What then is your reality and what are your illusions?

Are you in a frantic state of shopping, decorating, and cooking and travelling?

Are you feeling more stress than cheer?

With so many “to do” lists, do you find yourself  too exhausted to enjoy what would normally make you happy, as in cherished traditions and intimate family gatherings?

There is an expectation this time of the year that everybody be cheerful, and to some degree get caught up in the frenetic activity.  The external pressure of being ‘merry’ creates an un-needed stress for most of us.

Who then is responsible for the pressure to have an over the top Holiday Season besides of course… you?

Well for starters, there is Madison Avenue flashing the perfect holiday scenes into living rooms by Halloween, nudging us to start preparing earlier every year. I went into a Garden/Gift Center on October 2, just to buy an orchid. I entered a Holiday Wonderland as Christmas trees and gifts were decorating the store in silver frosted motif. I found it rather jarring and mentioned to the clerk that it seemed rather strange, before Halloween and all. She forced a cheerfulness saying they were just getting ahead of the competition. So here we are and what have we lost?

The illusion is that if you start sooner, do more, consume more, project the images of perfection  onto real families, there will be a ‘Currier and Ives’ experience.

Do you also imagine that your holidays can be a cocoon of love, warmth, acceptance, and safety? It will be that way only to the extent that your family is like this all year.

Yearning for warmth as well as intimacy there is somehow a belief that going the extra mile, preparing super meals, going without sleep, shopping for the perfect gift in throngs of people, will make this year a different experience

Are you left tired, irritable and somewhat empty once the Season ends?   Once again do you feel inadequate because you did not pull off the “perfect” Holiday as desired?

Do you believe that if you try harder, you can have a snapshot of beauty, frozen in time, and somehow your family will magically evolve into a finer representation of themselves, eschewing the usual family dysfunctions?

While we are at it, let’s look at how dysfunction tends to show up.. Dysfunctional family members under the pressure of the season’s expectations become more excessive versions of their usual selves. Family issues that are tamped during the year frequently rise to the surface becoming turbulent and weird at holiday gatherings… how about?

  • Aunt Sue who will drink more to medicate her empty feelings and get loud and sloppy
  • Uncle Dick a control freak who becomes a micromanaging intrusion into everybody’s business. Since he cannot control the holiday bustle, he becomes more anxious.
  • Fred the angry one sends family members tip toeing around to avoid volatility.
  •  Agatha who is critical and demeaning attempting to hide her envy of your success.
  • Uncle Mike distrustful of the Christmas experience and for that matter life in general, is even more cynical and fully into his “Bah Humbug” role.
  • What about you in this mix?
  • Do you have fantasies of pleasing this tribe?

If the above examples do not fit, fill in the blanks before you decide to over-function, become overwhelmed and disappointed in yourself and them, again… Do you know that you play a part in this drama?

Are you pushing harder expecting different results? Do realize that more of the same will not work.  The key word here is expectation of self and others, that somehow the illusion of warmth and togetherness will hold, if only for the season.

To create a Holiday that is less stressful, more spiritual, more thankful, more personally meaningful, takes some effort, willingness and reflection. Give yourself permission to simply simplify, eliminating rituals and things that are no longer meaningful. Focus on what you love.

Simplifying does not mean you abandon gift giving, or replace holiday feasts with Spartan fare.  It does however require us to stop a minute to rethink how you celebrate overall.  Become more conscious of the waste inherent in our usual ways.  Focus more on decorating our “inner tree”, with true generosity, love and compassion.

Use this time to teach, and encourage children to give in ways that only children can.  When included children are willing to become active and involved in worthy causes thus, teach us.  Children in our culture are often left out to be passive recipients of the holiday giving.  Let’s give them an opportunity to participate in the kind of joyful giving whereby no gift wrap is required.



Laura B Young

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