Do you long for the perfect holiday? If so, you’re not alone. But setting unrealistic holiday expectations can set us up for disappointment, frustration, and a major case of holiday stress.
Maybe you’ve got a love-hate relationship with this entire time of year.
On the one hand, you love the excitement and the idea of the holiday season. On the other hand, the reality never quite meets your expectations. Here are some common holiday expectations and how you can keep them from making you miserable.
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Holiday Expectation #1: Expecting a Normal Rockwell holiday
You do know the scenes, right? His iconic images defined holiday gatherings for a generation. In his paintings, everyone is happy and well-behaved. The table is full and there are gifts spilling out from under the tree. And if there are any problems – well, they’re all in fun and oh, so minor. In fact, any problems become the tales that are laughingly told at next year’s gathering.
On a subconscious level, many of us have bought into this holiday expectation as the norm. And I’m not knocking any of it – my wish is that everyone has a perfect holiday.
But let’s get back to reality and the mistake you may be making. If you’ve got a Norman Rockwell family that’s wonderful – but many of us don’t.
The problem is that we expect the holidays to make things perfect that aren’t perfect at any other time of the year. I have personally discovered that when I lower my holiday expectations (in a good way) that I am able to enjoy things more. But it was my attitude that set the stage for disappointment. And I’m the only one who can change my that.
Solution: Lower your holiday expectations and don’t expect perfection
Holiday Expectation #2: Assuming that the holidays will magically change people’s behavior
This ties to the whole Normal Rockwell issue above where everyone is on their best behavior and gets along. But if Uncle Bob is a loudmouthed and opinionated the rest of the year, he’s going to be one during the holidays too.
If Aunt Matilda is an overbearing know-it-all, she’s not going to turn meek and mild during the next visit. And if your mother-in-law has criticized your cooking the rest of the year, you’re not likely to escape it during Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.
The truth is that people are who they are and they don’t change just because the holidays arrive. It’s unrealistic for us to expect that they will. In fact, expecting that their behavior will change is a major reason why we often dread the holidays.
So how do you counter this holiday expectation? You’ve got several choices:
1- Continue to live in denial (and be disappointed – again!)
2 – Bang your head against the nearest wall and wail about how unfair it is (it won’t help, but your head will feel better when you stop)
3 – Accept that people are who they are and make the best of it (definitely the more approach)
4 – Find ways to limit your interaction with people who drive you insane (and there’s nothing wrong with this in my opinion)
Solution: Decide whether to limit interaction or to accept people the best you can and move on.
Holiday Expectation #3: Thinking that everything must be perfect
People aren’t the only things we expect to be perfect during the holidays. Most of us have visions of giving and getting the perfect gift, participating in and enjoying those holiday activities, and sailing through the holidays with no problems, hiccups, or glitches.
Let’s just get real here for a minute. This is a holiday expectation that we REALLY need to ditch. We’re not little girls wishing on stars. We’re grown women and we should know that things are never perfect.
The reality for most of us is that things are going to happen. We won’t find the “perfect” gift – but we’ll find one that’s perfectly nice. We won’t sail effortlessly through the holidays – but we’ll muddle through and have a nice time despite the waves.
And you know what…it’ll be fine.
Life isn’t perfect the rest of the year – quit expecting that fact of life to change with the arrival of the holiday season. Spending time with the people you love is what ultimately makes the holidays special.
Solution: Accept that the holidays don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.
Holiday Expectation #4: Trying to become a master juggler
It sounds wonderful….the concerts, church programs, school plays, neighborhood parties. Until you take a look at your personal calendar and realize that you don’t have a free moment to just enjoy the holidays.
Over-scheduling during the holidays can leave you (and your family) exhausted and stressed out. It may be time to have a family meeting and examine priorities.
If there are activities that you would prefer not to participate in, drop them. Just because something is scheduled doesn’t mean that you have to participate.
However, sometimes there is too much to do and it’s important that you do participate. You don’t want to miss those events that are important to your family members.
In order to take on a few more events during the holidays you need to streamline a few other normal activities. This may be the time of year when you’ll want to plan super easy and quick dinners so that you can minimize your time in the kitchen. Perhaps you’d rather forego elaborate gift wrapping and use gift sacks instead to save yourself some time.
The point is that you only have so many hours in a week (168 actually). It’s up to you to decide how to spend those hours in a way that brings joy to your family and saves your sanity.
Solution: Eliminate the unnecessary, focus on the priorities and take shortcuts everywhere you can.
Holiday Expectation #5: Thinking you’re going to turn into Wonder Woman
Okay, you’ve examined your schedule…and it’s still packed.
Since that’s the case (and it always is) you and your family will most likely need to schedule some down time. Everyone gets tired when they’re running from one activity to another. And of course, for women, there are all those other holiday activities that tend to fall on our shoulders.
In between shopping, wrapping, cooking, chauffeuring, and attending, be sure to take some breaks. If you don’t, you’ll be so worn out that you won’t enjoy all of those holiday activities you and your family want to participate in.
You don’t have to be Wonder Woman!
Besides, Wonder Woman grew up on an island surrounded by other women to share the load. In your family, you’re probably it. So when you get the chance to sit down and put your feet up, take it. Don’t feel guilty about recharging your batteries.
After all, a grumpy, resentful, and exhausted mom isn’t exactly what your family has on their holiday wish list.
Solution: Prioritize breaks and realize they’re the key to keeping the rest of the schedule on track.
Holiday Expectation #6: Trying to outdo Martha Stewart
There are women who absolutely live for the holidays! They love the cooking, the baking, and the decorating. They’re good at it and they go all out.
You know who these women are. They’ve got a house that is elaborately decorated. Their Christmas tree looks like it belongs in a magazine (and they probably even have several trees!). They make 103 different kinds of beautifully decorated cookies. Their packages are gorgeous.
Heck, these women make Martha Stewart look like a slacker
As long as you don’t get sucked into the comparison game, let these women shine!
I admit that I am not one of these women. I enjoy a certain level of decorating and cooking, but no one is going to point to me as the model of holiday perfection – and I am perfectly fine with that.
There is no reason to let these women set the expectation for what you should do during the holidays. It’s up to you to decide what makes the holidays special to you and to decide where to spend your time and energy. If you want to spend your time in the kitchen, go for it. If you want to create the perfectly presented package, be my guest.
But if you want to spend your time curled up by the fireplace enjoying a good book or enjoying a cup of hot chocolate there is absolutely nothing wrong with that either.
Give yourself permission to celebrate the holiday your way and quit comparing yourself to others.
My attitude is this: I enjoy those ladies for who they are. I enjoy their scrumptious treats. I marvel at the beauty they create in their homes. And then I return to my home that doesn’t “compare” with what they’ve done and I just enjoy the heck out of it.
Solution: Refuse to get sucked into a competition!
Holiday Expectation #7: Thinking that money grows on trees
It would be wonderful it we could all forget about money and just shower the people we love with the gifts they want most – whatever the costs. But for most of us that’s just not reality. And let’s face it, the fact that we have budget constraints stresses us out and can make us unhappy.
It can also cause us to experience a lot of other emotions: worry, frustration, shame, anxiety, depression, anger, and jealousy.
If you let your holiday joy be determined by dollars, you’re probably not going to enjoy the season.
Just because everyone else is going nuts (and perhaps into debt) buying things doesn’t mean you have to. I’m not saying that “things” aren’t nice, but you’ve got to decide what your priorities are.
There’s nothing worse than waking up in January to realize that what you really got for Christmas was more debt. Talk about a holiday downer!
Look at your finances as early as possible and decide what’s realistic to spend. Then focus on shopping early and taking advantage of sales to stretch your budget as far as possible. Personally, I like to pick up gifts throughout the year. I find that spreading the purchases out doesn’t feel like such a hit in the pocketbook.
Your family doesn’t care when you shopped but you’ll be happier if you’re not worrying about every expenditure.
Solution: Set a budget and look for ways to get the most for your money.
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