My friend said she wished she could make Christmas as glorious for her grandkids as it was when she was growing up. I told her of course Christmas was happier when she was a child. She wasn’t doing all the cooking then.
We were discussing the holiday season with a group of women. One of the others complained that she has to make 12 dozen cookies, three pounds of fudge and a pile of peanut brittle for gifts and holiday parties. I said, “Nobody has to make cookies. That’s what bakeries are for.” But she said her baking was better than any bakery and people would notice the difference. I told her to let me be the judge of that.
Several women said that reading other people’s holiday letters makes them feel inadequate. One said she never gets hers written until January and the other said everyone who sends her a letter seems to live a perfect life. I reminded her that no one writes about all the projects they started and didn’t finish or about their credit card bills and speeding tickets. Christmas letters are just the trailer, not the whole movie.
I told my friends they’re taking the fun out of the holidays by setting their expectations too high. I gave up on a perfect holiday long ago. Maybe it was the year my oven quit working right before I was set to serve Christmas dinner to a dozen people. Or the year I didn’t get my Christmas shopping done and wound up buying five gift cards on Christmas Eve.
Or maybe it was the many years we struggled to wrestle our giant artificial tree up two flights of stairs and out of its box with my husband giving directions and me whining about them. Then we had to reverse the process after Christmas, quashing any goodwill we might have developed during the holiday season.
Whatever the case, no one who spends Christmas at my house would accuse me of spoiling the holiday with overly high expectations. For one thing, we gave away our artificial tree because it was taking all the joy out of Christmas.
We don’t put Christmas lights on our house either. Some of my neighbors light up their homes like Las Vegas. It’s magnificent. I hung a wreath on our door. It’s not so magnificent. Do I let that make me feel inadequate? No, I do not. Anytime I want, I can look out my window and enjoy my neighbors’ lights. I also get a kick out of watching them put them up and take them down.
And I don’t let other people’s Christmas letters make me feel dull. I just remind myself of some wise words I once heard: Compare and despair. And anyway, they’re probably lying. I know that’s what I’d do if I ever got around to writing a Christmas letter.
I have fond memories of childhood holidays too. But when I get nostalgic about Christmases past, I remind myself that nostalgia is just the sense that everything was better if it happened so long ago I can’t remember it accurately.
For a happier holiday, I recommend lowering your expectations. Christmas is still Christmas if you serve cookies from a bakery and ham from a deli. It’s still Christmas if you run out of ideas and buy socks for everyone on your gift list. And it’s still Christmas if you forget to put stamps on your Christmas letters and they all come back postage due.
Be kind to yourself this holiday season. You’ll need your strength for New Year’s resolutions.
Dorothy Rosby is the author of ’Tis the Season to Feel Inadequate; Holidays, Special Occasions and Other Times Our Celebrations Get Out of Hand and other books. Contact her at www.dorothyrosby.com/contact.