Daily news reports of body counts and terror create in us a longing for the holidays to bring us cheer. We ache for moments of happiness, meaningful family time, celebration, fun. We yearn for the reality of “peace on earth and good will among men.” We are drawn to stories of love and generosity that reflect the hope unleashed by the birth of the Christ child.
But beware. Simply because our expectations of the holidays are so high, they may be riddled with landmines or IEDs of disappointment. If we’re not alert, we may find our best intentions blown away by unrealistic expectations, gift giving debacles or loneliness. But if we are prepared, we can find the green zone of safety.
Unrealistic expectations are among the most common of holiday IEDs. We determine that this year everything is going to be perfect. We are going to love every minute of being with our parents/in-laws/siblings/children. No one will eat too much, drink too much or say too much. Children and adults alike will love their gifts. Surely, it’s not too much to expect a little Christmas magic!
Safety comes in the form of expecting—and accepting—reality.
Chances are your extended family members have not changed their ingrained habits of relating since your last family gathering. If your mother is prone to giving unwelcome advice, she will likely do so. Your brother will still argue every point you make. Your toddler, high on sugar and adrenaline, will be even more difficult than usual. Your teen will be as unpredictable as ever.
Accepting your family members for who they are, rather than hoping they will become who you would like them to be, allows you to change the way you respond to them. Keep your expectations realistic, and treat them in the way you want to be treated. You will be amazed at the difference it will make.
Young children look to Santa to make their wishes come true. Who among us does not fondly recall a Christmas dream come true and the disillusionment when Santa let us down. And older children and teens know a good opportunity to get those big-ticket items when they see it. Some of us go to incredible lengths to get the current hot item on our child’s wish list, even if it means paying for it all year or standing in line all night waiting for the store to open.
The gift giving challenges do not end with children. There are gifts to choose for people you want to impress, for people who have everything and for those you dearly love. It can be a let down to receive an appliance from your husband if you were secretly hoping for diamond earrings. It can be equally disheartening when you realize your husband really wanted a power tool rather than the
To avoid gift-giving landmines adopt an attitude of gratitude. Give gifts as a token of your appreciation and love for the other person and receive them in the same manner. Begin early to teach your children that Christmas is about giving as well as receiving. Remember that the reason we celebrate Christmas is God’s gift of the Christ child to each of us.
One of the most devastating holiday landmines is loneliness. Perhaps you have a gaping hole in your family circle due to death or divorce. Perhaps your children are spending the holiday with their other parent. Time, distance or illness may prohibit family gatherings. Your adult children and grandchildren may be visiting in-laws in another state.
Perhaps your celebration looks good from the outside, but your marriage has lost its warmth. Your children are driving you to distraction and conflicts are likely to erupt at any moment.
The green zone of safety lies in knowing that as a child of God you are never truly alone, and in accepting what you cannot change.
Your loved one is gone, but the memories you treasure can bring you comfort. Set aside time to go through photo albums or other memorabilia and let the memories and the tears flow. Draw out others whom you know are hurting, giving them permission to share their pain at a time when most people don’t want to hear it.
Use the powerful emotions that surface for everyone during the holidays as a source of healing. Determine to do whatever is necessary to strengthen your marriage and family relationships.
If holiday landmines have spoiled your celebrations in the past, summon the courage to do what you can to make this season different. You may be rewarded by a holiday that not only meets, but also exceeds, your expectations.
I am a North Carolina Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor with 20 years experience in the field and many more years of life experience. I entered the counseling profession in mid-life after putting in time as a stay-at-home mom, a freelance writer, a journalist, and a United States-based missionary. I love walking alongside those who are seeking to find themselves, heal a relationship, or recover from trauma. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, writing, and hanging out with my grandsons.