Yes, I know it's customary to ask what you want for Christmas or what might be on your Christmas "to do" list, but right now I'd like to suggest a pause in your holiday celebration to consider what you might want to give up for Christmas, especially in the interest of "Peace on earth, good will to men."
I've been giving this some thought myself lately. For instance, if I didn't do all the things I typically do, would I then have time to be a more peaceful and joyful person? I'm thinking I might. This gave me some ideas of what I'd like to give up for Advent, the period of preparation leading up to the celebration of Christmas.
Expectations: Most of us have quite a few expectations about the celebration of Christmas, whether we know it or not. If we've celebrated many Yuletide seasons at all, we know--with a capital "K"--how some things are to be done. We KNOW how stuffing in the turkey should taste, what kind of cookies must be baked, who must be present on Christmas Eve and when the presents should be unwrapped. There are rules about such things and we know they are true because we learned them as children. The only problem is that the person we married or the folks we hang out with didn't learn the same rules. How does one deal with the sort of disappointment and disillusionment that occurs when rules aren't followed? Only by giving up some of your expectations for Christmas and embracing the moment of today.
Disappointing Others: I've worked with any number of couples around this time of year about how to manage the expectations of their extended family for the holidays. The matter is further complicated by divorce. For example, his mother and stepfather want them to be present on Christmas Eve, but so do her father and stepmother. His father lives alone, but has asked that they spend part of Christmas Day with him. Trouble is, her mother and step-father want Christmas Day time as well. Confused yet? Not as much as this poor couple who feel torn apart by people they love, but don't want to disappoint. If small children, i.e., grandchildren, are involved, the pressure can intensify--especially if all the persons in question live close enough to each other that the couple could actually split their time, even though it exhausts them in the process.
And let's not forget the pressure of gift giving on small budgets already stretched to the limits for many young families. How does one deal with the sort of conflict and confusion that occurs when trying to set limits with important and much loved extended family? Only by releasing the fantasy that you can please everyone and also create happy memories for yourself.
Self-Absorption: Sometimes it's easy to be merry and bright during the holidays. Other days it's not. On the days when it's not going well, my greatest tendency is to think about myself--what I want, how I'm feeling, where my life is not going well, and how others may have disappointed or frustrated me in some way. The problem with being self-absorbed is that we miss the opportunities for joy occurring all around us, e.g., shoveling an elderly neighbor's sidewalk, helping someone beyond your family trim their tree, visiting with someone who might be lonely, or taking a friend to lunch. When we give up self-absorption we often find the joy we hope to experience during this season.
There are a lot of other things I'm thinking I need to relinquish for a more joyful holiday season--impatience for one. Perfectionism for another. I could ask my family members and they might add a few more things to my list. The more I think about it, focusing on what I want to give up this Christmas might be even more important than either the "wish list" or the "to do list." Maybe I ought to give that list a little more work.
Wondering what you want to give up this Christmas for a most joyous celebration.
Dr. Jennifer Baker