Once upon a time, I would obsess about planning the perfect Christmas. Like many of us, as a child I loved Christmas – love and attention, presents, delicious food – so of course I wanted to recreate that magic for my family. But something I have learned is that positive intentions can easily spill over into high expectations, and high expectations have a way of creating disappointment.
I remember a dark red cloud of smoke hung over Sydney during Christmas 2003 as the Canberra bushfires raged and no amount of Christmas carols or champagne were going to make that a happy Christmas. Then came the 2004 December 26 Tsunami – all the presents and games in the world could not take away the universal shock and heartache that descended upon us. 2005 was a Christmas Day like no other – an explosive argument between family members rocked the foundations I thought I had. Christmas after Christmas my bubble burst, but everything happens for a reason. Why was I exhausting myself trying to create a Disneyland Christmas when life got in the way and sabotaged it?
I reflected on what was underpinning my need for the “perfect family Christmas”, and I realised that I had a belief in “the perfect family” and that it was my responsibility to create it. That’s one heck of a lot of responsibility to carry! The following year, 2006, I let go of perfection in a big way. We didn’t ask guests, we dined on a store-bought chicken and vegetables followed by my kids’ favorite dessert – jelly! (that’s jello to any American reading this). My husband expressed his disappointment; my kids thoroughly enjoyed themselves. By the following Christmas I was divorced.
Letting go of the expectations of others and being true to oneself creates a ripple effect. No longer was I in the “perfect family”; I was not in a family at all. I became the stray guest who showed up to other peoples’ Christmas day lunches while my boys had Christmas Day with a new stepmother. This may all sound tragic, but it wasn’t. I was free! Free from the burden of my own mind that told me what Christmas SHOULD be. Free to choose what I wanted to do on Christmas Day if my boys weren’t joining me. Free to never be exhausted again. Free to say no to those who drank too much and ruined the day for everyone else.
Most of us can place high expectations on Christmas, and given that Christmas Day contains many risk factors, it’s simply crazy to have any expectations at all! Let’s explore the risk factors:
Christmas Day Risk Factors
An extended period of time with your family – I’m not sure who it was who said “If you think you’re enlightened go spend a week with your family” but he or she had a good point. Many of us are easily triggered by other family members. You don’t get to choose your relatives – family relationships can be the hardest because we have years of history with these people that can include old hurts and traumas.
Alcohol – alcohol is the fuel that will magnify any situation, inflame any wound and lower our inhibitions, as well as our ability to respond in a conscious way.
Stress – the stress of shopping, organising, travelling, socialising and, yes, wanting it to all be perfect will contribute tension, and this may in turn contribute to the need to drink more alcohol.
Gifts – there can be a negative side to gift-giving. I recall years ago my mother-in-law lavishing beautiful gifts on everyone except me. I was given a box of after dinner mints which she expected me to share with everyone after lunch. This triggered my old wound of not being important, overlooked and a low priority. For many of us, a gift that hasn’t been well-considered can bring up feelings of worthlessness.
Things beyond our control – in the last few years we have had bushfires, Covid and floods to deal with at Christmas. Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to face such things again this Christmas? But there are no guarantees. Local and world events do have an impact on all of us, particularly at this time of year when we are wishing for peace and healing.
Is it any wonder that the incidence of family violence spikes over the Christmas/New Year period?
For many reasons, some people find themselves alone at Christmas – divorce or a break-up, family disputes, geographical distance, no friends or family for support. The Christmas hype we are bombarded with every year by the media portrays the ideal Christmas where people are socialising and feeling connected. When you’re not in a position to experience such a Christmas, feelings of sadness, loneliness, shame and hopelessness are likely to be your Christmas companions. It feels like everyone “out there” is having a good time, while you’re alone and lonely.
I’ve had many kinds of Christmases since my divorce 15 years ago, but every single one of them have been joyful – NOT because they were the perfect Christmas, but because I changed my mind about Christmas.
How to change your mind about Christmas
1. Recognise the hype and the spin- we are constantly being fed the “dream” about Christmas – that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the traditional, spiritual and commercial aspects of Christmas, but don’t get overly attached to any of it.
2. Make inner peace your highest priority – do not allow anything or anyone to disturb your sense of equilibrium. See everything else as secondary.
3. Stay present – this is easier to do if you meditate. Begin the day with a meditation.
4. See time with your family and friends as a healing opportunity. Accept that you may be triggered and that “old stuff” may come up for you. Hold yourself with compassion and do not fall into the trap of reactivity. If you’re emotionally reactive, breathe and remove yourself for a time if you need to.
5. Choose to be relaxed and flexible. No matter what plans you make or don’t make, commit to being at ease and relaxed. If there are delays or changes, be flexible and go with the flow.
6. Limit your alcohol intake. Drinking more doesn’t mean you’ll have any more fun, in fact it’s likely to be the opposite. Decide on a limit, pace yourself and stick to it.
7. Allow the day to be as it is meant to be, rather than what your ego mind says it SHOULD be.
8. For adults, do a Kriskringle or no presents at all. This takes a lot of stress off everyone and is better for the planet. Make your gift goodwill to all men … and women.
9. Keep it simple. I’m not suggesting you serve store-bought chicken and jelly like I did back then, but don’t do anything that is going to cause you stress and sacrifice. You’ll resent it, particularly if things don’t go as planned.
10. If you’re spending Christmas alone – realise there are no accidents. The Universe has orchestrated this so that you can deepen into self-love and give to yourself this Christmas. Plan a day that feels good to you. You are, afterall, the most important person in your life. You may want to serve lunch to the homeless or you may prefer to give the day to yourself and nurture yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually – whatever that looks like to you. Let go of all shame,
A prayer for Christmas
Let’s all remember what Christmas is really all about. A little baby was born, and he gave the world hope and redemption. Christmas is a new beginning and an opportunity to hope for a better world and to be redeemed. Here is a prayer for Christmas.
I surrender to You this day.
I surrender to You all expectations I have about Christmas.
Please fill me with Your love and light
So that I may see things anew.
May I allow Christmas to be what it is.
And may the world and I find more love and peace.
(and Happy Birthday Jesus).