As mid-November rolls around, the fever hits. It begins with a little tickle, almost an itch, and in no time at all it is an all-consuming full body rash. It’s Holiday Fever! Do you feel the tickle?
There’s nothing wrong with Holiday Fever that is kept in check, but when it isn’t caught early, it can take down a full-grown mama and her family, too, as collateral damage.
Holiday Fever usually begins with a single thought: “This year’s going to be different…better.” Some well-intentioned folks even say, “This year, I’m keeping it all in perspective.” But then idle hands flip through a Better Homes and Gardens magazine in a waiting room, or wayward feet head to the Christmas section in the store, or eyes head to Pinterest to “just take a peek.” Before you know it, that once dormant holiday virus strikes full force, and the victim is once again over-planning, over-scheduling, over-committing to the perfect holiday…which never is.
It’s time to redefine perfect.
Perfect is not running around frazzled. It’s not whiny hungry kids wanting cookies, but needing wholesome family meals and some mama time. It’s not a mountain of stuff surpassed only by a mountain of debt. It’s not the insane lists of “what you have to do this Christmas” I’ve seen floating around the world of cyber-insanity. Let’s redefine the perfect holiday, shall we? Okay, I will, and you can just sit there licking a peppermint stick.
The Perfect Holiday Redefined
The Dreaded…I Mean Perfect Family Photo: Instead of a picture perfect, expensive, and all-too-torturous Christmas photo experience, TPHR (that’s my super-cool code for The Perfect Holiday Redefined) photos show a laughing, joyful, real family…maybe with messy hair, maybe with mismatched outfits, maybe in PJs, maybe with the hot cocoa bribe evidence still on their faces. The point is, the experience wasn’t torturous…except for the innate fact that any family photo borders slightly on the inhumane…at least in a family of nine.
The Perfect (Or the Existing) Christmas Card: As much as I love getting Christmas cards (giddy like a kid in a candy shop with non-sugar-phobic non-budget-oriented parents), I’m going to say this and mean it. You do not need to send out Christmas cards. Really! You don’t! If you want to do something, how about a TPHR email, or a card in, say, July. I love getting my grandparent’s Christmas letter around February. It’s cold outside, winter’s gotten long, the kids are restless, and BAM! A TPHR card and letter in the mail. What fun!
The Perfect Wrapping: Seriously? Do we need to go there? It will be torn into little unrecognizable shreds and thrown in the fire where it will be burned into ash. One year I meticulously wrapped all the presents I sent across the country, imagining them sitting for days under perfectly decorated trees, accenting the holiday décor. There were blizzards, the mail was late, they got left at the end of the driveway in a pile of snow, and they were left in the box so long that when they were finally set out, they were mushed…in terms of perfection, it was a mess. Most years, my children have a blast wrapping presents themselves…and single-handedly keeping the Scotch brand in business for another season (the tape, not the booze). TPHR wrapping may not look perfect, but the family has fun doing it together…and that’s “perfecter,” like my grammar, which is the perfectest.
The Perfect Decorating: Charlie Brown’s tree is cute, isn’t it? And it was affordable. ‘Nuf said. Okay, I’ll say this, too. If you’re distracting your kids with coloring pages and television so you can spend hours and dollars creating holiday décor perfection that you don’t want said offspring touching, or if you tell your children they can’t help because they won’t decorate “right,” then you have a problem…emphasis on “you”…and on “problem”…and on “have a.” It’s okay to have a don’t-touch tree and don’t-touch nativities, and it’s okay to keep them safe from anybody who might throw Baby Jesus across the room and shatter him. But don’t let that dominate your décor if you have children. When I was growing up, my little brother made a Christmas robot man out of toilet paper rolls and hung it on the tree…every year. My mom never once made any of us think it wasn’t good enough. In fact, I think she still hangs that baby on the tree, and my brother is in his 30s. (I secretly think he’s still making them, too, but I have no hard evidence.)
The Perfect Gift: If it’s going to add clutter to someone’s life, is it really that perfect? Think about it. I know the “experience gift” is popular, so why not go that route? Perhaps a giftcard for your grandson to go with you to see Star Wars VII in 2015…or something a little sooner. Perhaps a repurposed basket filled with food for a date night. The basket can be used or regifted and the food can be eaten. Think outside of the stocking…so to speak. Or make a deal with your extended family that their presence is your present, and vice versa. My favorite gift for people that don’t really need anything is a donation in that person’s name. Compassion International and World Vision are two of our favorites, but there are many others. Of course, a Stephen Bautista CD is always an ideal gift that nobody would consider clutter! (Yes, that was a blatant, shameless plug for my husband’s music. What can I say? I’m a fan.)
The Perfect Meal: Are you left alone in the kitchen slaving over a hot stove (don’t you just love that expression—it makes me feel like I’m wearing three skirts working in the sweltering old servants’ kitchen at Mt. Vernon sweating into President Washington’s fish muddle and hoe cakes) to prepare elaborate Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for your family and guests? Why not draw them in by giving everybody something to do? You’ll have company and help, and, although it may not turn out exactly as you envisioned it, you’ll be making memories together. (Just don’t be the bossy perfectionist. You know the one!) Other options are appetizer buffets and potlucks. Mmmmm…food.
The Perfect Cookie: Don’t stress over outdoing everyone else or about filling a cookie platter. Do you have a cookie reputation to live up to? It’s time for a reputation overhaul if that one is stressing you out. TPHR cookie perfection is simple: if it’s got butter in it, it’s perfect! Seriously, if it’s fun for you or your children, great. If not, arrivederci. (Uh, that’s Italian for adios! ciao! you’re outta there!) Now, about the ideally decorated cookie, let the kids decorate the cookies! They’ll learn how, they’ll have fun, and so what if they don’t look like the one you saw on Pinterest. So what?! So! WHAT!!! So what so what SO WHAT!!! The cookie is going to be eaten and turned into…something that’s not a cookie. So… SO WHAT!!!
The Perfect Extras: In my life in my head, my family sits around the tree (lit by real candles, naturally) enjoying Advent readings nightly, sipping homemade cocoa with no sugar (because the family in my head doesn’t need sugar), enjoying the ambience of the handmade ornaments and wreathes and tree skirt, all, of course, wearing our handknit sweaters…and nobody ever whines. The family on the outside of my head is a little whinier, and there are a few other differences, too…like all of them. If the crafts and the “moments” and the Advent readings and such are important to you, that’s great, but make it doable, and make it enjoyable. Advent readings are important to me, but they don’t pan out on a nightly basis for everyone, so we opt for Sundays and Christmas Eve. The last time I lit a candle in my house, I started a small fire. The crafts are hit and miss. We may get one accomplished in a season. And the handknit sweaters? Ha ha ha ha haaaaaaa! Keep it realistic and you’ll keep it fun.
The Perfect Schedule: Instead of slating out your family’s schedule and possibly over-committing people to things they really don’t want to do, call a family meeting. Ask everyone what they want to do as part of TPHR. Do they want to watch The Grinch? Schedule it. Do they want to drink hot cocoa while looking at Christmas lights? Schedule it. Do you want to read Luke 2 on Christmas Eve? Schedule it. Do they want to watch football on Thanksgiving? Schedule it. Which of the half dozen Christmas invitations does the majority WANT to accept? Schedule them. Advent readings? Crafts? Christmas cards? Cookies? Schedule them. But don’t overschedule! Keep it simple. Keep it fun. Keep it TPHR-friendly.
Are you catching a theme here? Put people above perfection. Stop striving for the unattainable. Your kids won’t remember or much care that you were in the kitchen creating cookie perfection. They will remember that they were in the kitchen with you, laughing and making a big ol’ mess. That, my friends—the laughter and, yes, the big ol’ mess—that is the perfect holiday redefined. Now go make a big laughing mess…and maybe clean it up when you’re done…together…while laughing…because that really is the perfectest!
To help you redefine the perfect holiday, my husband and I are teaming up on an ebook, available soon. Sign up as a subscriber to get all the details when it’s available.
How do you keep it all in perspective?
Truth in the Tinsel is a hands-on journey through Advent for children. This year Amanda, the author, is offering printable ornaments to make it even easier for parents to implement the program. That makes it ideal for a simple Advent project. Last year’s participants gave it rave reviews. Check it out here.
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