Christmas is less than a week away!
Regardless of what you celebrate, everyone is abuzz: parties, presents, food, family, friends. And expectations. This time of year everyone has expectations of others and of ourselves.
My friend June is just now laboring under expectations (mostly self-imposed) that she has to deliver the perfect Christmas for everyone in her family – meeting all of their expectations. I know that one well, and it’s hard not to go there. One of my ex-husband’s expectations were so rigid it almost ruined Christmas – he needed breakfast a certain way, present distribution another way, menu, table settings, dress – you name it. And yet, he complained that his father had been over-controlling about Christmas. In proving his father (now long dead) could not boss him around, he had become that same Christmas ogre.
My first child, a son, was born Christmas night years ago. In our mid-twenties, his father and I were living in a duplex in Brooklyn far away from our Tennessee families. In November my husband lost his job, so I approached my favorite holiday with mixed emotions: my joy was mingled with fear and sadness. Two days before Christmas, pregnant and unable to stand the thought of no Christmas tree, I went out into cold and found a frail little tree, marked down to almost nothing. I bought it. With no decorations on hand, I tied red curly ribbon on the branches while I listened for the first time that season to the glories of Handel’s Messiah. Two days later, my son was born.
Some years later after a divorce and second marriage, I started buying Christmas ornaments. The collection grew and so did the tree. The tree had come to symbolize that I was safe, all was OK. As in any life there were Christmases when things weren’t OK, but the tree and the lights went up, the Messiah’s majestic tones floated forth. Even the Christmas my daughter was in a therapeutic school, when I couldn’t pretend my heart wasn’t breaking, I decorated a tree. Although, all I could manage was a potted palm with five green balls inelegantly hanging from it skinny branches.
For decades I’ve been the hostess for my family’s Christmases. Last year for the first time I went to my son’s for Christmas. No tree in my house, but the garlands of green on the mantle and curling down the banister gave it that Christmas smell. A small carved nativity scene sat on the chest in the hall and a wreath with a favorite “recycled bow” adorned the front door. But no tree.
As I was setting my suitcase on the porch and locking the house behind me I realized something significant: I didn’t need the tree anymore.
Now what are my Christmas expectations? Time with family and friends, lot of music, letting my heart fill with gratitude for what IS, being in the moment with myself and those I love. That is enough. And yes, in some moments I will touch the tender melancholy of my first Messiah Christmas, when the words “unto us a Child is born” carried a double meaning. And I’ll shed a tear, recalling the Christmas morning my mother died peacefully. Then I will celebrate what is: The three friends who came for an impromptu supper, Jan playing the piano while Ann, Kathleen and I sang. The way my $10 Christmas earrings catch the light and sparkle. My wonderful assistant Joni bringing in lunch for us today. My sister Nancy stopping in Nashville on the way to her children and my other sister, Cynthia, joining us for a slumber party, while my dear love Umberto cooks and tends to us so we can talk and talk. It’s already a wonderful Christmas and who knows what’s to come?
You may be sad, anxious, angry or resentful because your Christmas expectations aren’t exactly being fulfilled—where’s that Norman Rockwell scene of a family singing, a radiant tree, gently falling snow through the window? That’s how the holiday should be! Right?
Maybe. Maybe not. Instead of longing for that … this Christmas give yourself the gift of releasing yourself and others from expectations! Because when you do…you leave space for something even better: the unexpected, and that’s a real Christmas present.
So have a great Christmas – whatever it is.
And bringing in the New Year you might take time for yourself and ask:
What expectations of myself am I ready to release?
What expectations of others?
Let me know what you discover!
May you and yours have a Merry Christmas.