Letting Go at Christmas

“Christmas time is here

Happiness and cheer

Fun for all that children call

Their favorite time of year”

We watched A Charlie Brown Christmas a few nights ago, and nostalgia filled the room. It was so thick, I could almost smell my Grandma’s house. Like many of you, we’ve been rewatching all our favorite Christmas movies as we get deeper and deeper into the Christmas season.

I love this time of year.

But I also can get lost in it.

As much as I hate to admit it, there have been years when I’ve been so focused on creating the perfect traditions and memories with our family, that I’ve lost sight of myself and, a bit like Charlie Brown, have lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas.

As a kid, I would come up with super elaborate ideas for how to celebrate. Sadly, my plans for a traditional Irish Christmas (complete with fancy 16th century Elizabethan style dresses) never worked out. (Still not sure how or why I thought that Elizabethan ball gowns equaled traditional IRISH Christmas, but you know. It was before Google.) Instead, I planned the elaborate menu even though I wasn’t cooking, I made place cards, I found books at the library filled with Christmas crafts and convinced my Mom to help me make them. Pretty sure she still has some cute felt Santa napkin rings we made when I was 10.

I still look back on my years of “planning Christmas” with fondness. But I also realize that there was something missing from my motivation. You see, those years of planning weren’t about making Christmas fun and special for everyone else. Those years were about me. My ideals of what Christmas with family should be. Or rather, what I wanted it to be. Not exactly the spirit of Christmas.

I’ve learned a lot since those days of wanting to make Christmas a production, but if I’m not careful, I still find myself falling into old habits. There are times when I lose myself amid the planning, decorations, and events. Instead of enjoying the time with family and friends, I can focus on what’s going wrong, or how the event I planned isn’t going the way I had it planned in my mind. My first clue that I’m losing myself: irritation or annoyance.

That’s when I know it’s time to start letting go of some things

Let go of expectations

Letting go of expectations is hard, but so necessary during the holidays. I feel like I should add a caveat, like “especially if (fill in the blank).” But the reality is that no matter if you have little kids or grown kids, or if you are married or single, or if you have a blended family or not, expectations can be the death of joy. When I attach my own expectations to a person, I’m trying to control them, to ask them to act in a way that is important to me, instead of leaving room for them to be the person God created them to be, for the gifts and graces that God has put in them to flourish. Similarly, attaching expectations to an event can build it up in our own minds to the extent that what we experience can never live up to what we wanted it to be. When this happens, we find ourselves always living in a state of wanting more and never being satisfied with what we have or experience.

Let go of perfectionism

While my 10 year old self wanted everything to be just perfect at Christmastime, my nearly 45 year old self has learned to find the magic in mediocrity. I know, I know, in this Insta-world we live in, everything has to be gram-worthy. And I’ll freely admit that I love a pretty Christmas table as much as the next girl. But if having the forks and knives on the wrong side means that my kids set the table together, instead of lonely ol’ me doing it myself, then I’ll take it any day! And if I end up with pictures that don’t look studio perfect in my grid, I’m totally good with that, as long as they are pictures filled with love and laughter. If embracing mediocrity in how things look means that we are closer to perfection in love, then I am here. for. it.

Let go of self-focused thoughts

Oof. This one is the hardest one of all. Something I’ve learned about myself: I’m selfish. I like things the way I like them and I get cranky when things don’t go my way. I grew up in a blended family, which meant that there were often rhythms and routines that changed throughout my growing up years. Christmas traditions were my safety net. They didn’t vary much from year to year, and that stability gave me a place I could land. Even now, when my traditions or plans for Christmas get upended, I have to fight against feelings that tell me it’s not safe. And while this might seem counterintuitive, the best way for me to fight that is to let go of my own perception of what I need. To turn the thoughts about me and what I want around and reframe it: how can I help those around me enjoy the season? What do my children, my husband, my (fill in the blank) need? Don’t buy into the lie that serving others will only exhaust you. Jesus showed us that the greatest love is to lay down our lives for others. What better season to put this into practice?

Our family’s first portion of Christmas will happen on Christmas Eve, just a week from now. I know that many of us have Christmas programs and concerts, work parties, and Secret Santa exchanges coming up. There will be family events, get togethers with friends, maybe some ice skating or enjoying Christmas lights. So many fun, good things. If you start to feel like you’re losing yourself amidst all the things, I encourage you to let go and remember the gifts of love this season.

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