Holiday, Personal

Setting Realistic Expectations for the Holidays

Something that I have struggled with in the past is setting realistic expectations for the holidays. It’s easy to hop on Instagram and see beautiful trees, decorations, elegantly-wrapped presents, and feel that you are lacking because your presents look like they’ve been wrapped by a wildebeest (true story, I am terrible at wrapping presents. Even books. And they are just rectangles.) It’s also easy to set such high expectations for the holidays and find yourself getting unreasonably stressed, or anxious, or even angry when you fail to reach them. It’s also so, so easy to feel jealous.

Over the past few years, I’ve taken this goal to set realistic expectations very seriously. I want to make the holidays memorable, but in the right way–not marred by disappointment, but filled with the things that matter–family, friends, celebration, love. So this year, as in previous years, I’m setting realistic expectations. A good deal of that involves keeping things simple–reusing cherished decorations, focusing on things I do well, making good food (but good food that I know how to make). Getting someone else–namely, our wonderful local shops–to assist with present-wrapping. Making lots of lists of everything I will need. Creating a celebration that works for us, and that isn’t designed for public consumption. I’m specifically thinking about our tree, here. I love our Christmas tree ornaments–each has a special memory attached to it, and they were all chosen because members of our family loved them instead of them just “going” together, like if they were all the same shade or type of ornament. While the lure of a beautiful, cohesive, aesthetically pleasing tree is always there, in the end, that wouldn’t make me happy (and it wouldn’t make any of us happy, actually!) It’s so special to be able to cherish our memories and be reminded of Christmases past, and the people who are no longer with us. And I’m skipping the things I’m not good at and that we don’t need anyway! There’s no requirement to add extra stress when it’s a small family gathering, and I’d far rather have pictures with everyone smiling than picture of, say, a tablescape it took me six hours to put together. (I’m not whimsical enough to set a table with beautiful decorations; I’m more of the simple-is-best type in this department!)

I’m so excited for a peaceful and quiet holiday season here at home, and I’m so thrilled to know that I will be enjoying it–and being present during it!–with my family. I’m eager to see how everyone else celebrates the holidays when they choose to share, but this year, I’m looking at it as a glimpse into someone else’s traditions, instead of feeling like I’m lacking because my gifts are less-than-ideally wrapped. It’s the thought that counts, and this year, I’m putting good thoughts into the world!

How do you avoid the holiday comparison game?

8 thoughts on “Setting Realistic Expectations for the Holidays

  1. I think one of the best things you can do is to embrace the quiet and reflection that characterize Advent. Thanks to online shopping, we addressed our gift requirements quickly and easily, including things like the food bank. In order to stay fit we are not filling the house with cookies and sweets, although I did sample one of the fruitcakes I baked. We are confining decorations to changing out ivory candles for red, a few silk poinsettias (real ones are poisonous, and we half a half year old granddaughter), and wreaths on the front door and over the mantel. The tree will stay outside until a day or two before Christmas. We have a festive dinner and breakfast we love. Both are easy to make and while more than usual, will not put us on a trajectory for weight gain. We love taking late afternoon, early evening walks. We leave the TV off more, especially cable news, and read.

    1. I completely agree! I always enjoy the peaceful and quiet spirit that the season is meant to convey. It is a special time, especially when the true spirit of the season is encouraged! Moderation in all things is crucial, as you say–from food to spending to gifts to TV, etc. A nice time for reflection and preparation for the new year!

  2. It’s lovely to read your thoughts on this. I have been thinking a lot about the pressure to create a perfect (read: instagram friendly) Christmas as well – a recent opinion piece in The New York Times very aptly called it “holiday performance.” I’m trying to step back and remind myself of the true reason and spirit of Christmas, focusing, as you are, on simple, meaningful celebrations with family and friends.

  3. The overcrowding of the holiday season with events used to be the prelude to an annual meltdown for my family. I was raised in an Advent-minded tradition, but the days which actually counted for Christmas festivities were very few, after accounting for school exams and similar constraints. We rushed around from one ‘tradition’ to another, without anyone actually enjoying themselves. The status quo finally in my undergrad years when I put my foot down. I convinced my family that it was exhausting running between all the traditionally Christmas activities. Instead, we each picked the ONE Christmas tradition/activity we most enjoyed/associated with the season. By selecting fewer, but more meaningful ways of spending our precious holiday hours together, we eeked out some time for rest/reflection in an otherwise overwhelming season!

    1. Good for you! It’s definitely hard to make a shift to a more deliberate holiday season, but it’s so worth it!! I also have found a greater enjoyment in a fewer and better holiday season in every aspect 🙂 I hope you’re having a great start to the new year!

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