What are your expectations of Christmas (and of every day of the year)?
My teenage daughter said to me recently “Mum, why is there such an emphasis on love and peace, being nice and kind to each other and having a good time on just this one day of the year, when it should be like that all year round?”
It’s a very valid question. The media and society in general strongly suggest that we should aspire to a Christmas Day when we get together in a big, family unit. There are usually lots of presents, an abundance of food and drink and lots of merry, red faced friends and family. Somehow any conflict in our relationships and within ourselves will be resolved. Does it? Is this the reality for you this Christmas?
What does Christmas mean for you really? Is it a very spiritual time to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus? Is it an equally spiritual time to celebrate the Winter Solstice or Hanukkah or any other religious festival? Is it a time where you get a well earned rest from work and catch up with friends and family? Or perhaps you approach the Christmas period with huge excitement and savour every moment.
Or – is it a time when you feel very, very alone? It is unlikely you’ll speak to many people over the Christmas period and if you see another advert full of happy families on the telly, you’ll throw something at it!! Or maybe you’re homeless and this is all rather academic to you. Or is Christmas your busiest time of year at work and you’re usually exhausted by the time New Year comes? Or perhaps you are struggling for money and feel such a weight of expectation to provide the “perfect” Christmas for your family. Or things haven’t been good with your partner recently, but you’re hoping that this Christmas might be different…
Or, perhaps Christmas means absolutely nothing to you. You are already fed up by the first week in December with all the Christmas Carols and do your very best to ignore the whole thing, but there appears to be such a huge weight of expectation to “have a good time”.
As a therapist I work with lots of people who struggle with expectation. And it does seem to me that expectation is the key here. The expectation that even though you may not get on with your family/work colleagues/whoever at any other time of year, it’s Christmas for goodness sake, so at Christmas it will be different! There is the expectation that even though your marriage may be struggling, perhaps you will work something out over Christmas – it is Christmas after all. Or maybe you are older and live alone and you hope that this year one of your neighbours may remember you are there…
In January and February, my therapy practice tends to become very busy as people realise that Christmas didn’t resolve it at all, in fact in some instances it made it a hundred times worse, and it seems an age away until their summer holiday. Their expectations weren’t met.
One of my favourite quotes at this time of year is by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who says:
“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year.”
And with this quote we are back to my daughter’s original question.
Sometimes it is tempting to put things off – to say “When it’s Christmas, I’ll be nicer to my partner or spend more time with the children, or find a new partner” or “When I have more money/get a new job/lose weight, then I’ll be able to do what I want to do with my life.”
That’s a huge expectation to place on one event or set of circumstances in your life, and what it effectively does is allow you to delay taking any action. This is because when you reach that event (if you do) then the block that stopped you from doing whatever it was you needed to do, may likely still be there. And that’s because it lies within you; it’s nothing to do with the fact that it’s no longer Christmas or whatever it was you thought that you needed to make something happen.
What is really stopping you from doing what you need to do? Even if you don’t yet know, how about starting by being kind to you. Spend some time getting to know you, and being nice to you. You deserve it. And if you flinched or scoffed at that last sentence then take some time to discover why.
What are you waiting for? Start now! Right now at this very minute – even the smallest tiny baby step propels you one step further…
Going back to Emerson’s quote, of course you will have days that feel worse than others. Things that are difficult, that cause grief, loss and conflict happen to all of us. It’s part of being human. But expecting just one day of the year to make all of our problems disappear is asking a bit too much. However, we can change our mindset, the way we think about our lives and our relationships to ensure that we can have consistent periods of contentment.