Setting Lower Expectations for Holiday Peace

By: Sandy Churchill

As a type-A, anxiety-prone, over-the-top celebrator who embraces FOMO (fear-of-missing-out) like a mantra, I need my calm friends and family to keep me grounded. My partner in crime is a type-B, go-with-the-flow, even-keel spouse who rides the middle of the emotional highway without much veering into the highs and lows of my daily experience. True confession: I did not always appreciate this. In the early years of our marriage, I actually set out to ban the words “fine,” “good,” and ‘okay” from our newlywed “how was your day?” and ‘how was work?” conversations. This drove me crazy! How could your day be just “fine” or “okay,” pure and simple, with no embellishments, nothing cool to share, no venting needed? Seriously?

In my experience, chaos abounded. As a child with two brothers, three sisters, and two German shepherds, life was noisy, busy, interesting, and fun. Something was always happening. This was not always good. One of our puppies drowned in a neighbor’s pool, one sister crashed into a telephone pole as an early driver, my dad once rescued a man who had been shot on the highway, and my brother once chased a bully down the block with a steak knife. It added to the quirkiness of an otherwise quiet neighborhood in a small suburban town that we dwelt sandwiched between the only two murder sites in the town’s entire history. Behind us, a man had murdered his wife and buried her in the backyard. Across from our home, an elderly neighbor had murdered her husband in self-defense. You cannot make this stuff up! My circuitous point here is that life was always buzzing, happening, moving in my world—so words like “fine” and “good” seemed disappointingly inadequate.

So here’s the scoop: there is something to this calm, take-it-as-you-go thing. It can save on migraines, blood pressure rollercoasting, and yes, disappointment, if we simply take a breath and lower our expectations. I must share that our family has perennially endured the annual Christmas Eve argument where the pressure has built until the pivotal point where I realize I cannot get it all done and whose stupid idea was it anyway to take on all the present-wrapping, cookie-baking, volunteering, dinner-hosting, run-around-visiting, insert-your-holiday-crisis-here, and why is it usually us women who end up overwhelmed and under-helped?

My daughters think it’s funny that literally every year, on Christmas day, I have the last-minute panic of “where did I put that present?” or “what do you mean it’s not there?” resulting in a mad dash throughout the house to ultimately find the missing item with the triumphant “I found it!” to my family, who sit amused and patient at their frenzied wife/mother/Nana who is chaos personified.

Well, I am trying something new that my 15-month old grandbaby is just learning. His mom and dad taught him to take a deep breath and blow it out—and he does! He’s wonderful at it! It’s his own chill-and-time-out reset when his parents see he is getting upset. And it works! I wish I knew this handy little treasure when I was a toddler (might have coped better about those neighboring murder stories instead of freaking myself out on the swingset thinking ghosts were going to attack from the scary woods!)

We have had relatives get ticked off when the sweet potatoes burn, argue about the merit of the various Star Wars releases, stomp away during political discussions, and evoke every slight and hurt in between. Why? Because we are flawed, stressed-out people who simply cannot keep everything together all the time. Life happens—job loss, relationship changes, illness, growth, passions for causes and candidates, and the day-to-day happenings across the globe.

I have a delightful friend, Andrea, who reminds me that just because we embrace and truly love a holiday tradition, doesn’t mean it has to happen flawlessly, without fail, every year. Some years we bake. Some years it’s a marathon of snowflake-sipping, cider-brewing, holiday-concert-going, creative-crafting, or driving to enjoy Christmas lights. Other years, we participate in caroling or plays, manage 25 days of good deeds in December, or volunteer as wrappers and shoppers for local churches and other charities.

This year might be a bit wonky as we adapt, still in COVID-19 caution, to smaller crowds and flexible schedules with in-laws and two grown children who accommodate growing families, in addition to our teenager. We are still hoping to squeeze in a visit to LaSalette Shrine for its gorgeous lights and festivities this time of year. But if not, we can try after Christmas, or save it for next year. In the meantime, I am channeling the patience and sweet calm of my grandbaby Henry, taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly. Bring on the holidays, bring on the calm, bring on the peace!


3 thoughts on “Setting Lower Expectations for Holiday Peace

  1. I needed to hear this! Thank you for sharing a bit of your story. This year Christmas is definitely dialed back at our house and I’m struggling with a case of the “I want to’s.”

    1. Thank you for sharing, Melissa! We completely understand, and wish you peace, joy, and rest in this season.

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