Oh, the Holidays. The tensions of the season. To be a snowy white Christmas, but the forecast is hot and humid. To find the PERFECT gift, but managing the traffic and the hour-long confines of a lunch break. Striving for those fitness goals before your sweet but brutally honest grandmother makes some well-intentioned comment about that stubborn baby weight. To have life all figured out in anticipation of all the what-are-you-doing-these-days questions during incessant catch-up conversations.
Beyond the silly pressures and expectations of the holidays, there can be deep human pain. For me, Christmas has been full of highs and lows…
In 2006, I get engaged at Disney World on Christmas Eve’s eve, and I’m ON TOP OF THE WORLD. But at the same time, my soon-to-be sister-in-law is grieving deeply for her mother. It is the third Christmas without her, and the absence, heightened during the holidays, is overwhelming.
A couple of years later in December, I suffer a miscarriage. It is my first pregnancy and as we decorate our tree, I look at an ornament gifted to us, Husband and Wife bears, with Wifey bear sporting a huge belly bump. I sob and decide it’s still worth hanging on our little Christmas tree in the corner of our apartment. That same year, I travel to DC to spend the holidays with my sister and her healthy, nine month pregnant belly. While still physically recovering from my own surgery, I’m now faced with an up-close visual of what I’ve lost.
Thankfully, overt trauma isn’t always a part of the holidays, but still, the smaller things can surely haunt us in a similar fashion.
For example, courageously attending that holiday party or family get-together, and in the midst of having a good time, you realize you’re stumbling into a minefield of shame, via the questions of friends and family…
“Your instagram makes your life look so perfect… it’s suprising to hear you’re actually dealing with so much.”
“Your 3 year old still sucks on a paci, drinks a bottle, and sleeps in a crib? You need to get rid of all that baby stuff! A.S.A.P!”
Ugh… these tensions, common in everyday life and further escalated by the holidays. We all crave the PERFECT Christmas, with all the right moments, perfect memories, and effortless interactions. No drama, no fuss, all holiday spirit and champagne toasts. Where love and kindness abound between friends, family, and maybe even foes. And our lives can be displayed gloriously, #nofilter necessary.
And somehow, every year, I still strive for this far-from-reality perfection.
I get sucked back into this vision of me as a perfect mom, wife, and holiday hostess. How can I make the holidays perfectly “magical” like they’re supposed to be, like I see in the movies and hear in the classic Christmas songs on the radio? Maybe I need more strategy for my elf on a shelf? More homemade gingerbread houses for the kids to decorate? Extended romantic Christmas dates with my husband (like life pre-kids)? Or maybe just more trips to Michael’s for all those crafty gifts I have no idea how to make. Maybe I can go on a 10-day juice cleanse for that extra baby weight. Wait, which gifts are for which kid’s??? I’m forgetting everything like my mom used to!! ? How can my kids have THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER with our budget… we’re screwed. They get just as many questions as we do during the holidays, instead of how their careers are going, they get “what’s Santa bringing you this Christmas?” We might as well schedule them counseling January 1. Maybe that should be their biggest Christmas gift… the gift that keeps on giving after all this is over with. ?
And through all the pressures, expectations, and tensions, I’m learning what my soul craves is to be set free from my need for perfection.
My soul needs a break from this imitation “Christmas”, the Christmas we humans have created. This substitute of a holiday stresses me, overextends me, and if I’m not careful, blinds me to the true reason we celebrate. Imitation Christmas forces me into extremely vulnerable positions. Positions where shame-triggers are heightened through social gatherings, overeating, and overspending. I find myself in spaces where I feel “lesser than” and where I fear judgment. I ask myself all sorts of questions in these sticky places: Am I a good enough host— did I make others feel at home? Am I a good mom — am I being a fun adventurer? or a boring nag? Am I a good wife — did I lift my husband’s burdens this week and affirm him well? or did I wallow in all of my to do’s and fears of inadequacies? Am I a good Christmas planner — did I think through all the right gifts & recipes?
Yikes— how did I arrive at such an anxious, insecure state? How did I ever allow myself to buy into the idea of these counterfeit standards? Rather than giving up when I fail to achieve the perfections demanded by Imitation Christmas, I find myself trying even harder, striving for even more… more performance, more approval, more shopping, more juggling. Anything to avoid the truth — that I’m terribly insufficient, flawed, and inadequate.
But the irony of it all is that this Imitation Christmas we’ve created robs our souls of the joy and peace the True Christmas came to give us.
You see, True Christmas is the antidote to it all. True Christmas is the message that, yes, we are NOT good enough. We never will be. We won’t be able to perform our way out of this, and we’ll never attain the level of perfection we seek, in every area of life. But in spite of all of our imperfections and flaws, True Christmas tells us this…we. are. loved. We are worthy and we belong, just as we are. In all of our glorious mess. True Christmas embraces mess. It was birthed in the messiest of all places, enjoyed the company of the messiest of all society, and gave everything to clean up the mess of this world, our world, once and for all.
What a relief.
So, this Christmas, I’m doing my best to let go. To laugh off the expectations. To embrace the messy. And to allow myself to celebrate and enjoy True Christmas… it is truly the most magical holiday of all. I sure hope you’ll join me.
The weary world rejoices,