Expecting Joy at the Holidays
The Holiday Season is upon us! Let us rejoice and be glad! I trust that you all have your shopping done, your gifts artfully wrapped, your super-cute cards all addressed and sent, the custom-made, matching outfits for your children all pressed and hanging in the closet, your meals cooked ahead, and your homes all prepared for guests. You’ve got that all knocked out, right? No sweat? Then come on over to my house and help me get started, I’ll provide the wine.
But seriously, I love the holidays. I do. And I’m not entirely behind on the to-do list, I promise. The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s are some of my very favorites each year. The decorations, the food, the gatherings, the music (Oh, the MUSIC! I start in October out of necessity because there is so much Christmas music I love!), and of course, if you’re me, the Advent celebrations of the impending birth of my Savior. Love. It. All. And becoming a mom has added a whole other layer to it- it has become infinitely better and infinitely harder at the same time.
Now that I’m the mom, the whole entirety everything about my family’s holiday season feels like revolves around me and that is simultaneously thrilling then petrifying. I LOVE being the one to put up the decorations, initiate the hot chocolate Christmas light rides, light the smelly candles and put on the Christmas music, read the books about snow and Santa and Jesus, stay up late on Christmas Eve to lay out all the toys and gifts, etc. But at the same time, the magic of the holidays is BIG and IMPORTANT and I feel responsible not only for making sure it’s magical for my kids, but fulfilling for their very doting grandparents as well.
Fortunately for me (although I did not recognize the blessing at the time), my first two Christmases as a mom set the bar pretty low. Our first Christmas, Cam was 9 months old and we were still living in our two-bedroom condo with painfully insufficient space. It seemed that everything you could gift to a nine-month-old took up space, which meant that not only did I have no idea what to get my own child for Christmas, I had to send emails to both sets of grandparents asking them to please limit what they bought him for Christmas due to our lack of space to put it all. For the FIRST GRANDCHILD on BOTH SIDES his FIRST Christmas. Bless their gracious hearts. Then a few weeks before Christmas, Cam hit an epic sleep regression (that would hold on until March, by the way) and a few days before Christmas, an icy weather forecast shaped up to where my parents couldn’t make the trip to be with us. So Christmas morning, Jeff and I sat alone in our condo with our child opening presents he wasn’t particularly overwhelmed with, sleep deprived and shell-shocked as if he were a newborn with no energy or desire to do much else other than lay on the couch and struggle to keep our eyes open. I feel desolate just thinking about it.
The next year, Cam was pushing two years old and I was in my first trimester of pregnancy with Kenzie. We had a house with space, more ideas for presents, more room to store whatever the grandparents wanted to give, but I felt HORRID and was probably the most exhausted I have ever been in my entire life. Oh, how I wanted to be bustling around baking cookies, planning an elaborate holiday spread, looking at Christmas lights, artfully wrapping presents...but really, food didn’t sound good, I could barely get off the couch to keep my child alive and feed my family. Festive Christmas puttering was out of the question. And I think I had to beg out of almost all of the family events on my husband’s side, it felt like I was failing at EVERYTHING that year.
The beauty of having my first two Christmases as a mom fall staggeringly short of expectations was that it launched me headlong into the work of adjusting my holiday expectations early in my motherhood journey. Rather than being Super New Mom, obsessively controlling every little detail of my son’s first holiday so that it was EXACTLY like I thought it should be, I had no choice but to sit back and let the chips fall where they may- and you know what? It ended up being good for our family. I mean sure, I don’t have super blissful memories of that first Christmas, but holidays like that are the stuff that real life is made of and what families are built on. We are stronger for having had that Christmas.
The second year, my husband had a chance to come through and be the Holiday Hero. He put up Christmas lights on our house just because he knew it would make me happy. He helped with the wrapping (which became a tradition after that), finished cooking almost every meal when I got tuckered out, and basically carried our whole family of three and a half through that holiday season by sheer brute strength and willpower. Again, the stuff that families are built on.
And the last couple of years, when Christmas has been easier, it has been all the sweeter for us having been through that. I still struggle with expectations. I feel the weight of not only my expectations, but those of others as well. I want to make sure EVERYONE gets a Christmas card, people get gifts that are thoughtful and honoring, and that we find the right balance between attending all of the holiday events our extended family wants to see us at while still keeping time for our little family of four and not having such a frantic pace. It’s hard, especially for an Only Child married to an Oldest Child- a couple of achievers and pleasers by nature.
But I’ve discovered that the more I let go, the more joy can creep in. The more of a stranglehold I keep on things, the more of a list I keep, the more expectations I place on myself and our holidays, the less happy I am with the outcome and the less merry and bright things are. It’s a constant dance trying to keep my expectations in check, keep the Supermom cape on the rack, and keep my dreams of holiday celebrations realistic, but it’s worth doing.
So let’s throw our expectations in the fire with the Yule Log (if you don’t have a fireplace, I’m pretty sure you can find a Yule Log on demand on cable or YouTube) and let those suckers burn. Whatever is weighing you down this holiday season, let it go up in smoke. Is money tight and the pile of presents isn’t as high as you wish it was? Burn, baby, burn. Are you unable to travel to see family or they can’t come see you? Up in smoke. Family relationships, either immediate or extended, threatening to ice over the festivities? Let it burn and kiss the smoke goodbye.
Let’s let our holidays this year be what they are and rather than looking for what we think we’d like to see or what we think we SHOULD see as we look at our holiday season. Let’s look for the joy that’s already hiding there. Little pockets of joy, of strength, of the stuff that life is made of, of gifts that only this season can give. It’s not always easy, some years the holidays are just going to be a hot mess and there’s nothing we can do about it. But let’s not burden ourselves with the shoulds and the wish-it-woulds, let’s just lean into what support systems we’ve got, even if it’s just a glass of wine or a cup of tea, and let our expectations fly.
Wishing you a Season filled with unexpected joy, one that will make you stronger and remind you, in one way or another, of all of the blessings and gifts in your life.