The Perfect(ionist) Christmas


About 20 years ago, my friend, Kelley, coined a phrase now famous among my family and friends…

“It’s not Christmas until Val yells out, ‘F*** Christmas!’”

For anyone who may be offended by that, please understand that I mean no disrespect to the Baby Jesus. In fact, my favorite Christmas tradition is gently setting up my Grandmother’s cardboard Nativity (pictured above, circa 1940’s) while singing to myself all the verses to “Away in a Manger.”

So no, it’s not the “Reason for the Season” that pisses me off, but all the pressure and expectations that go along with Christmas.

My friend made this observation about my attitude toward Christmas when our kids were young and we were both stay-at-home moms. Frankly, I don’t care if you're a stay-at-home mom or a working mom - as mothers, we usually have the mother lode of responsibility to make the magic happen!

When I was in my 30’s, I was a fairly high-strung person. I was easily stressed out and had high expectations of myself and others. Plus, I was the only child of a divorced family, and the Christmases of my childhood were loving but low-key.

So, my desire to create a wonderful Christmas experience for my family was high. Thus, I shopped and baked and made crafts. I sent Christmas cards and took cookies and fudge to friends and neighbors. We went to breakfast with Santa and the zoo and driving to see the Christmas lights. I remember late nights wrapping packages with my husband after the kids went to bed and shopping on eBay for that one action figure for my son that you couldn’t find in the stores. Wow, it wears me out just recalling it all now!

And just think, this was 20 years ago. Today, with social media, digitally produced Christmas cards, The Elf on the Shelf, and online shopping where everything your heart desires can be delivered to your doorstep with a click of a button, the temptation to create a perfect Christmas has multiplied times infinity!

For people with a tendency toward perfectionism, this is a recipe for overload, disappointment, and exhaustion. If you get overwhelmed by your own or others’ expectations about the holiday season, here is some advice from a recovering perfectionist:

1. Lower your expectations.

For a perfectionist, this can be a terrifying suggestion. It’s like giving up! Shouldn’t you just try harder? The funny thing about perfectionism is that it doesn’t matter how hard your try, it’s never good enough. You may tend to worry about every detail, but your family won’t remember the details. They will remember the love that surrounds them.

Let go of some of the details and your control over the outcome. The holiday, as with the Universe, will unfold as it should. Close your eyes, tilt your head back, and breathe.

2. Decide what traditions work and let go of the ones that don’t.

It may be hard to let go of some of the traditions you think you must have. But it’s better to keep it simple.

My kids used to love to make Christmas mice on Christmas Eve. They were adorable, made with maraschino cherries dipped in chocolate, the stem for a tail, a candy kiss for the head, and sliced almonds for ears. And how clever! - As in, “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring…” But Lord, it was stressful! The night before Christmas? When you are trying to get the kids to bed but they are so excited about Santa? And Santa still has some presents to wrap, some cookies to eat, and some reindeer footprints to track through the house? And the kids are making things with chocolate?! No. Gone.

3. Less gifts, more gratitude.

Giving gifts is a meaningful part of Christmas.

But why do we overdo it SO MUCH? Because we can? Because we want our family to be happy? Because the manufacturers and advertisers say we should? What are we going to do with all that stuff?

Cut back on stuff. Put your energy and your money into experiences. Experiences are richer, and you will be, too.

My children are young adults now and I’m looking forward to Christmas because they will be home. It won’t be about the stuff, but many of the traditions will remain. It’s easy to look back and think of all the things I would have done differently – or maybe not.

I hope my friends and family would agree that I have mellowed with age.

I haven’t exclaimed, “F*** Christmas!” yet this year. These days, I can usually make it through the season with a small “Bah Humbug” and an extra splash of bourbon in the pie.

-Valerie Allen, MEd, LPCC

If your tendency toward perfectionism is sucking the fun out of life, it's time to make some changes.

Please contact me at valallencounseling@gmail.com or 513-317-8113.

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