Thursday, December 24, 2015

Holiday Expectations vs. Reality

One of the greatest causes of holiday blues is a lingering, stubborn insistence on wishing for holidays  to be as they were so many years ago.

You may think longingly of the time of dreamy innocence, of your childhood Christmases where you counted the days until Santa came, sang in the children's choir for Christmas Eve services, enjoyed the day with extended family so loved then and now so missed now.

You may think wistfully of your children's childhood holidays, the effort you took in making Christmas special for them, delighting in their excitement and innocence.

Or you may think of your first married Christmas and the joy you shared of so many firsts to come, so many plans, so many dreams.

None of us can go back and experience the holidays in quite the same way as we did as children or newlyweds or young parents. And, if you think about it, maybe you wouldn't want to.

No holidays, even those you remember so wistfully, were ever totally perfect.

Think of the time when your family was young and growing  and you were feeling torn between wanting to please parents and in-laws by showing up at their celebrations while wanting to create some family traditions of your own.

Think of the times during your childhood Christmases when fancy dresses grew scratchy, large family dinners were so very long and Santa didn't always bring you your fondest wish.

But life went on and what you choose to remember from those times are the best moments -- the excitement of the holiday, your mother's pies and cookies, the delicious feeling of being embraced by family.

Life may be very different now. You may have passed the pleasure of hosting the family holiday meal to an adult child with bittersweet feelings  -- feeling a special time in your life passing while enjoying being a guest. Or you may find yourself alone this holiday season. Maybe you recently lost a beloved parent or spouse. Maybe your kids are grown up and scattered nationwide. Maybe there has been a family rift that hasn't healed in time for the holidays.

There are so many things that can make this holiday seem less than merry if you're busy looking back.

What would happen if you let yourself simply be in the present?

Now is the time to notice the signs of the season all around you: the special music, the crispness in the air, the Christmas cards in the mailbox, the scents and sights of holiday treats, the warm wishes that surround you if you listen.

Now is the time to make or honor new traditions. Since the tragic death of her lifelong friend Jill, my friend Mary has made lunch with Jill's husband, now in failing health himself, a Christmas tradition. She visits him bearing his favorite guilty pleasure -- a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken --and they spend the afternoon together, revisiting the past, enjoying the present. My friends Bob and Dale host an "Orphans Holiday" dinner for friends who, like them, have no family nearby. Another friend Mike volunteers to bring cheer and tasty treats to homeless shelters. He says that this has become such a cherished tradition for him that he can't imagine spending the holiday any other way.

Now is the time to make this Christmas your own, to do what pleases you. Maybe you want to watch holiday videos. Or spend a day bundled in a quilt, reading a fat novel and eating leftover Chinese food right out of the container. Maybe you want to organize a special dinner with friends -- a potluck or a party at a restaurant. Maybe you want to spend this Christmas doing for others -- helping to feed the needy through your church or other charitable group or helping to distribute toys to sick or disadvantaged children. Maybe this quiet holiday season is the perfect time to give a loving little animal a forever home by adopting a cat or dog from your local shelter.

Now is the time to let modern technology link you to loved ones -- with Skype or FaceTime visits to share holiday cheer.

Now is the time to feel the inner peace of gratitude --for all blessings of your life, however small, however far away.

Warmest holiday wishes to all my friends in the blogosphere. However and wherever you're celebrating -- with a crowd or whether you're alone this holiday -- I send you my love and best wishes for a wonderful 2016!


  1. Yes, the "clash of fantasy and reality" can take its toll this time of year. It's good to remember that right now and right here are enough.

  2. Lovely post, so appropriate for this time of the year. I wish I had this advice long time ago.

  3. I'm linking to sixtyfivewhatnow. Your words need to be shouted all over. I hope you published on Facebook as well.

  4. This post is very much what I've experienced this year -- once again. And so far, so good. Celebrations are still celebrations (and I confess, I've loved my putter-about Christmas Eve so far with together time in an hour or two and good friends tomorrow.) We grow, we change, we remember. Merriest of Christmasses to you, Kathy. May your new year be lovely.

  5. Hi, Great post --and SO true... As we get older, we remember those wonderful Christmases that WERE..... ME? I found myself this week getting a little 'blue' mainly because it is so WARM here for December and it doesn't feel like Christmas to me... I love winter and I love snow.. But---we were 70 degrees today with MORE rain coming.... Gads.... BUT---then I got ahold of myself and thought about my many many blessings right here in front of my eyes....How silly to let the weather upset me!!!! Oh Well.

    We still watch the OLD Christmas movies and enjoy every one of them... Christmases are different these days for sure ---but we all still have our memories....

    Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  6. So true. Yesterday we drove from Tucson to San Diego to spend three days with our oldest-of-eight daughter and her husband. The four of us have said we will be doing Nothing. So far, so good!

  7. I get an idea of what old fashioned Christmas used to be from a very nice lady who writes poems reflecting her childhood. Her name is Susie, her blog name is Countryside poet. She gives me an idea why Christmas time is so precious. Simple and yet beautiful.
    Thanks for this post. Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones.

  8. Sigh....after years of no expectations and good times this past 3 years has been hard on me and having to try and remember and put into practice the enlightenment of the past. Feeling emotionally fragile today after talking with my adult daughter who is spending the holiday with her dads side of the family. I have lost it all in the recession the past few years, my job, home, life savings and am now living with friends and on medi-cal and food stamps while filing bankruptcy. This is hard enough to cope with when remembering all the happy holidays past, but my only child, a daughter age 28, that lives about 40 miles away hardly ever takes the initetive to stay in touch and this just adds insult to injury.

    We get along fine when we see each other, but she is very self centered and has offered me little emotional support or otherwise since this all went down for me a couple years ago. It is just the unspoken rule that her dads side of the family and her boyfriend take precedence this time of year, and while I have always been easy going, flexible and open to alternative days to get together, this year just feels really sad. If I still were in my own home it would be different, but living in a bedroom in someone elses home at age 56 is hardly cause for celebration. My last happy christmas was in 2011.

  9. Bah Humbug. All alone, bankrupt, living with friends after losing my work, home and life savings in the recession in 2013, and my only child, a daughter 28, that lives 45 minutes away can't even bother to make an effort to see me because her dads side of the family always gets the priority slot. I have had many happy christmases, but the last few years are not amongst them. If it weren't for my 2 cats I'd kill myself.

    Nothing like living in spare bedroom with friends at age 56, trading house sitting services and domestic work for rent after living alone for years, and having freedom and money to live a quality lifestyle. I never with no hope of financial recovery, looking forward to older middle age and old age in poverty and a self centered kid who can't bother to squeeze out two paragraphs in an email. I just read the blog on adult kids that ignore their parents.

    At least I don't feel so alone.

  10. This was a perfectly stated post and the reminders on how to enjoy the Christmas you now have were timely and important. We had a Christmas that didn't reflect the Christmas celebrations of long ago, but it was perfect for this season of life. God Bless.

  11. Very good points, Kathy. Christmas for us is still so busy there is little time to think, let alone compare - we've gone from having children here to having elderly parents here - but the time will come when it is much quieter. I'm glad I have your post to ponder and to help prepare for that time.

  12. And P. S. - thank you for all your wise posts throughout the year. All the best in 2016 to you and your husband, and your furry family!

  13. I always miss the Christmas celebrations of my youth. But it's my grandparents I miss- they went out of their way, every year, to make Christmas the most wonderful time of the year. They made sure I had everything on my list, my mother made my Christmas dresses so, no itching. It was such a happy time. I always did the same for my girls while they were growing up. The problem now is that they still expect all that and they are adults! LOL I'm comforted, every year, by my Christmas memories. I think it helps because I kept many of the same traditions alive with my girls to this very day. Always enjoy your posts! Happy New Year!

  14. Dr. Kathy I have thought of you so much these past few months and came by here a few times to check on you but had trouble leaving you a note.
    I wish I had read this wonderful post before Christmas it would of helped me manage the holidays a lot better. You always know how to lift me up when I feel down. I know many others find you a big Blessing in their life as I do.
    I have missed you and wanted to come by and wish you a very Happy New Year. May God Bless you this new year.
    Thank you for being such a dear friend.

  15. Such wisdom, Kathy. You're so right that we need to be willing to let go of old traditions (with gratitude for the pleasure they once gave us) and make new ones that fit our present stage of life. Happy New Year.