Christmas: Reality vs. Fantasy


Sometimes the most imperfect moment becomes your favorite one.


I spent a good deal of my life in search of the perfect holiday.

I could see it all in my head: the big happy family, the perfectly decorated tree, presents beautifully wrapped underneath…and then the oven catches on fire because I forgot to set the timer for the marvelous holiday cookies I’m baking and the fantasy bubble pops.

I’ve realized the perfect holiday doesn’t exist. Because perfect isn’t perfect: perfect is embracing the reality and making it your own. My imperfect perfect holiday resolutions:

  • I will give up on the big family dinner. As an only child, I always daydreamed about the big family holiday experience. When I married into a big family, I was thrilled. Then my first (and last) big family Christmas dinner included Grandma flinging spaghetti at the wall to see if it was done because she forgot to set the timer, my new husband lurking at the door, ready to dart at the first available moment, and my mother in law asking me to take the family picture of her “real kids”. Note: She must have decided she liked me, because the year after I was allowed to be in the picture.
  • Because of the afore-mentioned crazy big family holiday, I will make a point to spend time with people who are important to me individually, and catch up with people I don’t get to see a lot.
  • I will let go of the dream of a pottery barn inspired front door and porch…mainly because I live in an apartment and have no porch. Maybe next year.
  • I will embrace the cookie my kid wants to make, and accept that decorating gingerbread man cookies and cookies shaped like trees are not as fun as decorating cookies shaped like trains and footballs every color of the rainbow.
  • I will not kill myself designing the perfect Christmas card. I will choose a photo that represents my son as himself, and not a posed shot. Instead of wasting time agonizing over the card, I will spend more time writing notes to people I don’t get to see often.


  • I will continue to emphasize to JC that Christmas is less about gifts and more about spending time with the people you love. I will also try to drive home the idea that when you choose a gift, you pick something the intended recipient will enjoy…and not something you like. That being said, if he chooses a Lego fire truck for me, I will love it all the same.
  • I will let go of some of the traditions of my childhood. Things change, people move away, families become different creatures than they were when you were a kid. I will pick one or two traditions that are the most important and carry on with them, but I will focus on creating new traditions with my family now.
  • I will become realistic about snow and bad weather. The sweet image of my son romping around in the snow with ruddy cheeks wearing an adorable snow suit was never given much weight, because we live in the south, where it snows once every three or four years and absolutely stops the city. Last year when we got four or five inches, most people were too busy being trapped in their cars for 24 hours on the interstate to enjoy it. When I took my son out to play in it, he was not in coordinated Lands End snow gear—he was in layers of sweatpants and a raincoat with plastic baggies on his feet under his rain boots. Did he care? Not a bit.

(On a side note, after reading this list back over, I’m pretty sure Pinterest may be responsible for most of my holiday fantasies).

The holidays are supposed to be fun. The most wonderful time of the year, remember? So this is the year I’m going to take back the happy feelings and leave all the stress, obligation and expectations behind. So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be outside in my four layers, eating the delicious gingerbread football cookie covered in purple icing.

How do you handle expectations at the holidays?