The anticipation of the holidays is ramping up in our house. I love this time of year, but if I’m totallyhonest, my Christmas day is often laced with little bits of sadness and disappointment. Maybe the reaction to my gift wasn’t as big as I had hoped, maybe I wasn’t able to have the whole family making goodies and singing carols together like I used to do when I was a kid. Maybe some of my family didn’t appreciate some of my traditions.
Do you have a bit of a let-down once Christmas is over?
Anticipation comes from expectations, and expectations can lead to grief when they are left unmet. The higher the expectations, the bigger the grief effects can be.
How many of us, when thinking back on our childhood Christmases enjoy the nostalgia, then
immediately feel sad realizing that it won’t be the same this year?
Some of us have had the greatest childhood traditions that we are trying to recreate with our own kids and it’s fallen flat, or at the very least looks quite different.
Some are disappointed that the formerly huge family gatherings are no more because all the different branches have moved on to other traditions, live in other towns or states, or there isn’t enough room at Grandma’s house for everyone to fit, and we miss them all terribly.
Maybe we marry a spouse that had different or no traditions growing up and aren’t interested in participating in our traditions.
What about those of us who have lost someone, and the holidays feel terrible without them? What about the boy whose father died right before Christmas, and because of his dad’s enthusiasm and enjoyment of the season, the boy has no anticipation of any type of enjoyment. His way of coping is to expect nothing and so he will not be disappointed. There is even a level that he is sure he dishonors his father if he enjoys this special day without him.
The flip side is the person who didn’t have great childhood experiences that left them jaded towards the whole season. There’s nothing good at Christmas. They don’t believe goodness at the holidays exists.
We have other, year-round moments that can be just as disappointing, the pregnancy or engagement announcement that wasn’t met with the social media worthy response, or the birthday party that was more of a catastrophe than a celebration. Major career accomplishments that leave us wanting.
But the holidays amplify all those struggles because, as the song says, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Or is it?
So how do we manage the anticipation and the potential let-downs? How do we avoid that kind of grief? How do we address grief that puts a wall up against enjoying the season with those around us?
First, acknowledge we can’t avoid all grief. We also can’t avoid the whole season. Hopes, dreams and expectations are risky. Humans can’t live without hope. Dreams drive us. Expectations aren’t always unreasonable, and we all have a few. So we must accept the risk. If we never risk, we guarantee NOT reaping joyful moments. This can feel very scary, but can be very worth it. Next, acknowledge the differences. We can do the same thing each year, but it will be different. Nothing ever stays exactly the same. That is ok. Expecting nothing to ever change is unrealistic, though we are all guilty of it at least occasionally. This fact that nothing stays the same also creates hope for those whose past is painful. We also don’t have to be chained to the bad experiences.
Choosing to be open to “different” can be good. Let it be good.
Lastly, STOP COMPARING. Looking for “the best year ever” or “the best Christmas ever” will elevate your risk of grief. Choose to look for the best in the moment, instead of expecting the best moment.
“Be present in all things and
thankful for all things.”
― Maya Angelou
We at Aspen’s Angels wish you moments full of happiness, joy, and peace this Christmas. We wish you support and healing through your grief, and a renewed outlook for the new year that is full of hope.