The Gift of the Holidays 

The holiday season is upon us, and with that, comes a long list of holiday stressors, including (but not limited to): buying the perfect gift for everyone, wrapping that gift perfectly, having enough money to buy the perfect gift; bringing the most scrumptious side dish to your holiday party that everyone will be impressed by, eating too much of everyone else’s side dishes that are way better than yours at that holiday party, wanting to go to the gym to work off that holiday party but not having any time to do it because you are too busy buying the perfect present and going to those holiday parties; cleaning your house so that your in-laws don’t think you are a slob, digging out all of your Christmas decorations so that your neighbors don’t think you are a Scrooge, untangling your Christmas decorations because you didn’t put them away properly after last time, running to the hardware store multiple times to replace broken light bulbs and buy more nails to hang the lights with; doing all of the holiday-related things, such as having a Gingerbread House making competition, visiting the ice rink, decorating sugar cookies, sending out Christmas cards, attending The Nutcracker, walking around the Christmas market, watching It’s a Wonderful Life/The Christmas Story/Elf/Christmas Vacation/Home Alone/A Charlie Brown Christmas/The Grinch/The Polar Express.

As we all know, the problem with the holiday season is the presence of expectations–these expectations becomes the stressors that just take all of the holiday joy out of us.

A few months ago, the sermon in church revolved around a story of a woman; in her first marriage, her husband had all of these expectations for her: she must clean the house, she must prepare an elegant dinner every night, she must always have the laundry done, she must always look pristine–and these expectations eventually eroded away at their marriage–he expected her to be someone she could not, and when she did not reach those expectations, she felt invaluable, resentful, unworthy. When she wed for the second time, she realized she did all of the same tasks for her new husband, but rather than he expecting her to do them, she realized her perspective changed: she did the tasks, because she wanted to–her tasks were a labor of love–she did the laundry, cleaned the house, made dinner because it was an act of service to her new husband, rather than an expectation from the old one.

In this time of gift-giving and holiday “cheer”, I wonder how much more enjoyable this season would be if we, too, shifted our perspective from, “I’m expected to do this”, towards, “I’m grateful this is something I GET to do”.

In gift giving: I actually really love giving gifts to other people, because it allows me time to focus on and create a more intimate relationship with them; before I embark to buy the present, I get to spend time, ruminating on them as a person, what kind of things they like, how they contribute to my world, what they could benefit from, which often brings up fond memories of us together; as I am at the store, wandering the aisles and putzing around, I get to imagine them in a new way–do I think they would look better in the pink or the yellow one? should I buy the small one, and include something else, or the big one? will they need something to hang this up with?; as I’m wrapping the gift, I get to think about their future selves, and how they might use this gift to enhance their life (even if it is a bag of chocolate); and as they open my gift, we share a moment together. When I think about gift giving as not an expectation, but rather a time in which I can spend on someone else, it makes the act much more enjoyable.

Putting up holiday decorations: When we value our time for the journey that ensues, rather than the final product, I think our lives become more fulfilling–because when we dump all our of value into the final product, and our final product isn’t what we expected, then, we feel like all of our time and hard work was wasted; but, when we place the value in the journey, then the final product doesn’t matter, because value has already been expended. The value in putting up holiday decorations isn’t just the final moment when we plug in the lights (and, as in A Christmas Story, the whole house blows), but rather the time we spend humming along to Christmas tunes, sipping down hot apple cider, smelling all the aromas of cinnamon and evergreen and frosted cookie, pulling out grandmother’s old nativity set (and laughing at the memory of breaking Baby Jesus and putting him back together with toothpaste). So what if the lights are a little uneven? The joy should be found in the action rather than the product.

Attending those holiday parties: I’ve given up on worrying about bringing the perfect Christmas side dish to parties. First of all, no one ever remembers who brought what–you just kind of throw your side dish in the conglomeration, so you never have to claim what was yours until the end when the hostess is trying to send everyone home with left overs. And, even then, people are always nice to your face. We all know I’m not the best cook, I’ve definitely made some pretty interesting stuff, and yet, no one has ever told me to my face, “this is disgusting” (they very well could do that at home, but I’m happy to stay ignorant).

All in all, when you find yourself being a little Bah-Humbug this holiday season, how can you shift your perspective to bring in a little more joy? Christmas is supposed to be, after all, the most magical time of the year!

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