gets to be a time every Christmas season when the magnitude and madness of it all hit home. Often, the first pangs occur when I’m driving home from work in the dark, making my way through the neighborhood streets to my house.  All of the outside decorations on houses, trees, bushes and lawns that just yesterday seemed so perfectly festive and cheery suddenly seem severe and too bright and frantic.  It’s like they’re screaming in desperation, “CHRISTMASTIME!  HAPPY!  MERRY!  HAPPY!  MERRY!” 

Obviously, the lights never change.  I’m pretty sure what’s really happening is my annual and inevitable trip, clawing and scratching, across the border from Trying to Make Everything Perfect for Christmas-ville to Yeah, It’s Not Gonna Happen-town.  It’s me who’s frantic and desperate.

Some years are better than others, but sometimes Christmas just doesn’t come together the way we think it should.  Sometimes there are circumstances – a new baby in the house (lovely in theory, but exhausting in reality), financial woes, the loss of a loved one or a hundred other things - that could really throw a wrench into the finely-tuned expectations of blissful holiday happiness.

 The holiday machine is a juggernaut of incessant demands on our time and our resources of money, energy and goodwill.  It enslaves us to perceived obligations such as attending parties and buying and baking and decorating and mailing – all in the name of getting into the spirit of things.   It’s when you’re dutifully doing it all but still aren’t feeling it that things start to get dicey.

Some panic and throw it into overdrive.  We’re sure that if we kick it up, we’ll get done all those things that “need” to be done and then it will finally feel Christmassy.

Some feel guilty.  We feel like we’re letting people down if we can’t get into full-on Christmas mode. 

And some forfeit any hope of feeling the Christmas spirit altogether.  It’s been a horrible year, and even going through the motions is more painful than anything.

I say Christmas doesn’t have to be glitzy and glossy and bright and cheerful at all, let alone all that, all the time.  I call BS on the notion that it’s an all-or-nothing proposition.   I say it’s time to lower our expectations for Christmas. 

Considering all we go through just to get by, day by day, it’s unreasonable to think that we should be awash in Christmas magic each and every moment of the season.  But, I think if we’re open to it, the Christmas spirit will find us every now and again.

I think it comes to us on the strains of a Christmas song that brings us, even briefly, a warm feeling of comfort.

I think it comes to us in a solemn moment when something inside us stirs as we contemplate the very first Christmas.

I think it comes to us in our dark corners at the end of the day, as we think about the ones we love and our hearts silently wish Christmas happiness for them, even if we don’t think we feel it ourselves. 

For me, this year, it finds me on the commute to the office every work day.  I’m strapped in with nothing else to do for 35 minutes than enjoy my playlist of very favorite Christmas songs.  As I auto-pilot to work, still relatively optimistic about the day ahead, I’m not distracted by my beloved-but-needy children or a business email or an overdue household chore.  Bing and Buble, the little drummer boy and the poor orphan girl named  Maria, the Ave Maria and Feliz Navidad – they bring me the Christmas spirit without asking a thing in return. 

Unfortunately, the evening commute isn’t quite the same.  I’m tired and possibly frazzled from the long day so far and have, still, to re-engage home life where I left off this morning.  And, I have to drive by those damned, obnoxious lights again.  They're still screaming, but I look the other way and ignore their demands for my immediate merriness.  I choose, instead, to relax and let the holiday spirit come to me as it will. And, inevitably, it will.

Here’s to letting Christmas find us in meaningful ways, whenever and wherever it can.  In place of feeling despair over impossible expectations, let us feel peace from expecting less.    

Merry Christmas to all.

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