I’ve been sniffing around and it seems that I’m not the only one who finds the holiday season to be a little more complex than carving a turkey. Facebook memes, jokes, comedy routines, meal planning, decor rearranging, gift buying, house guest preparing are all just the surface aren’t they? Well, maybe not for everybody, but I really do feel safe in saying that there’s a lot there.
Why? Why do the holidays present us with such a wide range of growth opportunities (I would have gladly inserted some profanity here) and how can we best really enjoy them? How do we stay whole for the holidays? There. Simple question. Simple answer coming in the next sentence, post, done. Right? Right…. I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers, but I have done some thinking about it. And in the interest of wellness and an enjoyable rest of the year, I thought I’d share those thoughts with you.
I think there are many reasons why the holidays can be such a challenge and the specific reasons can vary from person to person, but I’m willing to bet that there’s a neat little cocktail in there of expectations, history, and fear. To be honest, I’d guess that’s the cocktail for just about every growth experience, but that’s another post altogether.
I’m sure that before Norman Rockwell, there was another artist of some kind who helped solidify our expectations of family togetherness, but he is the one that always comes to mind for me when I think about families and the holiday. Everyone will get together. The food will be marvelous and the chief cook will be fully present and relaxed for the entire event. Everyone will be kind and comfortable. No one will judge and no one will feel judged. Everyone will be personally satisfied and make plans for the next time they will see each other. Everyone will still want to see each other soon. Everyone will leave the event feeling better than when it started. And whoever hosted won’t even have a mess to clean up because the holiday magic will just wrap all that crap up and ship it off somewhere. Easy, right? That’s reasonable, right? I acknowledge the last one is not reasonable… I would like to acknowledge that most of the others are also not reasonable.
I can’t count the number of holiday home cooks I’ve seen driven completely mad by the expectations they have of themselves for meal production. I myself have been known to brush off offers of help when it was clear that help was needed, to insist on producing the whole shebang rather than going potluck, to martyr myself in front of the sink and dishwasher for as long as it takes. Am I a different person on this holiday that I should expect that cooking for a large number of people should be easy? Am I so uncertain of myself that I have to take care of everything in order to make sure they have fun (tinged with fear, that one)? Will it all be terrible if the meal falls short? You know the answers as well as I do. No, it is not easy. No, I don’t have to prove myself to my guests and no, it will not be a disaster if the meal falls short.
I have to confess a certain fond nostalgia for some childhood holidays where the meals fell disastrously short. Know what? We ate anyway. We might have slipped a little more to the dog under the table, but we ate. We ate and told jokes and played catch and ping pong. We ate and listened to music and made up games and teased each other. We ate and then waited with baited breath for the adults to announce dessert. And you know what? I don’t remember those desserts. Not a one. But I bet I ate them. Every single one.
All of this is to say that our holiday meal-related expectations are unfounded. These expectations fail to give credit to the other people in the room who will love us (or at least show up for the next holiday) regardless of what goes on in that kitchen. Food is great – I mean I think it’s pretty clear that I really like food – but it’s really all going to be okay no matter what. Your worst case culinary scenario will only be fodder for a great story and someone’s nostalgia someday. What would it be like to expect a little less of yourself and this one single meal?
If cooking brings you great joy and you’d far rather be in the kitchen than anywhere else, and you mean that with all your heart and no hidden motive, no dodging and weaving and full of excitement for the assignment, by all means, do it all. Knock it out. Kick that meal’s behind. If, on the other hand, you experience a certain amount of discomfort thinking about doing that, farm that crap out. Potluck is the easiest and least expensive way to do this. If you’ve got the resources, this might be time to go a little less than homemade for each and everything. Cut yourself and all of those who will spend the day with you a a little slack. Take a well-deserved break, a holiday as it were. Expect a little less of yourself.
Our people expectations are really the same, aren’t they? We may really want folks to act differently, to be warmer, to feel closer, to bite their tongues or let us in, to share an inside joke or withhold a veiled criticism. We may legitimately want those things, but wanting them is different than expecting them. Let’s face it, everyone will be pretty much who they are (or at least who they are at these events). You can expect them to be different, but that’s a lot of energy on something you have nothing to do with. Them being different is not your project, not your homework, not your business. Expecting them to be different just sets them up to fail when they didn’t even know there was a test. Expecting them to be different just sets you up to be disappointed at the end of the day, not because people don’t ever change but because you don’t get to decide when they should. What if we just expected that everyone would pretty much be themselves?
What if we took a moment to get real still before the event and know that we are okay. That the only judgment of our lives, our clothes, our career and relationship choices that really matters is our very own. What if we decided that all those disappointments just didn’t matter, at least not for today? What if we expected a little less of everyone else and remembered that we’re really okay? What if we stayed out of their heads and their worries and instead took a deep breath and sat in our own hearts instead? It is okay to be okay with yourself, okay with the moment, and okay with overlooking that comment or eye roll. You don’t have to discuss politics, your career, your marital or child-bearing status. You don’t have to share if it makes you uncomfortable. You don’t need to be witty and win. You don’t need to be graceful and show them the errors of their ways. You don’t even have to make sure they’re having a good time. Have a holiday from those expectations too. Take a break. Have a well-deserved rest from those nasty, holiday destroying expectations.
Expect less of you. Expect less of them. Have a holiday.
What about that history and fear business? More to come on those in this holiday packed season.
Wanting to think a little more about food and your eating habits in preparation for the new year? Want to help a loved one do the same? Check out our book,Baby Steps to Better Health: A Guided Journey in Healthier Eating, now available in print and e-book. Eat well, breathe well, be well friends.