A good friend of mine has a great story. Early in their marriage, she and her husband took a trip – I don’t remember where and it doesn’t really matter. Point is they had chosen the location because there were things to do there that interested them. The two of them are decidedly different in terms of body clocks and morning. He wakes up like my daughter, pretty much ready to go and get down to business. She, like my son, needs a little extra time to be happy about doing anything.
So the story goes that after a couple of mornings of honoring his preferred mode by getting up and going to do the cool stuff they were excited about, my dear friend began a speech when her beloved awakened her. The speech started: “What vacation means to me…” I imagine that the speech included many elements, but of foremost importance was that she be allowed to get up when she darn well pleased and linger over coffee before beginning the day’s adventure.
Why oh why am I telling you this story? Because I think this time of year can leave a lot of folks feeling very much like my dear friend, getting up before she wanted to so she could be with her sweetie doing the cool things they wanted to do. There is so much going on, and everyone wants to be together (what’s wrong with August for a get together by the way) that it’s easy to forget to honor our own ideas about what the holiday season should be like. The cool stuff is decidedly less fun when we feel that we MUST do it, or when we lose sleep for it, or when the way we do it doesn’t honor our own hearts’ desires.
During the holidays, there’s plenty of fun stuff and people. And in addition to the pressure of fun stuff and people we really do want to see, there is the added pressure of tradition. “But we ALWAYS go drive through the giant park with the Christmas lights,” “we always cut our own tree,” “we always watch this Christmas program on this day,” “we always make these cookies.” My reaction to these traditions? 1) NOBODY enjoys the park with the lights after the first 10 minutes. It’s an hour long That’s 50 minutes of meh. 2) We HAVE cut our own tree; we don’t always. We’ll see how hideously cold it is on the day. 3) But what if I don’t want to watch it? 4) Do we like these cookies? How about some different cookies? Don’t get me wrong, tradition is valuable, it grounds us, roots us to our larger family, our larger culture, and to deeper meaning, except for when it doesn’t. Someone started each of those traditions because it meant something to them to celebrate in that specific way. If it doesn’t mean something to you, or if you don’t know what it means, maybe it’s time for a new tradition.
So we’ve got social events, obligations, tradition, and Norman Rockwell. I’m using him as a stand-in for idealized notions of everything anytime. I could just as easily say Pinterest here, so if you don’t know who I’m talking about, just plug Pinterest in. We get these ideas about how a perfect holiday should look, how the house should be, what the food should look like, how we will all get along, and how happy we will all be. We will have perfectly stuffed stockings, beautifully wrapped gifts, and homemade wonders will abound. Isn’t that great? I suppose, except maybe for the one doing all THAT. What I’m getting at is our tendency to aim for perfection on the surface that misses the mark for the things that most of us really yearn for. What if instead of thinking about what it SHOULD be like, we started thinking about how we’d most like it to be?
What does holiday mean to you? If you could choose every minute of the whole thing, what would it look like?
It’s really a grand thought experiment. For me, my choosing means saying no to a few social events (with people I see elsewhere especially), timing my present buying so that I am not with hordes of people, buying less, feeling more, playing more Christmas music on the piano, choosing my gifts with extraordinary care so that I feel GOOD giving what I am giving, and accepting that for a lot of it good enough is pretty darned great. I’m on my second year with actually doing it, and I’ve discovered that people are far more flexible than I would have predicted. Many didn’t even notice my change in approach. Others were relieved that I stopped trying to be in charge of everything and making it just so. And nobody seemed to notice when I slipped away for a few minutes to catch my breath and just be alone. What’s better about all of this? I come away feeling more relaxed, more at ease, and more connected to the people around me rather than to my idea of how the day SHOULD have been. Holidays feel like holy days when we use them as an opportunity to feed our souls. What does holiday mean to you?