Long before we trim the tree and wrap the gifts and bake the cookies, we start setting our expectations for Christmas.
We imagine hugging and laughing with family.
We picture our children’s eyes aglow as they unwrap the toys of their dreams.
We dream of a holiday full of peace and togetherness and joy.
Trust me. I do it too.
But as the years have gone on, I have come to see that the holidays are not just a time of joy, but also a time of anxiety. And for me at least, much of that has to do with expectations that are too high. On the years when we try to make sure we see every single person we need to see for the holidays, we almost always walk away disappointed—or feeling drained.
And when you add children to the mix, you discover that those picture perfect moments in your imagination are about as likely as discovering Rudolph standing in your living room on Christmas morning. There will be joy and laughter, of course. But there will also be tantrums and meltdowns and tears and arguing. And not just from me.
So this year I am trying to approach Christmas in a different way. I am thinking back to six years ago when we didn’t even put up a tree. That year we traveled to China to adopt our older son and become parents. When we arrived back in Baltimore four days before Christmas, we were jet-lagged and barely had time to wrap a few gifts for extended family.
On Christmas morning our son had some terrific gifts, thanks to Santa, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.
But what he was most excited about—by far—was the banana he pulled out of his stocking. He could not believe his luck to find something so wonderful, and it was all his. He looked at it from every angle, carried it around for a while, and then bit the skin to open it. He enjoyed every bite.
Nothing could top that.
As we count the minutes to Santa’s big arrival on the most important day of the year—well, except for Easter, as my son points out to me, because that’s actually more important, Mama—I’m trying to remember that the aspects of Christmas I am most excited about, the ones I am putting so much thought and effort into, are probably not the memories I will hold onto from the day.
I’m trying to lower my expectations and look for joy in the little moments.
This Christmas—like every other—will not be picture perfect. We’ll fidget our way through Mass, argue about new toys, and never be able to fit in everyone we care about without overextending ourselves.
But I know somewhere in all of it we will find memories to treasure for years to come. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get a banana. I’ll open it myself and enjoy every bite.
I hope you do, too.