Who needs an excuse to gather with loved ones and be grateful for all we have?
We all do.
Holidays are our wake up call. Strung together by everyday life, holidays give every single person a reason to treat a day differently. A reason to slow down – or stop – to do something… anything… special.
The greatest threat to the holiday experience can be summed up in one word: expectations. In fact, it could be said that the likelihood of a pleasant holiday has a negative correlation to one’s expectations of it. The higher the expectations, the lower the likelihood that those expectations will be met. We’re human, after all. You put enough of us in a box together and talons will flash. How many movies – comedies all – have been based on the common human experience of dysfunction at holiday gatherings? It’s as common as pumpkin pie and Cool Whip. As latkes and sour cream.
So we might all benefit from a touch of mental preparation for what’s to come as these holidays approach.
Let’s start with the agenda. Prepare yourself. The TV may or may not be tuned in to the game you want to watch. You may or may not want to participate in the tackle football game on the lawn with the teenagers. You may or may not want to listen to your niece play her violin. But what the hell. You can record the game, cheer for the teenagers as they play, and applaud the violinist. Hey, someone probably applauded for you at some lame grade school recital, so you owe the Universe something in return. I remember a year at my brother’s house when his wife suggested we play charades. What? We had never done such a thing. Everyone froze and waited to see if she was kidding. She was not. And so….we played. It was a riot. No regrets. Just go for it.
Now let’s move on to the food. Prepare yourself. It may or may not be good. There may or may not be enough for seconds. Or even firsts. It may or may not taste like you remember it when Mom used to make it. There may even be some weird stuff there. Something with soft, cooked nuts on the top and greenish squash-like vegetable below. It’s a meal, though. Not everyone gets one of those – not even on a holiday. So – particularly at Thanksgiving – we should be thankful. I recall a year when my husband – the cook in the family – prepared everything but the turkey. We had a turkey, but he searched for hours for that thingy that makes the giant rotisserie work…and he searched – in silence – until dinnertime. I was furious. But I had no business being furious, because there was plenty of food. My mother saved the day by good-naturedly suggesting we just run to Kentucky Fried Chicken. We did. And we laughed. And we ate. That was the point, right?
Finally, and most important of all, there are the people. The “loved ones”. Prepare yourself. They may or may not be at the top of their game that day, well-rested, and feeling good. They may or may not dress appropriately for the occasion. They may or may not have voted the way you did in the recent election. And they may or may not notice you’ve lost 50 pounds. It doesn’t matter. They’re here. They’re alive. They may have had a horrific argument in the car on the way here and they may have worries about the future….of the country, of the their children’s lives, or of this dinner. But they’re here. And what you see may be the very best they can do at this point. Love them. They’re the “loved ones”. Make it so.
Are we ready now? Are our expectations of the agenda, the food and the people re-calibrated to a healthier state of flexibility and generosity?
Deep breaths, my friends. This is gonna be great.
“If all else fails, lower your expectations.” – Susan Murphy