I remember, close to 30 years ago, a friend telling me about an article she read about our expectations during the holidays, as opposed to the reality of how things actually are. She said it talked about us having the idea that when Christmas Eve came, our home would be exquisitely decorated, the packages would be beautifully wrapped, we would have delicious goodies prepared, our angelic children would be wearing their new Christmas outfits, as we happily spent time with our family.
The article went on to say, that our reality was more likely to be, our toddler has half undecorated the tree again, half the presents are not wrapped, everyone is whining because they are hungry and you forgot to defrost anything, you are trying to get grubby kids into the tub - while the unpotty trained toddler has escaped to run naked through the house, your husband is not home yet, and your mother-in-law is at the door.
I answered that, yeah, pretty much, except in my fantasy, we had also just returned from delivering baskets of homemade food to needy people. She said, "You're screwed." Yeah, pretty much.
A lot of years have passed since then and there have been a lot of Christmases under the bridge. Some years have been kinda wonderful. Others have been kinda not so much. I've learned a lot about expectations and figuring out what is really important to us.
One of my fantasy vs. fail issues for many years was decorating the Christmas tree. I had the idea that Daddy would get the tree set up and the lights on it, then the entire family would happily put the rest of the ornaments on, while we drank eggnog/cocoa, and listened to Christmas carols. Some years we managed some semblance of this idea, but more often than not, the scenario also included a generous helping of crankiness, bickering, and fussing.
One memorable incident actually occurred before we even had kids. I wanted to get the tree up and kept pestering my husband to come put the lights on. (It was a fairly small tree, I realize now that I could have done it myself, but my dad always did the lights when I was a kid, so didn't the man have to do that part?) Hubby was busy with something in the garage, but I wanted those lights on, so I kept nagging him.
He finally came in, grabbed the lights and wrapped them tightly around the tree, flattening the branches as he went. It was wound so tight, it was ready for shipping. He then declared, "There, they are on!" and stormed back to the garage. I didn't say another word about it, I just carefully pulled enough branches loose from their light string bindings, that I could put ornaments on.
They always say, we'll laugh about this some day, and laugh about it we did. That story became part of our family lore and ended up being retold at some point every year during the tree decorating. Often at a point when tensions were running high. When someone was getting mad, someone else would say, "At least it's not as bad as the year..."
With the children grown now, we've finally reached a point, where, we don't expect there to be magic in the tree trimming. We just look at it as a task that needs to be done, so we can enjoy having a tree. We probably will put some Christmas music on, various family members will come in and out and do various parts, but we don't have any real expectations out of it, except getting the tree up. Surprisingly, it has actually turned into a much more pleasant proposition all the way around. Still though, at some point, someone brings up the story, "Like the year..."
Our traditions grow and change as time goes by. Sometimes, it is not the things we think will be important to us, that are. I don't know which of the various traditions we have had that my children will carry on, but it is likely, that some time each year, they will say, "There was this one year..."