Do you dream of the perfect Christmas?
Yes, the one in which the presents are all bought and wrapped early, hand-made Christmas cards have been sent to loved ones, every cherished family cookie recipe has been lovingly baked to enjoy and share, and holiday meals are picture-perfect and stress-free. Furthermore, everyone is happy, healthy and relaxed; there are no personal conflicts nor family idiosyncrasies. And there’s even money left in the bank. Everyone is focused on the true meaning of the season, both with appropriate solemness and ecstatic joy.
Well, that’s not entirely true.
It all started when I was a youngster, growing up in my middle-class southern Ontario home in the country. My Dad was a teacher and my Mom enjoyed the blessing of being able to mostly stay at home. Christmas was big at our house, though not necessarily expensive. But as a child, it felt almost “perfect”.
Traditionally, on December 1st, my sister Rebecca and I would come home from school to a magically transformed Christmas wonderland. The house would be decorated from top to bottom by our mom with love, care and many hand-made ornaments.
We would go together as a family to pick a tree early in the month, and take time to festively decorate it together.
Mom would bake her traditional fruit-cake (a nice, light, white version), and batches of sugar and shortbread cookies. We would sometimes help her cut out the shapes and always enjoyed decorating them together.
She also shopped early and wrapped early. Christmas cards were sent out to loved ones each year.
We attended church services, Christmas parties, went caroling and enjoyed a lot of good family time together; one of the benefits of the holiday breaks in the teaching profession.
Fast-forward about twenty years to the beginning our our married life. I am working full time in a bank and we do not yet have children (or pets), but our days are full.
I have tried to maintain the standard. I have both feverishly and joyously kept as many Christmas traditions as I could. I have loved most of it, disliked parts of it, but almost always exhausted myself.
I henceforth started another post-holiday tradition of pushing myself to the point of having an almost annual case of laryngitis.
Now just to keep things clear, there was no-one asking me to do all this stuff. I wasn’t even trying to live up to anyone else’s Christmas expectations. I just love everything about the holiday, and wanted to do everything that I had experienced and loved as a child.
And it was all good.
For my parents’ lifestyle, it worked. But for us, it needed a little tweaking.
My husband would often say to me that I should just “let some things go”, but the difficult thing I have always tried to explain is that I don’t want to let any of my beloved Christmas festivities and traditions go. So for more years than I can count……I just kept up as best as I could, enjoying it for the most part, but exhausting myself and losing just a little of the true meaning of Christmas in the process.
Well, times have changed over the years. Eventually we bought a house, adopted a couple of cats, and started our own family.
Now we also wanted to make Christmas special for our children. We, as most parents do, wanted them to experience all the joys that we held as dear memories.
So over the years, I have learned some things.
I have learned that there are some things you just have to let go.
What I didn’t realize by holding on to every last tradition was that I was letting go of something else…..my health, my sanity, my peace, or just a few more moments to sit relaxing, enjoying my family and reflecting just a little longer on what God really meant for Christmas to be.
I don’t regret all of those years. And when I’ve given up “completing” a loved tradition, it’s a sacrifice emotionally, at least. But hopefully it has given back something more meaningful to me and to those I love. I pray that I am caring a little more for myself now, and more importantly, seeking to understand and experience the God of Christmas in a deeper way.
This Christmas, I find myself in a life season of change.
After still being on the recuperating end of several years of upheaval in my husband’s work, and then going through several job changes for myself this past year or two, I am once again between jobs.
When I first heard I might be laid off from my last little part-time, physically demanding yet mentally refreshing job, less than two months before Christmas, I thought that it would be good timing. I figured I could do what I needed to in order to look for work, then enjoy the extra time to really get ready for the holidays.
Well, at times it’s been wonderful, but being in a season of unknown and unexpected transition is not always the most fun nor the most productive time.
So as December days quickly passed and Christmas drew closer, I have surprisingly ended up being more behind than I expected, especially given my less busy schedule. Granted, I am not so exhausted as I have been most years. I have had more quiet moments to reflect, pray and try to discern the next steps in my life. So that’s an improvement.
But many days have brought emotional disappointment this Christmas as well. I have often felt overwhelmed with responsibilities or just discouraged that things haven’t all been done according to my ideal Christmas plan.
I’ve learned to accept my imperfect Christmas.
This year I have sent my Christmas cards late…. but I did enjoy making them from scratch.
I have only baked a couple of little batches of cookies…..but we seem to have plenty of sweets.
We said “no” to some events that may have been fun or meaningful….but we’ve said “yes” to spending time together as a family, not needlessly tiring ourselves, and purposefully celebrating the Advent season.
We have tried to do what is important.
And on this Christmas Day, I can honestly say it’s been good. We have enjoyed each other and remembered the greatest gift of all. I haven’t really missed out on anything of lasting value.
Things have not turned out entirely as expected for me this Christmas, but I’ve been reminded lately that the first Christmas didn’t turn out “perfectly” either.
The people in Jesus day were waiting for a Messiah, a leader who would take over and make things better. They did not expect a helpless baby to save them.
Jesus was a king who should have been born in a large, lavish home, or at least a nice “average” dwelling, but instead he came in a smelly animal shelter and slept in a feeding dish.
His coming should have been announced by important people and to important people. Instead shepherds, the least trustworthy persons in their society, were the first to hear the good news.
The people around him didn’t even notice him enough to provide a suitable place for his birth, but foreigners from a place far away left their homes and devoted their lives to following a star to find him.
So maybe we should spend less time striving for that “perfect Christmas” and more time asking the Perfect One to bless our “imperfect Christmas” with His presence.
Three Ways to Celebrate Christmas Imperfectly
Here are three simple ways to have a meaningful but “imperfect” Christmas:
1. Let go of some things.
You don’t have to do everything.
Prioritize the things that are truly important. This should include some things that are important to you, your family and others (roughly in that order), but not all of them.
Even if it’s a sacrifice because you love to do it all, DON’T! You will pay for it in another way.
One thing I’ve learned is that just because you give something up one year (such as sending out cards or baking that extra recipe…or two or more), that doesn’t mean you can’t include it again next year.
If it really has little or no meaning to you, just cross it off the list for good. Maybe you see most of your friends and family at Christmas or connect with them on social media, so you’ve no desire to send cards.
2. Do most things imperfectly.
You can do a lot more of your favorite Christmas activities if you learn not to be a perfectionist.
Most jobs or fun things can be done quickly with satisfying results.
If given the choice between the “perfect” outdoor light display (not happening), or throwing a few strings on the bushes when there is a minute (and preferably a warmer day), I’ve learned to accept the second choice. I still enjoy lighting up the darkness of winter and the sparkle and celebration of Christmas lights.
3. Enlist/accept the help of others.
Ask (nicely) for the help of your family and accept help when offered.
Refrain from controlling or “correcting” what your loved ones do for or with you. (Don’t ask me how I know this one; just trust me.) It will take some of the pressure off of you, allow them to feel like an important part of the celebration, and let them know you trust and appreciate their aide.
If your children (or even your husband) don’t decorate the tree exactly the way you’d like it, don’t redecorate it after they go to bed.Just let it go and enjoy their effort and the little bit of free time it creates for you.
There are many more ideas we could share, but I hope this gives you a start to enjoying your “imperfect” Christmas celebration with a little more freedom and a lot more love.
What things do you do to create balance during the holidays?