Questions for a Calmer Christmas

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It’s Christmas time, people, and all too often I head into this season of hope with an anxious scarcity mentality. This has to be the most perfect holiday ever, I tell myself. And usually conscious thought stops there as the emotional hyperventilating commences.

But this year, I’m forcing myself to fully explore my insane thought process. It goes a little something like this: The kids are growing up. I can’t waste these prime magical Santa years! Before I know it, they’ll be out of the house. What if they never realize how much we love them? What if they have no positive childhood memories? What if I fail in this whole parenting gig and they grow up dysfunctional, unable to carry out a fulfilling and self-sufficient life? What if they have no moral or spiritual center? What if, as adults, they’re just relieved to escape me and never want to come home? Mr. M and I will be abandoned on Christmas! We’ll be abandoned in general! Clearly, if I don’t hand-make a gorgeous Advent calendar from reclaimed pallet wood RIGHT NOW, the children will be traumatized and I will die alone and unloved.

Oh, God in Heaven. I’m uncomfortable using power tools. We are all SCREWED.

 Okay. So writing it down makes me realize that it’s crazy. And yet, this crazy and often subconscious inner monologue is exactly why I commit to too much and then berate myself for not following through (or for following through with bitter cynicism instead of oodles of genuine goodwill).

This year, I’m determined to step back from the ledge.

For me, that means visualizing my ideal future and setting specific holiday goals that will move me in that direction. Oh Kate, you might be thinking. Isn’t that a little extreme for holiday planning? Can’t you just put up some decorations, make some hot cocoa, and let Bing Crosby sing you through the season?

Theoretically, yes. I’m sure that’s how reasonable people do things. But I tend to be far from reasonable, especially during this time of year. I succumb to ridiculous self-imposed expectations, excess, and over-extension that generally sour my whole Christmas season. I’m hoping to avoid all that by having a strong vision rolling into Advent.

According to my backwards logic, I need a complicated plan to ensure that my Advent and Christmas season stay simple. (Feel free to judge that all you want. Heaven knows, I certainly do!)

So I’m stepping back from Pinterest. Instead, I’m considering my holiday plans in light of the following questions:

  • When my co-celebrants someday look back on this year and/or time, what do I want them to remember? How do I want those memories to affect their/our future? What special memories do I have regarding the holidays of my past? What can I carry over and share in the present? What memories do I want to create? How do these kinds of memories connect to my larger goals and values? How do I hope my current celebrations will influence my future and my evolving relationships?
  • What realities must I acknowledge in my holiday planning? What non-holiday obligations do I already have on my plate? Are there traditions already in place that I need to uphold? What limits do I need to respect?  How many activities, traditions, or obligations can I honestly take on while maintaining my wellness?
  • With whom do I celebrate the holidays? What are their ages, temperaments, and needs? How must I account for this as I plan? (Confession: all too often, I’ve had a “fun” experience go irredeemably south because I ignored the likely possibility that my two-year-old would, in fact, act like a two-year-old.)
  • What do we gain and what do we lose by attempting any particular holiday tradition or activity? How much time and energy will it take? What are the potential benefits of taking this on? What are the potential costs? Is this worth it? How does this tradition or activity relate to my larger goals and values? Is there another way to put those goals and values in action—and if so, would this be a better option for us at this time?
  • What motivates me to even consider incorporating a particular activity or tradition into my holiday season? Will this really add joy or other value to my life? Will it really bring joy or other value to my co-celebrants? Or am I once again making decisions with an anxious scarcity mentality? Am I “shoulding” all over myself? (Father James Martin SJ suggests of that last phrase, “Say it aloud and the negative meaning becomes clearer.”)

I’m hoping this little litmus test helps to guide my family towards a more peaceful and rewarding holiday season. Here’s hoping that some small part of it may do the same for you, dear reader!