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The ideal Christmas (& what to do about it)

By petra - Posted on 14 December 2012

I used to have this ridiculously distressing ideal about Christmas.

Christmas was supposed to be warm, bright, harmonious, elegant, & full of delicious food. My children & I were supposed to happy, clean & well dressed. And without any money or help, I was supposed to single-handedly create this magical event for my kids through a combination of grim determination & exertion. Every year I found myself absolutely exhausted by the time the 25th rolled up, and every year I longed for the 26th when I could collapse. There was nothing jolly about any of it.

One December my youngest kid got a picture book from the library called ‘An Edwardian Christmas’ and there it was: the perfect Christmas I had been trying (failing, flailing) to create all these years. So I studied it and I discovered the secret. The Christmas I had been trying to achieve was depicted in this book, all the food & festivities, and it was totally unattainable because it was based on a totally weird & archaic social system which included servants. There were servants making the magic happen through this book! This was a revelation to me. Somehow, culturally, this Christmas ideal remained in my mind , even though it had only ever been achievable through the labours of a servant class, and therefore was only available to wealthy people to start with! I felt better after that. There wasn’t anything wrong with me or the Christmases I was able to pull off for my kids. The standard I was going for was completely unrealistic. So I adjusted my standard and braved another December, but even so, I was exhausted and longing for it to be over by the 24th.

What was wrong now?

How about one of those happy Bob Cratchit Christmases where there wasn’t much to go around but everyone was somehow grateful & happy? When I studied that Christmas ideal a little more, I realized that the only way to pull off that kind of Christmas was to have a happy bustling Mrs. Cratchit who, with the help of her elder children, was busily making the magic happen. That kind of Christmas required a matriarch. And I was that matriarch. Except I was too young to be a matriarch by anyone’s definition.

I learned a lot by studying Christmas in this way. I envied the mothers at my kids’ schools who complained about all the presents their children got from their grandparents, and about having to go to their mother’s place for Christmas. I wanted a benevolent matriarch who would take care of the Christmas magic. Or at least help me with it. I wanted a Mrs. Cratchit who would be happy to see me and my kids, and all I had to do was show up, be grateful, & help.

But the reality is, for many young parent families, the varieties of abundance that combine to create the ideal Christmas just don’t exist. Many young mothers become the matriarchs of their families at a very young age, taking care of parents & siblings, feeding wayward uncles, and heroically trying to make a cozy beautiful Christmas for their kids out of poverty, stress & chaos.

That’s why it might be helpful to deconstruct Christmas all together. Really look at all the ideals that have somehow crept in to our expectations and only create pressure for us. Consciously decide what we want and don’t want; what is realistic and what isn’t. If you are the matriarch of your family at 18 (or 22), don’t try to create an unrealistic, glamorous Christmas. Instead, decide what is important for you and your kids. You are in charge and if you step back, debt & stress probably aren’t traditions you want to perpetuate! Decide what is important; decide what you want to keep. Get rid of the rest. It’s all optional.

Love the tree? Get the tree.

Hate taking the tree down after the holiday? Skip the tree!

Traditions can be cheap & free. Light candles. Snuggle up & watch your favorite movies together. Make hot chocolate and walk around your neighbourhood to see the lights. Make spending time with your kids your highest priority.

What kids need is love, not a stressed out parent who is exhausting herself trying to create an unachievable magical moment at the expense of her well-being.

What you need is love, and if you’re the matriarch you need to include yourself in the bright circle. Let love, without any $$ attached, be the new Christmas tradition for your family.