How Learning to Let Go of Expectations Made My Holidays Better

I am the queen of holiday dreams, plans and expectations. As soon as Christmas decor starts filling my local Target, I start having visions of perfect evenings spent sipping cocoa by the fire, or all my friends and neighbors, dressed in coordinating holiday sweaters, singing carols around our living room piano. The thing is, none of these “perfect” holiday scenes ever happen quite like I imagine them. And I can forget a white Christmas, seeing as it only snows a handful of times each winter, where I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

So many times, I’m left feeling disappointed around Christmas time, and no matter how hard I try, I always end up feeling a little lost and like I know what Charlie Brown was talking about. And though most everyone can lament the fact that the holidays have became a “commercial racket,” I believe there’s a remedy for this feeling of being let down or underwhelmed: acceptance, mindfulness and gratitude.

Hear me out; I’m not talking about meditating away feelings of disappointment, or simply listing out your blessings, both immaterial and temporal. (Although both of those things will likely help!) I’m talking about adjusting your set of holiday expectations, and seeing and appreciating the things around you that are real, good, and even holy, whether or not your front yard looks like the inside of a snow globe.

For me, this begins with accepting what is not usually a picture-perfect holiday setting. Though I do my best to create a calm, cozy atmosphere at home, I have three kids ages 5 and under, and with their precious little lives comes constant mess and a fair amount of chaos. Add to that two extended families to see, travel logistics, busy schedules, and endless to-dos and my idyllic Christmas next to a crackling fire gets lost among obligations and sometimes less-than-ideal situations. But this year, I’ve been already practicing a new mindset concerning my quest for holiday cheer, and it’s definitely proving to be more fulfilling.

What puts you in the Christmas spirit?

Each time the noise level in my house gets above a certain decibel, or I feel frustrated at the lack of time to get things done, I’ve been taking a moment to just accept what’s in front of me. I look at my reality, and instead of lamenting all the ways my holiday season isn’t stacking up to my self-imposed picture of perfection, I’m choosing to be thankful for the good that I do have.

I tend to be frustrated with a lack of order, and let’s face it, pretty much everything about Christmas with three kids and a large extended family to visit feels a little disorganized. Instead of sighing and wishing for the end of this beautiful season, I’m taking a minute to actually thank God for blessing me with people to love and serve and the means to do so. Can I give everyone in my family the most extravagant, personalized gifts? Well, no. But I can give kindness, love, acceptance of them for who they are, and most importantly, let them know I’m thankful for them.

In addition to coveting a mega-cozy, Hallmark-movie worthy Christmas “feeling” or setting, it can also be easy to put unrealistic expectations on others during the holidays. As a mother, I want my kids to be extremely grateful for all the amazing things about Christmas, and sometimes I expect them to gush with gratitude for the gifts they receive. I want all my friends to be together in perfect holiday harmony. I want my extended family to agree on how we spend time together, and I definitely want everything to be conflict-free. But honestly, people are messy, and the holidays tend to bring out both extremes in many of us. Instead of getting angry or disappointed that things don’t meet my expectations, I’m working on mindfully accepting whatever situations I find myself in, and finding ways to be thankful for the good in everything.

I know that my Christmas morning will probably look nothing like the serene and perfectly staged scenes I see in movies or on Instagram, and I’m ok with that. Each time I feel a little twinge of disappointment, I’m immediately reminding myself to go back to reality, accept what I have been given, and respond with thankfulness. This, I believe, is the only way to have a perfectly, imperfect holiday.

Originally published on December 19, 2018.

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