With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas looming ahead, the holiday season is officially in full swing. I hope your Thanksgiving was a big grand, Norman Rockwell-esque celebration, with food straight out of Martha Stewart’s oven, lively conversation, with the whole family gathering after the meal in front of a roaring fire, mugs of hot chocolate in hand.
But what if it wasn’t? What if your celebration was clouded by an illness, a job loss, a chair that will be empty this year and every year in the future? What if your table had a chair that was empty because someone chose not to join you because of hard feelings? What if part of your family is divided now, and you have to divide your holiday in half?
Maybe your holiday didn’t look like you thought it would. Maybe you sighed a sigh of relief when it was over. Perhaps you thought, “It could have been worse.” Maybe the thought the family dinner at Christmas in a few weeks makes your stomach sink.
Over the past few years, I have come to realize that in my own life, sometimes the big moments will be messy, chaotic and stressful. I have decided that sometimes the small unscripted moments in life are the ones to really treasure. It doesn’t really matter what the activity is, as long as you’re sharing an experience with those you love.
Especially for those of us that are parents, we want to give our children a magical, delightful childhood, and when plans go awry, we can feel like it’s our parenting skills that aren’t measuring up.
Was there an event that you looked forward to for ages, and when the time actually came, it fell a little flat? Proms and weddings come to mind as rites of passage that sometimes don’t live up to our picture perfect expectations. Holidays can be the same way, especially when you throw into the mix extended family, differing opinions, emotions on edge, and situations beyond your control.
I don’t have any secret solutions to all lifes problems, and I sure don’t have a magic wand to wave, but I do have two tiny pieces of advice.
The first is to be thankful for something. There is someone, somewhere in the world that is envious of something you have. Whether it’s basic necessities such as clothing, shelter and food, or other luxuries, such as an education, access to a library, medical services, or technology that makes your life easier, if you are reading this, there must be something in your life to be grateful for.
The second is to shift your ideals and expectations away from one big event, and enjoy the smaller moments in life.
Instead of setting up a whole month of getting ready for one day, why not celebrate the whole month by doing something memorable every day? Then, if you have a picture perfect Christmas Day, great, that’s the icing on the cake. If you don’t, you still have a month of other wonderful memories to look back on.
When I adjusted my own thinking to focus on the smaller moments, it really helped me gain perspective on the imperfection of the bigger events. We are constantly surrounded by pictures of perfection on pinterest, in magazines, in the media. We can choose to focus on the glass being half empty, or half full.
Maybe was the Thanksgiving where Sally and Suzy were openly fighting about which is better, homemade stuffing or stuffing from a box, and the whole family was visibly uncomfortable because of the bickering. You can file it in your memory that way–the Thanksgiving stuffing battle, or it can be remembered as the Thanksgiving that you made homemade pumpkin pies with your kids, paid for the person’s meal in the car behind you in the drive thru on the way home, and stayed up late playing Monopoly as a family.
You probably have no control over Sally and Suzy’s fighting, but instead of letting that define your Thanksgiving, you can create other memories that are enjoyable, and relish those small moments.
One great way to do that during the Christmas season is by making an advent calendar. An advent calendar is something I’ve always meant to do, but never got around to doing. I was inspired by Breanne at This Vintage Moment, and Tsh at The Art of Simple, and made my own.
I actually had ours ready to go by December 1 (I finished it late on November 30!), but if it’s something you want to do, just start now and countdown the days starting today. Or get it ready now and count down the 12 days of Christmas. Next year it’ll be ready for you to pull out on December 1. We’ve always written a Christmas bucket list, just a simple list of things that we really want to do, so that we don’t get overscheduled, and know what to say yes and no to.
Our advent calendar is essentially the same thing, a list of things we would do anyway. I write the activity on a sticky note and put it into the day we’re going to open on that day. There’s no way that I could plan out a month of activities in advance, so doing it one day at a time lets one day be, drink hot chocolate, and another day be, drive around and look at Christmas lights, or build snow men.
We have the ability to choose joy, regardless of our circumstances. Trust me, I know it can be hard, but deciding you’re going to have a good holiday season, regardless of outside circumstances, is half the battle. Finding small pleasures each day stretches out the holiday season, and takes the pressure off of having one huge overstuffed day.