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Great Expectations

12/24/07 7:55AM By Leora Dowling
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(HOST) Writer and commentator Leora Dowling has been thinking about how much we look forward to the holidays, and she has some advice for making this holiday the best ever... really.

(DOWLING) Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring...

Well, that’s not exactly true. Bodies were still but brains were switched on high.

Mama was anxious... she had so much yet to do but she was totally exhausted. And she was sad. The children had outgrown a lot of the Christmas magic, so a lot of her pleasure had disappeared too.

Papa was stressed about money, and annoyed. He’d wanted a quiet holiday, but the relatives were coming... again.

And visions of cell phones and video games instead of sugarplums danced through the kids heads.

Doesn’t sound like the holiday classic does it? But it’s probably more like what most of us experience.

We all have great expectations when it comes to Christmas.

This year we want it to be perfect. We figure if we can just arrange things in a certain way... buy the ultimate gift, bake a few dozen cookies, keep everyone sober, then somehow it’ll be like it used to be... like it should be. The way other people's Christmases are... aren’t they?

But too often instead of holidays filled with selfless giving, warm reunions, and spontaneity, we find ourselves overwhelmed and disappointed.

Fortunately, there is a way to have a happier, less stressful holiday season:

To really enjoy Christmas, we must let go of expectations and let whatever shape our Christmas takes be good enough.

To do this we must first face the ugly fact: there’s no such thing as a perfect holiday. Even money can’t buy one. Perfection is a Madison Avenue and Hollywood illusion. We know this, but sometimes it’s hard to get past decades of jolly indoctrination.

And just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean we can flip a switch and automatically be filled with joy.

We have our problems. We lose our innocence. Move. Divorce. People die.
I remember one year when my father was so heavily medicated that all he could do was sit nodding in his wheelchair. He certainly couldn’t appreciate all the effort I’d put in to decorating, cooking, wrapping and trying to make Christmas the way it had once been.

It was a difficult day, but at least we were together, and I learned that if my enjoyment of Christmas depends on the physical presence, approval, or actions of someone else, I’m in trouble.

And I need to put less pressure on myself too.

When she was alive my mom would make our house look like a page out of Good Housekeeping Magazine. She was artistic, had lots of time, and planning for Christmas gave her enormous pleasure. I’m not my mom. So I should do things that bring me joy... like cooking linguine with clam sauce if I want to... instead of turkey with the traditional trimmings.

This Christmas will be... must be... like no other. Christmas 2007 can be unique and wondrous in its own way... if only I can manage my great expectations.
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