With the holidays in full swing, I have been thinking about traditions and the place of importance they often hold in our lives. It made me stop and wonder why? There are holiday traditions I definitely look forward to and work hard to make happen, just the way I remember them. Beginning in November, I feel that twinge of anxiety, mixed with great anticipation about how Christmas “should be.” That last part, “how Christmas should be”, becoming my focus. It brings with it a whole lot of expectations, which often lead to feeling disappointed and let down, because things rarely go as planned, right? My tightly controlled ideas of how things will be, how people will act and the expectation that everyone feels the same excitement, rarely come to pass. Someone gets sick, finances are tight, the weather does not cooperate, kids grow up and don’t react the way they used to, it’s a no burn day, so the roaring, cheery fire doesn’t happen, cats destroy carefully wrapped packages and the list goes on and on of things that sneak or blast their way in to our well controlled plans for the perfect holiday.
I have expectations of yummy goodies baking all season in the kitchen, making my house smell festive; I imagine Christmas parties with good friends filling the house; I dream of evenings spent by a warm, cozy fire with my family, pets, hot drinks, movies and all the warm fuzzy togetherness we can stand; a night of hot cocoa, while driving around looking at festive Christmas lights with everyone loving every second of it, with not a fight to be had. This fantastic list goes on and on, of things that are wonderful and exciting and lovely, but not very realistic. These expectations leave NO wiggle room for life or messed up plans or teenagers who don’t want to drive around looking at houses with lights on them.
I asked myself why I get anxious, letdown or sad if things don’t play out the way I expected. What will it mean if none of these traditions I hold on to, with such a white knuckled intensity, come to pass? Interestingly enough, the first thought that came to mind was “it won’t be safe.” Safety. I can see that. It makes sense in an odd sort of way. Feeling safe is something I have always craved. Remembering back to my childhood Christmases, everything felt predictable, controlled and orderly. It was safe. Secure. All wrapped up tightly. I knew what and who to expect, when and how to expect them. It was all lovely and predictable. I’m certain that things didn’t go perfectly all of the time; plans were changed, people got sick and life disrupted, as it often does, but as a child, I don’t remember any of that. I remember feeling safe; protected and wrapped up in traditions, knowing that my family would be surrounding me, we would have festive meals and there would be baking and delicious smells; there would be the anticipation of Christmas Eve candle light services and carols and everyone smiling; there would be lights on our tree and evenings spent sitting in the glow of those lights. The anticipation of Santa and listening for reindeer filled my heart with joy and wonder and predictability. What great memories. I love them. There were things in my childhood that were not happy and safe. Christmas and traditions held such importance, because I knew that during the holidays, I would feel safe and things would be predictable and in control. I wonder if that holds some truth for all of us? Do traditions give us predictability, safety and the feeling of being in control in an otherwise unpredictable, uncontrollable life? Is that why there are such feelings of letdown and depression for some, come Dec. 26th? Unmet expectations? Things not ending up as planned? People not behaving the way we had hoped?
Maybe this year will be different. Can I shift my focus to what is in front of me and embrace and enjoy it, allowing something new to become a great memory, instead of relying on what happened in the past to happen again? Can I celebrate Christmases past, yet open my heart to the here and now? I want the season to be about gratefulness, focusing on what I have and the season of life I’m in; finding peace in that. I want the season to be more about Jesus and the joy of knowing how safe and loved I am. God came to Earth, in the flesh, to be part of my world, to bring me everlasting life. The King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, Almighty God, Warrior, Lover, Savior – He came for me. He came for you. How’s that for feeling safe! Come, let us adore Him!