The holiday season is full of lights, joy, and generous spirits. It is also full of expectations, traditions, and family tensions. Even those of us with loving, happy families will experience some sort of stress around the holidays, and it’s usually because we don’t do a very good job of managing our expectations this time of year. We tend to find ourselves doing everything we can for a perfect holiday, which, frankly, is not achievable. With Christmas Day nearly upon us, I wanted to spread some helpful advice for managing the holidays, and keeping the peace.
The tips I have here are not perfect, and there will likely be a slip-up, a moment of awkwardness at the dinner table, and some stress. However, the most important thing here is to manage expectations. When I think about holiday stress, I’m reminded of this blog post from Jen Hatmaker about her daughter Remy who suffers from “sabotaging Big Days”. Remy builds up Big Days, like holidays and birthdays, inflating expectations which can never be reached. So when the Big Day comes around, she has a melt down and thus “sabotages” the Big Day. Of course, if you’re an adult, your experience might not be so dramatic as Remy’s, but there are lessons to be learned from this. (PS. If you’re a parent of a child like her, Jen has some fantastic advice to share in that post.)
To avoid Big Day Sabotage, and have a peaceful holiday, read on friends…
Lower your expectations
The most important thing to do (right now!) is to deconstruct the vision of the holiday you’ve built up in your head. We all do it, usually subconsciously, and it’s working against us. Take a moment to reflect, and even write down, what we envision for this holiday season. It might be having the perfect music playing in the background, a list of movies you have to see, or a total lack of any trials or tribulations. Strike it all. If there’s beautiful music, great. If your family wants to see the same movies, great. If everyone is happy the entire time,
please trade families with me you’ve achieved perfection (seriously, it is an impossible ideal). Look, we love our families, but there’s absolutely no way that everyone can live up to all of our expectations, 100% of the time, ever.
Set your expectations lower. Plan what you can, and let the rest fall into place. There are many personalities under one roof during the holidays, and they all have different ideas. Lowering your expectations doesn’t mean you can’t do fun things. It just leaves room for joy to happen on its own.
Avoid politics (and other awful topics)
There are very few families in which each and every person not only enjoys politics, but also completely agrees on every single point. There is exactly one person in the entire world with whom I enjoy discussing politics, and that person is not blood related. It’s just not a fun topic! People get very defensive about their beliefs (political, religious, etc.) We’re also in the midst of a particularly dramatic election season, so these topics are even more likely to come up. Softly steer the conversation away. If you’re able to change the subject, great. For a particularly pushy relative, let them know that you’d rather not discuss politics and suggest happier topics. Still not working? Leave. Offer to help with dishes (or excuse yourself for another drink) and don’t dwell on it.
Do something for someone else
When it comes down to it, the holidays are not about you, but about generosity and love. If things start to feel tense or you feel let down by something, do something for someone else. Strike up a fun game with your niece and soak up the smile on her face. Let your sister choose the movie. Do the dishes for your mom. Trust me, by the end of it, you’ll feel so much better and may have even forgotten about the original problem.
Avoid the comparison game
In our social media-obsessed society, the comparison game is a tough one. When we scroll through Instagram or Facebook, we are seeing lots of different people’s highlights, but our mind tends to compile all those highlights into one big experience. Remember that every person has a highlight, and focus on your own. Maybe your friend got engaged, but you don’t know the rest of her holiday. Her mother may have missed her flight to visit and she’s missing out on family time. You don’t know everything about others’ experiences, so don’t assume that the one highlight makes their entire experience better than yours. If you’re really struggling with this, opt to stay off social media entirely. You should be clocking some face-to-face time with family and friends (or even just yourself! That’s okay!) right now anyway.
Remember the true meaning of the holiday
Nothing works better than reminding yourself what the holiday is all about. Hint: It has nothing to do with gifts, music, or your brother’s rude girlfriend. Remember that Christmas is about the birth of our Savior, and the season is about love. Look for the love, let go of the rest.
And when your mom nearly burns the meal, refill her wine glass, make her laugh about it, and praise that delicious roast til she smiles again.