The Advent and Christmas seasons should be a time of great anticipation and joy for Catholics.  However, for many, it’s a time of great stress and aggravation.  Every day in my office, I talk with people who struggle with the holidays.  One of the main reasons why they struggle is unrealistic expectations they place themselves.

We all have this image in our minds of how we would like Christmas to be.  Often, it’s based on an idealic Norman Rockwell scene or a Hallmark Channel movie.  We want everything to be perfect.  To achieve this, we place unreasonably high expectations on ourselves.  We struggle to find the perfect gifts for everyone.  We believe we must get everything on our family’s Christmas lists, even if that means getting up at 3:00am on Black Friday and risking being trampled to death just to get the best deals as Walmart.  We live with the terrible fear that if we don’t get everything on everyone’s Christmas list that we are bad husbands, fathers, grandfathers, sons, brothers, uncles, friends, and coworkers.  They will hate us forever!

Then, there’s the decorating.  In many neighborhoods, it seems like Christmas decorating has become a competitive sport.  We can possibly blame this competitiveness on our testosterone.  Every year there are men who feel the need to outdo their neighbors in the amount of outdoor lights and inflatable lawn ornaments they use.  We have the irrational fear that the “decorating police” will judge our outdoor decorating as “lame” and we will be seen by our neighbors as total losers.

For those who are professionals, there is the unreasonable compulsion to send Christmas cards to every business contact they can think of.  We fear if we don’t send out the Christmas cards, we will offend all our clients and our careers will disintegrate. Then there’s the dilemma of deciding whether the card should have “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” on it.  Once this is settled, there’s the mad rush to address the cards and send them out before December 20th!  If people receive their cards after Christmas, we will be judged as lazy or inefficient.

I’m here to say we need to stop the insanity!  And don’t feel so powerless – we can stop it.  We need to let go of these irrational expectations that make us frantic during the season.  We don’t have to get the perfect gifts for everyone or everything on their gift lists.  Simply get gifts that convey your love for others.    We don’t have to decorate our homes to the point that they place a drain on the power grid.  Here’s some news: there is no decorating police and most people are too concerned about their own home decorating to care about yours.  You also don’t need to send out all those Christmas cards.  No one will disown you if they don’t receive a card from you this year.

Letting go of unreasonable expectations will allow you to enjoy the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of Christ.  That holy night came with silence and adoration.  Perhaps preparing in that was is a more fitting preparation.  I’m going to let go of these expectations and announce that I will not be participating in the holiday insanity this year.  You can join me.  Let others know you will not be rushing to all the stores or staying up until 1:00am shopping online.  Invite them into the idea.  Scale back your decorating and only send cards to the people you truly love.  No one is going to judge you negatively.  If they do, it’s their problem.    In fact, I think you’ll be a great and needed counter witness to the frenetic haste and waste around us.

  • Jim Maxwell

    Thanks for this! In 100%. Removing TV relieves a lot of pressure… no commercials=less crazy

    Our priest recently suggested how media pounds into people’s brains that one should NOT BE ALONE during “Holiday celebrations”… yet many are – so, he called upon us to make sure there would be no one without a place to go. This often gets overlooked.

    The church is also offering a Missa Rorate Novena of Masses for our lady starting tomorrow. I could not be more pleased by this and expect it will help keep my mind properly focused on preparing myself in hope of receiving the grace of our Lord. We’ll still have some secular fun along the way, but I’m kicking most of the garbage to the curb…

    My love and peace to all of you!