It seems the hardest things to give up this year as I head into the holidays, are the expectations. The anticipated joy seems diminished by the sense of loss from missing family and friends, by the frustration of trying to find that perfect gift without actually seeing and touching it in person, and by downsizing a holiday meal to satisfy just one or two instead of gathering as a group to feast. Why make cookies when we will be the only ones here to eat them? Should I just forget the whole thing?
We finally decided to still get a real tree – but a bit smaller than usual. The aroma stimulates memories of people and places and parties. Adding each ornament brings back the special history it holds, as it always has, but with even greater meaning this year. The tree lights brighten each day, and I’ve added a few new ones on the porch to illuminate the darkness that feels deeper than usual.
I sent out more holiday cards. With less to fuss about, I had more time to write a quick note and address envelopes. I love sending the latest Jib Jab to bring a few laughs, but the personal connection of a real card pulled my pen to the paper.
We’ve ditched a few of the ‘old favorite’ cookies and are experimenting with some different recipes. I have felt too rushed in the past to focus on the intricacies of decorating cut out shapes. This year I am eager to join in the search for the perfect royal frosting recipe. Small glass bottles of colored sprinkles and sugars are lined up like children, calling ‘Pick me! Pick me!’
The sense of the season is heightened as Christmas music enchants our home more frequently than in past years. And I will still watch the movie ‘Elf’ on Christmas day – laughing at his ridiculous antics even though I already know what’s coming – while remembering the groans of good-hearted tolerance as I subjected the rest of the family to my earnest holiday entertainment.
Gift exchanges will be moving to a virtual Secret Santa mode. We have electronically selected a name and sent a gift to just one person, to be opened during a group Zoom meeting Christmas Eve. At first it felt strange not to buy for everyone as usual (‘oh, he would like this’, or ‘I know she wanted that…’) but simplifying by buying just one gift (note – there are no young children in this group yet which would change things a bit!) released hours of time to be used in other pursuits.
The hustle and bustle energy sparked by expectations of Christmases past, took time – along with a growing shift in acceptance – to quiet and find new direction. I knew everything would be OK one day when I found myself relaxing and reading while sipping eggnog! I do not feel any less loved with fewer gifts aimed my way, or any less loving because my own target for gifting is smaller. Instead I feel calmer overall, and more aware of the simpler pleasures I can choose to embrace and celebrate. Maybe it is the choice, rather than the urgent need to meet expectations, that is the greatest gift this year.
May you find peace and joy within your unique holiday celebrations.