Updated: Mar 23
The holidays can often be a surprisingly stressful time of year. This is unlikely to be news to any mothers among us, but the reasons for such stress may not be so obvious. Why does Sue seem so busy with baking dozens of different cookies from scratch for her kids, and Sharon is pushing to get her printed Christmas cards delivered so that she can hand write a personal message and send them out ahead of the holiday rush? Meanwhile Jane is feeling alone and unhappy because her kids are far away, or have other plans with her ex-husband or friends, for some part of the holidays.
The circumstances may seem different for each of these women, but it is their thoughts and expectations for themselves and others that is causing their pain. You may not choose yourself to bake cookies or to hand write cards, but chances are that you have certain expectations for how the holidays should be, and that may be quite different this year due to COVID pandemic restrictions.
We each grow up with different holiday traditions, these differ from one family to the next, some are handed down across generations as a way to celebrate holiday memories together. But traditions can also be seen as a kind of expectation that we set up for ourselves, that may cause disappointment when unmet.
This 2020 holiday season will definitely be a memorable one, whether because we are gathering in much smaller groups in order to stay safe, and maybe because we gather with facemasks on. And travel restrictions may be such that some of us won’t be able to see each other at all. Others may be experiencing loneliness, depression, anxiety, loss or grief. Even without pandemic conditions, holidays are well known to be times of high stress in general.
This shift in perspective can also serve us as we look ahead to the holidays. What matters most to us about this time of year? Is it really about the cookies, or is it Sue’s way of showing love to her children? Can she show her love in other ways if they can’t come share them or can the tradition be broadened to involve them in making what foods they like to share. Could sharing photos of treats or meals become a new tradition?
Lose the perfectionism
Many of us put pressure on ourselves to live up to some “perfect” standard. While it is good to have high standards, we must also ask at what price? If we decide that handwritten Christmas cards are the highest standard of perfection, then are we also choosing to schedule in the time to buy the cards, write the cards, and send the cards in a way that does not cause us to feel stressed or hurried? Are we making it hard for ourselves to remain calm and to not snap or yell at others when we feel rushed?
I choose this example on purpose because I definitely remember a time when it would have been unthinkable for me to not send handwritten and addressed cards. And over the years, I have come to accept that electronic card services are very helpful for formatting photos and organizing mailing lists. We dispensed with holiday mailings altogether for a couple of years, and have come to a practice now of sending Chinese New Year’s cards in February. Holiday mailings have become more enjoyable with the relaxed timeline, and it feels more like a response to cards we have enjoyed receiving that season.
As a recovering perfectionist I have learned to accept that “perfection” is never actually the goal, but that I was seeking rather to embrace the part of me that strives to create a result that will somehow impress others and thereby appease my own ego. Embracing that part of me requires cultivation of compassion and humility, a practice that I believe will be the work of a lifetime.
Joy and peace
This holiday season is likely to be unforgettable in more ways than one. What if we choose to make some of our memories about new traditions like celebrating resourcefulness and connection. My wish for us all is to savor the sweetness of moments together, whether in person, by video or voice, by text, by email or through gifts. To allow ourselves and each other to be just as we are and to accept that we are each doing our best to cope in these disorienting times. May we choose to gift ourselves the permission to enjoy these holidays, and to find the moments of joy and peace that touch our hearts.