A Mantra for the Holidays: “What’s Not Wrong?”



This holiday season, I’ve been nostalgic for the kind of Christmas that I was lucky enough to have as a child. It was my favorite time of year, hands down. My family and I would drive out to a local Christmas tree farm in my dad’s truck, sitting four abreast, and cut down a divine-smelling Douglas fir. Back at home, we would put carols on the tape deck — Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and New Kids on the Block’s “Merry, Merry Christmas” were our favorites — and string colored lights on the branches. We’d unwrap newspaper from each ornament and smile as we remembered the person who gave it to us or the fond memory that it brought back. My sister and I helped our mom make fudge and three kinds of butter cookies, and on Christmas Eve my family would go to Mass, eat a home-cooked meal, and open presents. The whole season was filled with excitement and real holiday cheer.

Now that I’m an adult and a parent and I live far from my childhood home, I’ve had a much harder time getting into the Christmas spirit. I now understand why the holidays are the most stressful time of year for a lot of people. Everyone is rushing — to get work out the door before vacation, to drive out to the mall and pay for their purchases, to get the house clean and the meal prepared before family arrives. Then there are the financial strains. Being practical and money-conscious, the whole concept of Christmas shopping is stressful for me, because I don’t want people to buy me anything out of obligation, and vice versa. On top of that is holiday fundraising and sending Christmas cards and taking Santa pictures and braving the long lines at the post office. AND, AND, AND. There’s a lot more effort that goes into preparing for Christmas as a grown-up than as a child, and it’s difficult to accept that it isn’t the magical, carefree time that it was back then.

I had a mini-meltdown the other day because I let all of this holiday pressure get to me. I’d been so proud of myself for turning around our Christmas card quickly, and for completing a mad errands dash that included picking up the cards, exchanging lampshades at Target, going to the pharmacy, and buying stamps before I had to pick up our son from school. But when I got home, I realized that the lampshades were the wrong kind, and the 4×6 card we’d designed looked too small compared to the 5×7 that we’d done last year. In that moment, all of the effort I’d gone to seemed to be for nothing. I could feel the dark clouds gathering over my head.

Darren tried to reason with me, as he always does when I get like this, but it was futile. I could see that the holiday cards on our fridge were of various sizes. I knew that not one single person would open the card, see our smiling baby boy, and say, “I would really enjoy this card, if only it were bigger.” In that moment, it didn’t matter, because I wanted the card to be different than it was, and because it wasn’t, it felt ruined altogether. That’s the trap of perfectionism, of course, and the reason that it’s a surefire recipe for unhappiness.

It took a mood-shifter — in this case, the star-studded musical sendoff for The Colbert Report — to snap me back to reality and stop ruminating. I could see that the lampshades and the Christmas cards and the rest of it all qualified as major #firstworldproblems. I was able to step back for a moment and ask myself, “What’s NOT wrong?” — and the answer was, “So much.”

Even though most of my family members live far away and I miss them, I am fortunate to have a family who loves me and would do anything for me. Even though toddlerhood has been very, very challenging, I have a healthy son who makes me laugh every day, and a husband who is a doting parent and my most unflagging supporter. I have a job that I love, a financial situation on the upswing, and a community full of caring neighbors and friends. There is PLENTY in my life that is not wrong.

I went back to Target the next day and exchanged the lampshades again, this time for the right kind. I got to see how much the Christmas card made my coworkers smile and accepted that it was great just the way it was. I made a point of listening to Christmas carols and baking cookies from my family’s recipe to get into the holiday spirit.

I’m coming to terms with Christmas being more of a crazy time than it was when I was a child, but perhaps I can make it as magical a time for my son as it was for me. No, our tabletop Christmas tree from Kroger is still not decorated, and it may not ever be this year. There will probably be a few more tense moments to come, whether the turkey isn’t ready when I’d hoped it would be or the baby wants to eat the cookies instead of the roasted vegetables. But in the midst of it all, I will keep asking myself, “What’s not wrong?”, so I can look around and appreciate all the things that Christmas is really about.

What’s NOT wrong in your own life? Leave a comment!

Comments (8)

  1. Gillian

    This really resonates with me. The Christmases we spent at home when we were kids were so magical, and I realize now that they were probably a bit more stressful for the adults making it all happen. Some of the quirky imperfections make up my favorite holiday memories – like our gallery of special ornaments (I was describing Nearly Headless Mouse and Inappropriate Snowman affectionately last night).

    “What’s NOT wrong?” is an excellent question to reflect on when I am feeling stressed or inadequate about trying to see everyone or get everything done. So much is right, and I’m very thankful to have family and friends who love and support me. We have also sent Christmas cards just once in 10 years together, if that’s any comfort! Love you lots.

  2. mjdicker (Post author)

    It’s true — the grown-ups must have had to coordinate quite a few details to make our childhood Christmases magical. I was thinking about our parade of unique ornaments, too…I wonder if Nearly Headless Mouse has become headless by now. :)

    Haha, I remember that Christmas card! We all are doing what we can, especially around the holidays, and the rest we just have to let go. Love you, too!

    1. Margaret

      *Cue Frozen Song*

      1. mjdicker (Post author)

        Haha, I still need to see that movie! Apparently that song will never leave your brain once you do…

  3. Laura Haney

    Your mom has always been an over achiever. Take that into account. My Christmases involved trips to a Christmas tree lot, endless testing of Christmas tree lights, and from November on, delicious plotting and planning. We made 5 kinds of cookies because there are people who should be acknowledged somehow. For those closest to our hearts, we tried to figure out what they would most like, and then tried to make it ourselves. We made horrible ornaments, passable scarves, jewelry from rickrack and pipecleaners (looked surprisingly good.)My mother had all her Christmas cards addressed the day after Thanksgiving. I don’t give Christmas cards any more. Too stressful.

    1. mjdicker (Post author)

      You’re right that the overachieving tendency runs in the family! Wow, five kinds of cookies and a load of homemade crafts sure would make for a busy holiday season. I am impressed when people can get their Christmas cards out before the actual holiday. We’ve done New Year’s cards before, which buys us a bit more time! Hope you have a lovely and stress-free Christmas this year. :)

  4. Margaret

    I believe my go-to phrase for the season is “go by the wayside,” as in: “Oh THAT? That went by the wayside to make room for Christmas.”
    I LOVE my letters, as you know, so I set aside a half hour every day for two weeks to get mine done. I don’t have a toddler. I don’t have a roommate. And I don’t clean! ;-) But that is the one thing I like doing as my OWN tradition, to keep up with my MANY dispersed friends.
    When I got home (SLO) this year, I thought I’d have time to proof a friend’s novella and write a blog post and make progress on a book club book. All together now: “WENT BY THE WAYSIDE!” Instead, I enjoyed the chaos of 12 family members and 2 dogs in a 3 bdrm house. For 5 days, it was perfect.

  5. mjdicker (Post author)

    I somehow missed this comment! Ha, I love that you recognize that some things have to go by the wayside to make room for your priorities. You are perhaps the only person I know who still regularly sends handwritten cards and letters, which makes them all the more special. It’s great that you were able to let go of your big plans for the holidays so you could fully enjoy some lively time with family and pets.


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