It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It is. Andy Williams says so. So if you are not feeling merry and bright all the time, if you have a family row or the kids throw a tantrum, then you’ve got it a bit wrong. That shouldn’t happen. Those are the rules. Right? Nope, I disagree.
‘Should’ is a tricksy word. It has a lot to answer for. It is a weighted word that has come to represent rules, norms, standards, with an accompanying tone of condescension as it simultaneously points out that we have erred from these rules, and wrongly so. It is a distinct finger-wagging directed at the discrepancy between your actions or thoughts and a set of standards; between you and perfection. It is more than a word: it is an attitude, it is a muttered ‘tut’. Since we like things to be right, we tend to work on closing this discrepancy gap against the various sets of ‘shoulds’ that we encounter in life, and Christmas is a time when there is definitely a defined ‘way things should be’: if something doesn’t fit the ‘merry and bright’ happy time displayed by ads on telly, or your social media feed, then it is easy to beat ourselves up for not being able to make our Christmas fit the bill.
The secret to a truly merry Christmas can often be found in the simple act of letting go of any ideal or expectation at all. So what if it isn’t always merry and bright and perfect? When is it ever, really? When we are no longer concerned by standards, the ‘shoulds’ lose their power. Our life is the perfect fit, just as it is, tantrums and all! That doesn’t mean to say we can’t go to an effort to make things special for our family during the festive period, but we don’t need to beat ourselves up if things go slightly awry. By embracing the present (as well as the presents!), there is beauty to be found even in the most imperfect of moments. Christmas is really just one more day out of the other 364.
So here are three top tips to letting go of your ‘shoulds’ and expectations this Christmas, and finding your own special crazy version of ‘merry and bright’:
- Keep an eye on your own thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations
We’ve all been there. A present doesn’t get the reaction we thought it would. Your thoughts start wizzing off into ‘I should have got the other colour’ or ‘Couldn’t they act a bit more grateful?’, you feel hurt or angry, and a little bit of tension sinks in to your body. In this way, our thoughts, feelings and sensations are like little antennae. They are amazing advanced indicators of moments like this where the way reality plays out has not met with how we think it should have done or wanted it to. It can lead to us interpreting other events in the same way, and before too long, assuming that Christmas is a total failure full stop. By keeping an eye on these indicators, we can catch ourselves in our tracks and try just accepting that it feels bad because we wanted it to be a different way on this day of all days. A day when things are supposed to go right. In actual fact, the situation just is what it is. Just accepting what is can be a really powerful way of lightening the moment and dissolving any tension in your own mind.
- Be as curious about little things as your children are
When you think back to Christmas when you were little, what do you remember? Do you remember whether the turkey was cooked to perfection, or do you remember the sparkly Christmas lights everywhere? Do you remember exactly which presents you got, or do you remember one particular gift that caught your imagination? Needless to say, it probably wasn’t the one your parent(s) had planned. Children are naturally curious about everything. Over time, sadly, we seem to lose this. Once or twice a day, try tuning in to what is capturing your child’s attention, and enjoy it with them. Look at it through their eyes, not through a filter of what they should be enjoying, and see what you discover. The same goes for you too: if a set of fairy lights, or a random little cracker toy captures your attention, spend some time looking at it and playing with it in your hand. You might find that all the other stuff you were worrying about doesn’t matter so much for a while.
- Remember that everyone has their own expectations too
No matter how hard we try, we all assume we are Mystic Meg. Sometimes, we don’t even realise we’re doing it. Not only do we put expectations on ourselves, but we put them on others too. On our family members to be nice, on our children to behave and appreciate their gifts, to know that they should not throw themselves down on the floor and scream blue murder today of all days because you’ve got the neighbours round and lovely new Gap outfits for them to wear (the kids, that is, not the neighbours). But the tricky thing is, we are all different. Just as we have an inner story of how we want things to be, everyone else has their own story too. If someone doesn’t behave or react the way you’d expect them to, then maybe they are just seeing things differently. We can’t control other people’s minds, but we can keep a check on our own. By letting go of our own expectations, it becomes much easier to see those of others more clearly, and just accept them for what they are, even if they are different from ours.
So those are just three little tips for keeping an expectation-free Christmas this year. Who knows what beauty you’ll find if you go off-plan? I’d love to hear your stories!
Good luck and may your days be merry, bright, or tantrum-filled. Whatever 🙂