Getting Real: Moving Past Holiday Expectations


Tiny white lights are are twinkling on trees, joyful carols are blasting over shopping mall loudspeakers, and the kids are counting down the days – scratch that – minutes ’till the man in red arrives. You should be filled with holiday cheer, right? Instead, you just feel pressure and anxiety…and maybe even a little depressed.  Why aren’t you happy?  Maybe it has something to do with expectations – the desire to make Christmas magical for the kids, perfect for your family, and trying to stay one step ahead of everything is completely overwhelming.  Many times, we set our holiday expectations are so high that we can’t possibly reach them.  And unlike that elf on a shelf, we can’t just appear and disappear at will.

This year, I’m trying really, really hard not to get to that, “wow, that’s it…it’s over?” feeling that often sets in on January 1.  I didn’t overdo it with gifts this year (in fact, we’ve cut our list to a new all-time low) and are handing out a lot of checks and restaurant and movie gift certificates in lieu of actual presents.  Instead of multi-course meals on Christmas Eve, Christmas morning and Christmas dinner,  we’re planning something simpler this year. I still don’t know what…but I’m not putting myself under pressure to figure it out now. Worse comes to worse, we’ll take a page from a friend’s playbook and make “Ho-Ho-Hoagie” sandwiches or order Chinese food. I’m hoping that lightening my mental load of common expectations may relieve some of the holiday anxiety and, possibly, set my spirit free.

Below are a few typical holiday expectations and my thoughts on dealing with those myths.

Expectation #1: Everyone should be happy…all the time.

Commercials show happy, smiling families opening the front door to their festively decorated homes to welcome family and friends. But frequently, real life isn’t like that. Feuding family members, illness, death, financial difficulties, and joblessness, all create stress and feelings of sadness. This season, instead of getting wrapped up in what you should be feeling, try to focus on what you are feeling. Every person’s situation is unique – and it’s ok to feel whatever you’re feeling.  Take a deep breath and just be and try to focus on all the good things in your life – your partner, your kids, your pets, and whatever else you’re grateful for.

Expectation #2: I’m going to create the perfect (fill in the blank).

Forget about perfection. Consciously let it go. If you strive for perfection you’ll almost never get there. Instead, embrace the imperfections. Let the kids hang all the decorations on the bottom branches of the tree, plan simpler meals in lieu of multi-course feasts, decorate the house because you enjoy it – not because you feel that you “have” to do it.  Oh, and don’t even get me started on holiday cards…getting the picture alone can drive one to the brink of madness!

Expectation #3: They’re going to love this gift!

Some people (like me!) spend hours in the mall or online agonizing over finding the perfect gift for that special person – and setting themselves up for disappointment if the person opening the gift is not completely overwhelmed. Today, there’s so much pressure on gift-giving and so little on gratitude. In reality, if you’re struggling to find a gift for someone, that person probably has just about everything they need. More and more people are finding that giving experiences, instead of a physical gift, is often more appreciated, and more enjoyed than receiving a “thing”. And it need not be expensive! Take inspiration from what your special person loves to do – for the nature lover, book a Saturday and go for a hike and treat her to lunch. For the movie buff – purchase tickets for a local theater and go out for coffee after the show. Enjoying the moment and shared experiences deepen relationships and are much more rewarding than objects…and memories are much easier to store than sweaters!!

Yes, I still want my family to experience the magic of the season. Yes, I want them to be happy and feel that their holiday was special…and having a happy, less stressed mom will make everyone happier than a four-course meal or hand-tied bows on every package!  Plus, what a better memory than, “the year that we wore our PJ’s all day and had sandwiches for Christmas dinner!”

Wishing you all a joyful, memory-filled, expectation-free holiday!



3 thoughts on “Getting Real: Moving Past Holiday Expectations

  1. “Ho-Ho-Hoagie”! Love it. I needed to read this – thank you! I still haven’t even finished my shopping. You just gave me permission to not swear it.


  2. This is such great advice. I know that my children are looking forward to time with Mommy and Daddy, and with their cousins from afar. The rest of it is just…fanfare.

    Have a wonderful holiday!


  3. This is such good advice Ann. It’s such a crazy time and I’m really getting caught up in making it perfect for my daughter. And guess what? She really doesn’t care! She’s just excited about everything going on in general at this age, not at any amazing feats of Christmas that I’ve managed to pull off. I’ve gotta just keep remembering that!


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