I had a list. I always have a list. It's a genetic thing and a Type A thing, and I get a little thrill when I cross items off of the to-do category. But this day, as I walked with multitasking purpose in my stride, checking things off both my paper list and mental list simultaneously, I happened to glance up at the store window in front of me. "We Wish You the Perfect Christmas," it said. The Perfect Christmas. I happen to know that this Perfect Christmas animal is extinct.
I have had many Not Nearly Perfect Christmases. I have had newly-married Christmases in which I tore into my gifts with ridiculously high expectations and then had to pretend that the fuzzy socks or water filter or regifted item...or TURKEY BASTER I was given was exactly what I wanted. I only wish I were kidding about these aforementioned gifts.
I have had Very Imperfect Christmases where I was a newly-postpartum mom who tried with all of her sleep-deprived bones to make the holiday flawless for her people. To bake and decorate the ideal snowman-shaped cookies. To get the lights and the gifts and the concerts and the food just so. To create the ideal Christmas Experience. And then to finally take the antidepressants her doctor prescribed and wonder if she were a total failure for doing so.
I have had Emotional Christmases in another country where the gifts had to be carefully weighed and packed in suitcases in order to be brought to my kids, and the meal was delicious but not our familiar fare, and we were with sweet friends but family wasn't there, and there were new traditions to learn....you know, just tiny little things like war-zone-caliber-firework explosions ripping through the world at midnight on Christmas Eve. Silent Night my foot.
I have had Lonely Christmases where I read all of the wise books and practiced all of the spiritual disciplines and tried to hush the noise and remember the truth of the season. Yet it felt like a dark mist separated me from any comfort that a manger-held baby might bring.
But my Ghosts of Imperfect Christmases Past remind me why this season can be its own minefield-littered war zone for so many of us: It's because everything is heightened at Christmastime...the feelings, the hunger, the happiness, the loneliness, the wondering. It's as if a spotlight is clicked onto our lives and the highs are brought into sharp relief while the dark shadows become even blacker. It's why there aren't enough things to eat or glasses to drink or packages to open. It's the reminder that Christmas, like life, will never be perfect, that expectations will never be completely met, that tiredness and old hurts will never be overcome by sugar and cocktails and lights and glitter. It's understanding that even the beautiful things like love and friendship are a challenge. That they cannot be measured in a value marked on a gift receipt, that their worth cannot be wrapped up and boxed in. When we try to show each other how much we love and appreciate each other in the form of a thing, it will always, always fall short. It can't be given and shown on one single day of the year.
So for all of the moms who are just too tired to do Christmas this year; for all of the brokenhearted who are lonely and wish the day would pass quickly; for all of those who add and subtract and re-add and subtract and worry over the numbers in the bank account that won't stretch far enough; and even for those who have a loud family and a gorgeous tree and more food stuffed in the fridge than they could ever eat in 24 hours....Lay down the expectations of the season. Give breathing space for imperfections. The dog will probably get into the stockings and eat 82% of the candy. One or 18 shatterproof ornaments will shatter. The cinnamon rolls might fall flat. The memory-making traditional casserole probably won't taste exactly like you remembered it. The power will go out and the two-thirds-blinking Christmas lights will require a curse word or five, and the star-shaped cookies will resemble The Blob more than any recognizable celestial body.
But in the midst of the noise and the mess, perhaps we can sit quietly with a new definition of perfection. Perhaps we can resolve to do it differently this year and know:
That we can set this day free from the chains of expectation.
That we can sit in the bright moments of joy, soak their light in, accept them for the moments that they are, and then let them fly away on their shimmering wings.
That we can, in giving comfort to others, find comfort for ourselves.
That we can, in forgiveness, find healing for some of the hurts of Christmases Past.
That we can, in remembering, recall that the whole point of the season is the good news which comes after the waiting, the wanting. And that the waiting and the wanting makes the good news immeasurably sweeter.
That we can, in our waiting, find acceptance: That some Christmases may be holly and jolly, and some may be small and quiet, and some may be bright and glittery, and most may be a gloriously tangled strand of them all. But they are, even in their shatteredness or stillness or loudness, perfectly imperfect. That we can give room to ourselves and to others. That we can allow the sweetness of the light moments to hold us in the times when the light is hard to find.
A Very Merry Imperfect Christmas to you.