Christmas Not-So-Great Expectations
Throughout the year, people expect us to be, do or give this or that, but at Christmas this is all amplified.
The Christmas season is supposed to be about wonder and magic, about loving and giving; aspects of our lives that we’re meant to be contemplating throughout the entire year, and especially now. Yet somehow, during the holiday season it can become too easy to be swallowed up in shoulds, oughts and musts. Throughout the year, people expect us to be, do or give this or that, but at Christmas this is all amplified. The expectations rise, and we feel pressured to be more, do more, and give more. Throw in all those unbearably emotional Hallmark films and touching adverts about family members happily gathered together at long last, the fire roaring beside the dining room table that is about to break under the weight of a ton of food and fine dishes, and right away we’re set up for disaster. We bust our backsides and decorate and bake and shop and clean and wrap our brains out. We decorate every nook and cranny until our homes look like Christmas threw up all over them. We invite and entertain. We eat until we’re sick. We want it to be perfect for our families and friends. We stress about what we still have left to do, and we don’t think we’ll get it all done. But we HAVE TO! Because everyone EXPECTS IT!!!
And there’s more than just what we’re expected to do for the holiday. There are massive expectations about what we expect it to do for us, too. We want it to feel like those very moving, final Hallmark scenes. Whether we have any religious connection to the holidays or not, we pray that maybe this is the year that Christmas will work the magic we keep hearing about. Maybe this is the year that it will heal those many long-standing family wounds. So we carry on, stressing and preparing and worrying and then The Big Day arrives and we open the gifts and eat the food and see the family and friends. But it never feels like the Hallmark film or the touching advert. We feel terribly empty when that fantasy Christmas feeling just doesn’t happen and the family healing doesn’t happen either. And in fact, there may be some new scars added when, with all these extra pressures and expectations, you can add a large bowl of short fuses and a hefty helping of crushing disappointment to the menu.
This season is supposed to be a reminder of what is truly important in life, not just in our own lives but also in the lives of everyone in our community.
All of us know this, yet so many of us are on that Christmas hamster wheel, thinking that if we do more Christmas stuff, it’ll feel more like those Hallmark films and the holiday will mean even more.
But what happens is that it ends up meaning less. Dare I point out what that is really saying… it ends up “meaningless.” Ironically, it will indeed have reminded us – yet again – of what is important, but not in the way we had hoped. Not in the way we expected. It will be because we’ve heaped a ton of expectation on it and it will have let us down. Once again, we’ll have learned that despite all that insane shopping and baking and cleaning and wrapping and inviting and eating, it did not produce the magic of the Hallmark films. And we just can’t understand it. After all, we did all the right stuff. Didn’t we?
Throughout the year, we expect certain things from others and from ourselves. And we let others’ expectations of us become what we expect from ourselves, too. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s a short trip from expectation to disrespect, and then you’re a stone’s throw from disaster. Very quickly, they blend one into the other like bleeding watercolours.
Expectation is merely the mask of demand; it’s a recipe for a mess of undeserved guilt and a load of misery.
Christmas is a really huge “in-your-face” reminder not to just go through the motions in your life, doing what’s expected of you just for the sake of doing it. But remember the irony…the more you try to make Christmas be perfect, the less likely it’s going to happen. Elaborate Christmas preparations and expectations will often bring equally elaborate disappointments. In fact, the greatest Christmas joy can be found in the simplest of words and deeds.
If you stop expecting Christmas to repair all those family problems, and instead simply behave in a way that the holiday is meant to represent, you’re more likely to find the healing that you desire. If you get rid of your expectations of others and simply enjoy what their presence brings to your life – not just now, but year-round – you will be much happier. And so will they.