I love the trappings of Christmas. Every year I vow to wait until the first day of December to kick off the Christmas season. I like to stack my Pandora with assorted Christmas music stations for all moods and occasions. I think about which favorite holiday movies I will watch this season. I anticipate wearing Christmas ties and socks and boxers. I delight in the first viewing of the jingling Hershey Kiss commercial.
Rudolph. Frosty. Charlie Brown.
Even the bell ringers outside every store.
I like the whole Christmas vibe, and I usually cave and dive into it the day after Thanksgiving. One whole month, give or take a few days, of all out Christmas immersion.But if I’m being honest, my love of all things Christmas is not all holly jolly and peace on Earth. For me, and probably lots of other people as well, Christmas is equal parts happiness and sadness. I guess that’s why some of the most revered Christmas songs are both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Have you ever really listened to the lyrics of “I’ll be Home for Christmas”? It’s a fine line between packing presents in the car for a joyous family reunion and yearning for that while eating a TV dinner all alone. I see both music videos in my mind’s eye when I hear that song.
A couple of years ago, we decided to simplify Christmas preparations by giving up our big tree for a small two and a half footer that can easily stand on a table. I had mixed feelings. Is it even legal to own Christmas ornaments if they can’t make it onto a tree??!? However, I was pleasantly surprised that our new little Christmas tree was truly beautiful. Our most treasured ornaments were prominently featured. The glow in the corner of the dark living room was just as warm and inviting as ever. I loved the little tree...but I also felt that familiar tinge of melancholy that whispers Christmas. Although I was perfectly pleased with the tree, it was hard not to focus on what was missing.
I’m working on a simple lesson. Trees don’t really matter. An entire month of the year is not a failure if another viewing of Elf doesn’t make the cut. The holidays are not supposed to be some kind of contentment quiz with a score at the end.
Because downsizing Christmas is really about downsizing expectations. I’ve realized that I can love the trappings without assigning so much meaning to every detail. How many times have I felt disappointed because I compared my reality with some manufactured set of expectations built up beforehand? All that ever did was distract me from the blessings that were already there.
I’m a work in progress on this one. Maybe Christmas will always be a blend of joy and wistfulness, celebration and sentimentality, Santa and Scrooge. Maybe it’s perfectly ok to stay in the moment and let life be exactly what it is instead of what it’s not.
I do love Christmas, but I’m releasing all the expectations around it. I’m just going to remember the Grinch. In the end he figured out what Christmas is really all about. I will, too.