This Christmas our family relearned a terrible lesson about holidays. Every birthday, every New Years Eve, and every Halloween ends with one or more of our kids crying. One day is just too fragile to hold our months of anticipation. Under all those expectations, the day usually falls apart. For our Christmas this year, these expectations meant our day ended in tears. We’re trying not to make the same mistakes tonight for New Years Eve.
Our Christmas When Everyone Cried really started months ago when the kids’ school started practicing for the annual Christmas program. “CHRISTMAS!” they breathed in and out for weeks. “Angels Aware! Christmas is Coming! C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S!”
We all jumped into Advent: the biggest tree! Kindness Elves and their shenanigans! Advent wreaths, and Advent calendars, and Advent services! Caroling at the nursing home and two more pageants for the kids! Manheim Steamroller was the constant chorus in our house.
Pa-POW! We were doing this Christmas BIG this year!
And then, after sugar-fuelled parties at the kids’ school, our family was off for 17 days. We got home exhausted, fighting winter colds, and grumpy. Then we promptly ripped apart our house.
In an act of brilliance or lunacy, our family decided our house needed a rehaul. The kids have reached the age of needing separate boy and girl bathrooms. Up until now, all four kids shared two bedrooms and one bathroom. But the girls were tired of putting down the toilet seat, and the boys were tired of moving Justice Bath Gel out of their way.
Changing rooms became the home-improvement version of “If You Give A Mouse a Cookie….” If we’re painting over the garish pink bedroom, we might as well replace the 20-year-old carpet, which means we had better make more storage, and let’s just sort through the attic while we’re at it.
Christmas Day fell right in the middle of our home-improvement chaos. Our morning was all about celebrating Jesus’ birthday, and Santa’s visit, and the goodies in our stockings. And then, at straight-up noon, we switched gears to painting three bedrooms in one afternoon.
While Mike rolled and brushed, the kids and I cleared out rooms for the carpet-layers. We sorted through five years of memories the kids had hoarded in their rooms.
By nine o’clock that night, the rooms were all painted and prepped for new carpet. And we were all exhausted and desperately in need of a good night’s sleep. Meeting all those Christmas expectations in the morning and all that painting in the afternoon had added up to be one of our most tiring Christmases to date.
Still, we had done it all, and I was feeling pretty good about everything we had accomplished. HECK YEAH! We were the family that could celebrate Jesus in the morning, and in our free time, still pull off a house redo. We were NAILING this family-holiday business.
Until I asked the kids how their Christmas had been.
“Not great,” Sam grumbled as he got into bed.
“Too much work,” Catie agreed.
“I didn’t like Christmas,” Nate sighed as he pulled up his covers.
“I wanted to really celebrate Christmas,” Elisabeth mused. “You know, like go to the mall and get ice cream.”
Before I could tell them they were just tired, Catie really got into the complaining, “We’ve talked about Christmas for so long, and then we just spent the whole day doing all this work.”
“You never even asked us if we wanted new rooms,” Sam said.
This is when I started ugly-crying. The kids got very quiet.
The next few minutes were not pretty. As I cried, I let each kid know exactly what I thought of their ingratitude. Through my rage and tears, I layered on guilt for how hard Mike and I had worked FOR THEIR ROOMS. I told them we had been celebrating Christmas for months. And, yes, they had actually asked for new rooms dozens of times.
And, finally, I ended with, “NO ONE GETS ICE CREAM AT THE MALL ON CHRISTMAS BECAUSE EVERYONE IS HOME WITH THEIR FAMILIES. ENJOYING EACH OTHER.”
Poor, worn-out Mike came in to find all five of us ugly crying. Then he lost it with fresh indignation.*
“Do you think this is how I wanted to spend my Christmas? How can you not appreciate everything we’re doing for you? WE HAVE BEEN CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS FOR WEEKS! HAVEN’T YOU HAD ENOUGH CELEBRATING?!”
And that’s when I realized what this was about. The stupid holiday hangover. Holidays, with their unrealistic expectations, NEVER live up to their hype. This is why our kids cry on every birthday. This is why liquor stores are so crowded on Christmas Eve. This is why we all drink so much on New Year’s Eve. The night is supposed to be epic, but it never really meets those expectations. Might as well numb the expectations with something we can control.
Later, when I came back to the kids’ beds, we talked about all this. We didn’t actually talk about binge drinking, but we talked about the high expectations we all had for Christmas. I asked for forgiveness for having unrealistic expectations to paint three rooms in one afternoon. They apologized for not appreciating our effort to make it a good Christmas.
Through “I’m sorrys” and “I forgive yous” we patched our Christmas back together. We talked about how to manage expectations for future holidays. We talked about not putting so much pressure on one day.
From now on, we would try to start our holiday grateful for what we had instead of expecting more, more, more. We would realize birthdays, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve were just days. We would fill them with good times, but we wouldn’t expect epic times.
We talked about tonight, about New Years Eve. Instead of starting with high expectations for a fancy dinner, a late bedtime, and best behavior for everyone, we would celebrate what we already have.
Love. Forgiveness. Our healthy family.
And, of course, some big bowls of Blue Bell Ice Cream.
Eaten right at home.
*FTR, I should mention that Mike didn’t actually cry. But trust me, I was ugly-crying enough for the whole family. So, you get the idea. We all lost it in our own way. Some of us are just better at emoting.