I’ve mentioned before how much I love Christmas and all the traditions that come with it. Well, a few nights ago, my husband and I decided to sit down for a few minutes to just enjoy our tree (pictured above). We turned off the living room lights and spent some time talking under its calm, twinkling glow. It really was lovely to just pause and breathe in this busy season of searching for the perfect gifts and stocking stuffers.
I decided to snap a quick photo of our tree to mark the quiet moment – especially because this tree happens to be our prettiest yet. It’s tall, around nine feet. It fills our window with sparkle and our living room with the sweet, sprucey smell of the holidays. And -very unlike our tree last year- it appears to be holding on to its needles for the duration of the season.
Looking later in the evening at the photo I had taken, I noticed the star on top of the tree was slightly crooked. And that there were several dark spots throughout the tree that had been skipped over by the lights (we let the kids string the lights this year). My first instinct was to jump into the branches and even out the lights, and to have Craig climb back on the ladder to adjust the star.
But then I thought, wait a minute. This is a beautiful tree as it is and I should just savor the season.
I don’t know if it’s the Type A in me, or too many holiday movies filled with the perfect happy ending, but I always feel the need for everything to be “just so” during the holiday season.
The perfect tree with a balanced number of meticulously wrapped presents under it, a festive front door and magazine-worthy decorations. That’s the reality I seek.
But the reality I live in looks more like a mix of some of that perfection (I actually do a nice job with my decorations – all 29 boxes of them) mixed in with lots of imperfections like a few empty bins of tree decorations in our front hall that haven’t been put up yet, or fallen holiday deer in the front yard (yes, that happened this year and it took us days to finally get out in the yard and better secure them upright).
And the meticulously wrapped presents? I wish! But isn’t there just as much beauty in life’s imperfections? And isn’t this the season to be counting blessings instead of picking apart the minor flaws?
My friend Jennifer put this photo on facebook recently of the Christmas tree her family had purchased through a fundraiser benefitting her daughter’s school. Lovely, right? The ‘beauty’ of the fundraiser is that all of the trees are tied up and supporters don’t know exactly what theirs will look like (or how it will hold up) until the tree is home and set up.
A few days later I noticed a new photo from her of the tree face down on her living room floor, having tipped over during the night. Ornaments (and some pride, I’m sure) broken and scattered. Ouch.
Had that been my tree, I’m sure there would have been few expletives left unsaid (sorry, mom, you sure did raise me better), and I might have even shed some tears.
But Jennifer didn’t let it ruin her family’s holiday, or even spend time complaining about it. Instead she laughed it off on facebook, cleaned up the ornaments and took her kids to pick out a new tree.
And then they transformed the last remaining sturdy part of the old tree into a lovely new decoration for their home. Talk about making lemons out of lemonade!
What a great lesson she taught her kids about picking up and getting some perspective instead of wallowing when things don’t go the way you think they should.
The holidays are also a time when many people feel lonely and helpless in a major way.
Songs, Hallmark Channel movies and television commercials constantly reinforce that the holidays are a time for family and loved ones to be together. Which can be painful reminders for those who are celebrating alone or are dealing with serious loss, illness or depression. For them, holiday anxiety is about more than just imperfect decorations. It’s a harsh reality that can feel acute around this time of year.
Especially the first holiday after the death of a loved one. Most of us have experienced the loss that occurs when someone we love passes away, and each holiday season can be a painful reminder of their absence. It can take a long time before those memories bring you warmth instead of a pit in your stomach.
One of my friends who lost his beloved partner suddenly several years ago says that Joe Biden’s words on grief have helped him.
In an absolutely beautiful and moving 2015 speech on grief (I highly recommend you take a minute to check out the whole speech), Biden said,
“There will come a day, I promise . . . when the thought of your son or daughter or your husband or wife brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye. It will happen. My prayer for you is that day will come sooner or later.. But the only thing I have more experience than you in is this: I’m telling you it will come.”
My friend mentioned this quote in a recent social media update to say that he finally smiled this year. My heart grew a couple of sizes, and I smiled to myself as I read his words.
While I mourned my friend’s loss several years ago and have followed his journey since, I think the times I reached out probably weren’t enough. I think I could have done more to help ease his pain. And I am reminded that so many others also are experiencing grief or loneliness instead of joy this holiday season.
Okay, I didn’t necessarily mean for this post to turn into such a serious discussion, but here we are. These are real issues for people, especially during the holidays.
So how can we get perspective on all those minor imperfections that crop up when others are dealing with literal life and death issues? I don’t know about you, but it sure can feel like the most major thing in the world when you’re in the middle of finding your turkey burnt to a crisp, discovering a tipped-over tree, or fighting with your family.
Sometimes we need to just take a pause. Take a step back and focus on what the season means to you. Take a minute out of a chaotic day to sit under the lights of your Christmas tree and just breathe. Maybe even force yourself to try to laugh it off a little. Also:
Find ways to help others, perhaps through volunteering with your family.
Try to notice and help those who may normally be ignored, like those sleeping on the streets or those who may be in trouble.
Reach out and include someone you know may be alone or lonely in your holiday traditions.
And for crying out loud, tell people how much you appreciate them. I think daily of my friends who have lost loved ones, and pray for their healing, but I know I don’t tell them enough that I’m thinking of them. If that sentiment sounds familiar, maybe we should all reach out to those people and tell them once in a while.
Shouldn’t we use the holiday season as an opportunity to express our gratitude for who and what we have?
My stepson came home yesterday with an ornament he made at school. When we went to hang it on our tree, he remarked that the star wasn’t straight. I just smiled and said, “I know.”
At the end of the day, a crooked star, misplaced lights, or even a fallen Christmas tree, are pretty minimal holiday traumas. Let’s embrace those kind of flaws -and each other- as we celebrate the perfectly imperfect.
Please feel free to comment below. And here’s to a happy and healthy holiday season!