As a kid, I remember the day after Christmas being one of the saddest days of the year. The decorations, plentiful and still present, were like a slice of pizza you forgot to put in the fridge the night before. It still looks exactly like pizza, but you can’t eat it anymore (or, you know, shouldn’t). It’s just a sad reminder that you had pizza, and can’t have it again for a while. Just like Christmas. I really didn’t want to wait a year to have it again. Yes, I use pizza to explain things…a lot.
As an adult, I’m convinced that the substance of time has changed significantly. What felt like year as a child has been reduced to about a month. It feels like I barely took down the lights before it’s time to put them back up again (I’m sure that feeling has nothing to do with the fact that I left my lights up for months after the holidays ended).
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. The three horseman of the stresspocalypse. Bringers of Turkey, Tinsel, and Time to pretend you’re going to start exercising regularly. Tomorrow. I mean next week. I mean…October…of next year.
This time of year brings with it the potential for joy, gratitude, good meals and fond memories. It also can create a financial burden, give opportunity to potential conflict, and bring to light that realization that there are people who are missing from our tables for a variety of sad reasons.
Maybe you find yourself praying, “God, just let me get through the next two months.”
You will. Probably. Depending on who’s doing the cooking. Pro-tip: It’s worth it to carry an instant-read thermometer. Really ups your chances of survival.
Here at Bless This Brain, we’re not mental health professionals. We’re just folks who know what it’s like to live with mental health challenges. Despite these challenges, we’ve survived many holiday seasons with our sanity relatively intact. You can too. Here’s some things we’ve learned over the years.
Set the Right Expectations
Normal Rockwell is not your friend. Despite his artistic renditions of the perfect holiday meal, it’s a well known fact that he was a womanizer, an alcoholic, and would punch kittens for fun. Probably. I don’t know. I didn’t actually do any research on him.
But I have to assume he was a jerk, because who but a jerk would give us visions of the perfectly unattainable holiday? One with not but joy-filled faces, rosy cheeks alight with the glow of well set tables, a perfect turkey, and sober uncles.
To be fair, he did sneak in at least one sociopathic family member at the table.
Let’s get real. Put your pragmatic hat on. We’re about to accept the inevitable.
Someone’s going to forget the ice
Something is going to burn
Someone is going to get a burn
Someone is going to be late
Someone is going to casually mention that they have Covid
Someone is going to show up drunk, or high, or both
Someone is going to gossip
Someone is going to bring up the conspiracy theory they learned about from a totally legit Facebook group posing as a source of real news
If you’re reading this and you’re thinking “That stuff doesn’t happen at my holiday dinners. We’re perfectly well-rounded mature adults. In fact, our holidays live up to the incredible standards that Martha Stewart sets for herself.” Well, she went to prison, so….Also, this article probably isn’t for you. We call you normies, and we love you. You’re the reason the economy mostly works.
For the rest of us, stuff tends to go wrong a lot. Don’t fight it. Embrace it. The holidays we celebrate were not born pretty. In fact, they have ugly beginnings. Mangers, kings killing babies, people decimating populations with disease. I’m not saying you should include any of this in your holiday itinerary, I’m just saying you can’t do much worse.
And in the messiness, the opportunities to be a blessing, to be a peace-maker, to be a good listener, and a helping hand, well, they’re abundant. Because you have the right expectations you’ll be the calm presence that’s able to help others navigate their own disappointments. Someone may even pick you up at some point and say “You spark joy.”
Know That Presents are Kind of Stupid
“Today we celebrate Jesus coming into the world to save us from sin and death. Here’s an Xbox I donated plasma to buy you.”
I love gift giving. I love receiving gifts. (Nanny, if you’re reading this, I’m all stocked up on Stetson Cologne and have enough to survive a post-apocalyptic bartering economy. Please, save your money.)
Gifts are good, but they’re not worth killing yourself over. Some things to know:
- If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. Nothing is going to change this reality. Nobody I know would want to receive a gift if they knew that it caused the giver financial harm. Don’t go into debt for it. Don’t stay awake worrying about it. Many, many people are struggling right now and if the outcome of that is that Christmas becomes less about crap and more about fellowship with our friends, family, and God, that’s a good thing. You’re not poor. You’re a culture-changer…who’s poor. Stick it to Mattel.
- Home made gifts are fine. An ornament. A small jar of salsa. A card that says, “I chose to eat food this month rather than buy you a mug you won’t like.” These are all fine. Seriously.
- Spoiling your children will not make them happy, better people. Failing to get your kid exactly what they want will not traumatize them. No one, adult or child, should be hanging their holiday hopes on dreams of the perfect thing. If you can’t get them that bike, that gaming system, that pair of sneakers, it doesn’t make you a bad parent. Far from it. It may, after the initial disappointment wears off, even give you the opportunity to gently guide their hearts, helping them to avoid the traps of an increasingly consumeristic culture.
Okay. One last thing
Aim Not For Perfection, But Meaning
I’m in a season of learning this lesson that I gleaned from a question a friend asked recently. That is, “What would it look like, if instead of aiming for perfection, you aimed for meaning?”
That’s one of those life changing questions.
You can’t do perfect. Perfect is so hard that only one person has ever been able to pull it off and they had to be God to make it happen.
Even if we were able to achieve perfect, that would be it, we wouldn’t be able to go beyond it. You can’t do more perfect. You can, however, always do more meaning. So, what do I mean by that?
I can make the holiday season meaningful for my children by reading a portion of the Christmas Carol once a week. Maybe I can add more meaning by having us drink hot cocoa when we read. Maybe I can add even more meaning by reading in the voice of the muppets in The Muppet Christmas Carol.
I can make Christmas morning more meaningful by taking a moment to pray together before opening gifts.
I can make Thanksgiving more meaningful by texting a friend and telling them how thankful I am for them.
I can make New Years more meaningful by telling my friends who are more likely to imbibe, that I’m available to give them a ride home.
There’s no end to the amount of meaning we can bring to the holiday season. Even in the midst of the imperfection, the hustle, the stress, the worry, the fights, the disappointments, the empty seats.
It doesn’t have to be a lot of meaning. As much, or as little as you feel led, or can handle.
If you remember anything, remember this. You don’t have to sacrifice yourself this holiday season. Someone already bore that burden for you. That alone brings enough meaning to make the next couple months manageable.