As my children and I begin the process of decorating for the holidays, writing Christmas lists, and making plans for the Christmas break, I have been reflecting on ways to make this time of year fun rather than stressful. One of the first things that comes to mind is expectations. What are my expectations? Do I expect to find the perfect gift for everyone (on sale of course)? Do I expect to make lots of plates of perfectly homecooked holiday treats to hand out to everyone I know? Do I expect to decorate the house and keep it clean at the same time? Do I expect that my kids will magically become less interested in presents this year and more interested in the true meaning of the holiday? The list can go on and on and be customized for each family, but the bottom line is that when I have expectations that things will go and look a certain way, then I am bound to be disappointed, upset and stressed out. As with so many other things in life, if I can enjoy the process rather than the result, then I am much more likely to keep a sense of humor and enjoy the holidays. I am quite sure that no one is going to snub me at the next school function if they don’t get a plate of goodies from our family. Truth be told they will probably be grateful because they don’t like the same holiday treats that my family likes anyway! So let the kids help bake and decorate the cookies, make a mess, turn up the music and dance a lot, laugh, and let go of how they turn out. Is it really that important that my Christmas tree cookies actually look like Christmas trees? What’s the fun in that?

The other big expectation I have to keep a handle on is that my kids will somehow not be interested in who gets the biggest and the best presents this year. I am not saying that my kids are greedy or extremely materialist, but they are human and they have been brought up in American society. They get excited at the prospect of presents, and they hope to get certain things. When I ask them about favorite presents in years past though, usually they can’t even remember. They do tend to remember the presents that involved doing things with family and friends however. One year my son got a lot of machines – cotton candy maker, popcorn maker, those kinds of things. He remembers those because he remembers making treats for everyone and how much fun that was. So I have encourage family member who need gift ideas to give gift cards that involve activities together, like an afternoon of ice skating, or a day at the lake fishing and canoeing, or going to a hockey game together. The time that we spend together can create lasting memories, and it can give kids a sense of connection that is so vital to mental health.

When I start making lists of things I need to do, I let myself put down every little thing I can think of, and then I start crossing off the things that really are not all that important. I could make myself crazy running errands and doing tasks that really don’t need to be done. The only thing they accomplish is giving me a sense of participating in the craziness of the season, which at some level seems important. When people list off the craziness that they are involved in and I really don’t relate, there is certainly a sense within myself that I don’t fit in or that I must be doing something wrong. I don’t get to bond over the complaining about how chaotic life is right now. I can live with that. Hopefully more of us can bond over the laughter and the beauty of being together rather than complaining about the busyness and chaos. That is my holiday wish.