Holiday Expectations

When I looked for an inspirational quote about holiday expectations, a quote from AA seemed to stand out above all others – “Expectations are premeditated resentments.” Well, so much for inspiration! By the time you were at least age 20, some of you probably developed the notion of the “perfect holiday season”. And like most of us, you found disappointment or maybe even resentment when it didn’t turn out to be what you expected. As a child, I found great joy in the anticipation of holidays – Anticipation was part of the fun. Early childhood was a pre-expectation time. There was a sense of excitement about what could be. As a young child, I remember the feeling on the night before Christmas and waking up on Christmas day – there was a euphoria knowing that the day would stand out, it would be fun, and it was. The idea of the perfect experience, still unformed, made whatever happened – the perfect day. I’m not sure at what age the idea of the perfect gift emerged, but I know it did. It was the beginning of the expectation game. I am sure it had something to do with media messages. Gift anticipation is the first type of expectation that I remember about the holidays. You know - That one game that everybody wanted or the Barbie doll dream house. The whole joy of the event seemed to be contingent upon receiving it. As I got older, the expectations grew more elaborate – as other factors crept in – the right food, the right people and the right place. In my early childhood years, our family tradition was to spend Christmas Eve with extended family at my Aunt Caryol’s home. She had 6 children, Aunt Linda had 5, so when combined with extended family members, the occasion was filled with fun and laughter. Music, people and presents packed her small home, which brimmed over with love and plenty of food. I knew I count on my favorite holiday cookies – peanut butter with Hershey kisses. Even the ride to her home was part of the experience – snow on the ground, lights on the houses, checking the sky for Santa. It felt magical. This was the perfect holiday. When I became a teenager, my family moved to the South and the holidays were very different without the wrapping of relatives. For me, that’s when impossible expectations started shadowing the joy of the present– there was a longing for a past that could not be recreated. Eventually we formed new traditions with friends singing carols around our player piano. I made the favorite cookies and we rode around and looked at the lights. Before I knew it, this was the perfect holiday. As I grew older and my children came into the picture, holiday celebrations changed again dramatically. My fondest memory was the first Christmas after they were adopted. By then, my family was spending Christmas day at my brother’s home. When we arrived at his house on their first Christmas day, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers were singing “I’ll be Home With Bells On” from the stereo and we spontaneously joined hands and sang and danced in a circle. It remains one of my most cherished memories. For a woman who prefers Motown over country you know it’s memorable. You will still hear Dolly at my house if you visit during the holidays. Spending Christmas at my brother’s house became the new perfect holiday. Now the 3 and 4 year olds who danced around the kitchen are 23 and 24 and much has changed, people and places – many of my family members are gone and the holiday is now spent with my husband’s family. I can’t help but feel the pull of sadness as I look back with longing for the past perfect experiences. I try to not compare the present with the past. But . . . It’s hard. Many of us get very anxious during the holiday season as the messages of peace, goodwill and the dawn of more light mix with media noise and . . . Yes, our perfect memories and their unmet expectations. Yet, even with the noise and transitions created by time’s passing, there is one constant. The You in the Holiday. The You who has been at the center of all past holidays - good and bad. You hold memories and can choose to cherish or release them. You have the choice to turn off the external and internal. Through stillness, there is the power to appreciate the new now, the present. Here’s a practice for the season . . . I encourage you to take a few moments, find a quiet place and cross you arms over your heart.
  1. Listen to your breath for a few moments.
  2. Exhale. Then create inhale on the count of 4. Pause. Then exhale to the count of 6.
  3. If you have a joyous memory, breathe in, bless it and let it go with your exhale.
  4. If you have a painful memory, breathe in the quiet and with a long exhale, let your shoulders relax.
  5. Breathe in the present moment and exhale with the assurance that it’s a powerful moment.
  6. Say: Present moment, Powerful moment.
  7. If you would like, bring your hands together now at heart center.
  8. Honor your inner power and light and say, Namaste.
When you release expectations, you are free to enjoy things for what they are instead of what you think they should be. May you fully experience the joy that waits for each one of us this season and always. Namaste. (Photo courtesy of