When I think about the various holidays of my childhood, I realize my experiences clearly formed my expectations about how those celebrations should occur in adulthood. Holiday celebrations were always about family. I was the youngest on both sides of the family, so I grew into already-established traditions. Feelings could be described as “warm and fuzzy,” with plenty of humorous conversations, cozy hugs from grandparents, uncles pressing me for “favorite” position over each other, and fondly looking up to all my older cousins. Oh, and food, of course. Lots of scrumptious, down-home food. I always imagined a house full of family, laughter, and hugs as an adult. Having adulthood turn out significantly different makes for a generous range of emotions when the holidays show up on the calendar. Managing those feelings is challenging, at best.
Starting in mid November through January 1st, most of us have at least some level of expectations regarding holiday celebrations. This year is no different. As I have been pondering my expectations of the season, my thoughts have been playing ping pong between what I want (not gifts) and what is. The vision of multiple grown children and their children showing up to create a houseful of laughter and warmth has clearly turned out to be a fantasy. My extended family is spread out across the country, and although we have time together, my two close family members are in completely different, generational stages of life. To be clear, I’m not talking about this to initiate a pity party nor point a finger at someone or some event as the cause of my reality. It just is.
As I was sharing about this situation a couple of weeks ago, struggling with my conflicting feelings, I was reminded by a very wise person that my feelings are conflicted because my expectation has not evolved parallel with my reality. And my perception of others’ realities is more than likely due to my perspective. When I think of a large family’s holiday gatherings as warm, memory-making events, it’s based on a comparison of what I knew as a child. (I do know that after years of adulthood and being away from the extended family celebrations, a reunion would still be loving moments without discord.) But that is not everyone’s reality. When I hear people talking of dread as they prepare to visit or be visited by family members, I cringe. If only I had that kind of opportunity. And I have to take a deep breathe and refrain from offering a disgruntled lecture about appreciating family.
So, if you have a family celebration that includes singing, or games, or watching football together, or hugs, or laughter, or other memory-making events . . . consider yourself blessed. And then remember the people with whom you rub shoulders who have a very different reality. Maybe they are alone or just feel alone. Or experience significant family conflict. Or recently lost someone they love. Or just can’t physically be with family. Or see Christmas time as a reminder of some devastating event. Not everyone’s Christmas is Merry, but many will not share their challenges without prompting.
I’m intentionally working on accepting my reality, and that starts with acknowledging that I have a beautiful, cozy place to call home. I’m healthy enough to spend time at two jobs that fulfill my passion. I have a lovely adult daughter who is smart, compassionate, grateful, and loving. I still have my mother who, despite some physical challenges, is able to communicate her love to me as I care for her. I have coworkers and friends who care about what is going on in my life. And I have the means to be generous in word and deed to others who might be experiencing a less-than-ideal Christmas.
What do you need to do to accept your reality? I’m only expecting God to show Himself to me in grace and love as I celebrate the first Christmas gift – a baby!