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By: Emily Shirley

We have all seen the Folgers commercial where the big brother comes home from college and starts making coffee. As the coffee smell reaches upstairs, the family comes down to greet him. They are all smiles in the perfectly decorated home with this perfect holiday moment of love all around and… well, perfection.

In other Christmas commercials, the adult children with their perfect families drive up, all smiles and carrying gifts. The food somehow magically appeared without anyone shopping for days, standing on their feet preparing for hours, and stressing over.

I have been guilty of trying to have the holiday depicted in commercials. But I have decided to be honest with myself this year. Those commercials were made up by someone, and many people are doing what I used to do, pretending to have their own version of a ‘perfect Christmas’ because others tell them this is how this season and Christmas Day is supposed to be.

It’s media like the commercials that creates an unrealistic expectation for holiday perfection, that hijacks the moments we could be having with others, or even spending the day alone. And it is this kind of emotional feed that makes us think we have fallen short if our Christmas doesn’t look like the commercials. We get upset with our adult children for not being what the commercials have told us they should be. And what about those people whose lives have changed, and they no longer fit the mold of the families in the commercials. What about the single parents, or those that have lost their spouse, or even children, due to death.

Many older parents are feeling left out of their adult children’s lives at this time of the year. Perhaps these adult children are behaving in ways the parents don’t understand. This can happen when we have certain unrealistic expectations that are not met by someone else. The more likely explanation for their not involving their parents more than they do is that they are working very hard to have their own version of a ‘perfect’ holiday.

We think of Christmas as the season dedicated to everything merry and bright. But let’s face it. Sometimes, it can also be one of the most stressful times of the year. Most of us want a little holiday magic, whether it’s conscious or unconscious. What if the magic happens in the simple moments that we often miss because of our heightened expectations causing this to be a stressful time of the year?  One of the first things we can do is admit that Christmas will never be perfect, or like any of the commercials. They never have been, and they never will be.

We can give ourselves credit for all those “almost-perfect” Christmases that we provided for our children, and others. Now, we can enjoy seeing others having whatever version of Christmas they want for themselves, while we enjoy our own version of this holiday. We can stay home, relax, and simplify things. If decorating is too much to do every year, we can even consider taking a year or two off and just decorating every three or four years, if ever. There are no Christmas police!

The real gift we have at this stage in our life is experience that allows us to step back and accept how things are. We can relax and be grateful for what we have and think about those ‘Christmases past’ that we survived. Rather than stressing over what we must do, we can be grateful for what we don’t have to do. We should all remember the real reason-for-the-season, and beyond that, this day can be focused on young children. It is nice to be able to take it easy. We can even meet up with friends and go to a nice restaurant for dinner, and walk away from the table and not have to clean up after ourselves.

Our gift to ourselves should be to get through the next few weeks without guilt for not participating in this season the same way others are. We can let go of some of the unrealistic ‘magical thinking’ of the past. It is time to adjust our expectations and embrace our own imperfect holiday. We can practice self-care through the holidays by carving out time each day to do whatever reconnects us with ourselves. This is especially important if we are alone this time of the year. 

The magic is there. We must be willing to look for it. We can do our version of this holiday season, based on the season of our lives. The part of the Folgers commercial we should consider is relaxing with a nice cup of hot coffee, Folgers or otherwise, and breathing in that coffee smell, while we munch on store-bought cookies that someone else made. 

About Today’s Guest Contributor:

World traveler and master gardener Emily Shirley is a part time resident of Louisiana and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Writing all the while, she divides her time between two homes. Past careers include Social Services Case Worker and Director and Human Resource Manager. She is currently at work on a memoir titled And Then There Were Ten.

Join Elaine on Mondays for reflections on the writing, hiking and the outdoors, Santa Fe life, and the world as seen through adoption-colored glasses. Check out her newest novel The Hand of Ganesh. Follow adoptees Clara Jordan and Dottie Benet in their  quest to find Dottie’s birthparents. Order today from Amazon or www.pocolpress.com. And thanks for reading!