What Makes A Happy Holidays?

Merlin wishes you happy holidays. Really.

Merlin wishes you happy holidays. Really.

Every year from November through December (at least) we get pelted with messages telling us what will make our holidays all we dream of, full of warm closeness and laughter, golden bright, strewn about with ribbons and tinsel. The. Best. Christmas (or holiday of your choice). EVER!

Maybe it’s because Mark and I are home fighting off killer bronchitis, but I find I’m looking at this stuff more skeptically than usual. Not cynical, just not altogether on board the “Perfect Holiday” train.

Voltaire once said that the perfect is the enemy of the good. This can mean that you bypass what is good because good isn’t good enough, you’re waiting for perfect.

In holiday terms, it means a series of holiday seasons entered into with anticipation that turns to frustration and then to disappointment. “Why can’t (he/she/they) make an effort to (whatever it is they’re not doing you want them to do)? It’s the holidays!”

We stare at the situations and people around us willing them to be different because this time is special. The store where the clerks never seem to be very motivated to help, the people who are bossy, or cranky, or needy all the rest of the year… can’t they try to be better, just for the holidays?

But we are who we are, 24/7. The people we are on Monday morning waiting for the coffee to brew and on tax filing day and Friday evening in traffic are the people we are on special occasions. Sometimes more so… tired from shopping and shipping and cooking and worrying about meeting the expectations of people around us and barraged with messages telling us we could be closer, kinder, shinier, better somehow if we wanted to be, most of us aren’t at our best during the holidays. If Uncle Aldo is usually loud, judgmental and unwilling to listen, which is more likely, that he’ll be even more that way than usual, or that he’ll miraculously be completely different? If you’ve ever said, “Why can’t (insert name) just (insert thing this person doesn’t do)? It’s (insert holiday or event)?!?,” what you’re really saying is “Why can’t this person be some other person entirely?”

Another quote: “God, grant that twice two be not four.” — Ivan Turgenev

I used to drive myself (and Mark) insane, desperately trying to “salvage” some sort of wonderful Christmas from the usual wreckage we had to work with (dysfunctional family, work stress, etc.). I’d exhaust myself trying to clean and decorate, shop, ship, plan, cook… all while waiting for that warm glow to kick in. A relative would throw a holiday tantrum (every year, not always the same relative), then another. Rounds of stressful phone calls, rescheduling, last-minute work assignments, and all the while the commercials and specials and whatnot in the background, that constant chant that the holidays were supposed to be a certain way, some way that we could not make given what we had to work with. You can’t make a cathedral from a handful of Popsicle sticks and a dented soda can. We had a string of fatiguing holidays that left us disappointed and sad. After all, it’s worse to sit out on the step all day expecting a parade that never comes than it is to just spend the day sitting on the step.

So I’m on a quest for a truly happy Christmas, one not dependent on anything being a certain way, on the tree looking just right (we’re sick — the tree is up and bears one clot of lights, haphazardly strung), or a menu that could be featured in a magazine (chicken soup! gelatin!), or a room full of freshly-scrubbed, beaming faces (we love our loved ones too much to subject them to this cold). It’s not the Christmas I’d planned, and Lord knows it’s not the one I would have chosen, but it’s not bad. Instead of creating a yardstick and holding the day up to it, sad when it doesn’t measure up, I’m just letting it unfold and be what it is, open to whatever good is available today.

And next year? Hopefully, we won’t be sick. Would like to decorate the tree and a few things… but I’ll try to remind myself not to run right past the good while chasing the perfect. People, situations — I want to be open to what there is available to me, not staring at the package of my day thinking it’s nice but not what I had in mind.

Hoping you and yours have a safe, happy, healthy holiday season.

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