Managing Christmas Expectations

What could possibly compare to the expectations for Christmas? Certainly not Christmas. The buildup is so massive, that it typically serves to diminish the day itself.

One of my favorite X-files episodes starred Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin as Maurice and Lyda, married ghosts who had killed each other on Christmas Eve, and haunt their house every year on that night, which Mulder and Scully visit.  An exchange between the ghosts I never forgot was this:

MAURICE: Oh, of all days, why did you pick Christmas? Why not Halloween?

LYDA: Now, who is filled with hopelessness and futility on Halloween? Christmas comes but once a year.

MAURICE: You’re right. These two do seem pretty miserable. We need to show them just how lonely Christmas can be.

LYDA: Now that’s the old Yuletide spirit.

Here are a few tips to keeping your head straight and your heart open to take in as much of the holiday joy as you can.

  • Let the build-up be part of the fun. All the fun you are having buying presents, decorating spaces, finding yourself humming Christmas tunes, sharing early cards and presents with co-workers…that IS Christmas. It is part of the holiday and should be enjoyed in its own right.
  • Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are typically filled with lots of rituals, traditions, and moments of delight. Let each of them count, in their own right. It is too easy to breeze past one to the next, like a kid opening the next package before taking in and appreciating the toy they just opened. Keep that image in mind, so you can resist the urge to do the same.
  • So much of the build-up is related to the gifts. Try to remember that in truth, the presents are really incidentals. I don’t mean that the religious themes are the big thing, because I don’t think that is true for most folks. But family, friends, food, traditions, rituals, and celebration…they are the real thing. Take them in, as they are plentiful.
  • Gifts are typically the source of the greatest disappointment at Christmas time. Ironic of course since they are so plentiful. But because of the buildup, nothing could ever be enough. Remember that. This isn’t your only chance to get the things you want for the year. Christmas gifts are all extras. For more on the gluttony and greed that get activated in the holidays, check out my piece on Thanksgiving. http://www.gototherapynow.com/thanksgiving-gluttony-gratitude-and-black-friday-greed/ 
  • One of my favorite concepts from Object Relations theory (an Analytic theory) is “good enough mother”. The term was coined by D.W. Winnocott who went on to postulate that theory regarding the good enough environment, the good enough childhood, good enough parenting, and good enough therapy. Life can be a lot more satisfying when our expectation are in check.

A note to those of us that aren’t Christmas celebrators, which actually includes me! It can be hard to be inundated with other peoples’ holiday, and the assumption that you are celebrating as well. As I Jew I always hated it and was additionally offended. Then I had a chance to spend 2 sets of the High Holidays in Israel. I had a chance to feel the buildup of shared joy, being part of a large majority excitedly shopping and decorating and preparing for the holidays.  It was exhilarating.

Since Israel, I have let myself enjoy the seasonal excitement. I have joined other folks in their Christmas celebrations, and smiled and said Merry Christmas in response to their assumption that I am a Christmas celebrator. It gives me a chance to enjoy the energy of the season, and to graciously support many peoples’ favorite time of year.

Happy-enough Holidays to All!

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