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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Gaur

Salvaging the "Perfect Holiday"

I was recently asked about my favorite holiday memory. It took half a second to conjure up the most precious moment that I will forever hold in my heart.


Seventy flickering candles cast a glow that sliced through the dark church sanctuary on a cold Christmas Eve. A chorus of voices echoed out the gentle tune of Silent Night– a moment of pure beauty, reverence, and peace. My eyes were sealed shut as I contemplated the words of the hymn when, with a confident shout, two-year-old Brooklynn began to bellow out, “row row row BOAT!” Soft giggles and warm smiles surrounded us. I shushed her in embarrassment, but couldn’t stop from giggling myself. It was adorable. What was meant to be a perfect moment, a moment of tradition, took on a different kind of beauty– the joy of an innocent child.


As I prepare for the approaching holiday season, I find myself planning for and picturing a series of perfect, storybook moments. Perfect family moments that I can hold onto forever. As one of those people who cling desperately to tradition, I already know exactly what recipes we will use, what carols we will sing, and what holiday movies we will watch as a family as we cuddle perfectly together on the couch. I can picture it now– all five of us will get into our matching pajamas and snuggle under one blanket as we watch A Charlie Brown Christmas with smiles on our faces.


Wait. Is that really how it will go? Let me try again.


Three of the five of us will wear matching pajamas because one peed all over their bottoms and the other cried for 40 minutes about not wanting to wear them. We break up the wresting match on the couch because, “someone is kicking me!” and “she’s taking all of the blanket!” We settle with two blankets, and a beach towel (because that’s all we have clean), while one of us freezes our toes off without a blanket. We watch approximately 7 minutes of A Charlie Brown Christmas before pausing for someone to go pee. We watch 6 more minutes before someone whines, “I’m hungry,” even though they just threw half of their dinner in the garbage because they were “full”. Finally, we shut off the TV before Snoopy can even decorate his doghouse because the kids have imploded.


Yes. This sounds more accurate.


So this year I ask myself, how can I reconcile my desire for tradition with the desire to actually have an enjoyable family holiday for everyone? Upon some reflection, this is what I have come up with.


Let go of your picture of the “perfect holiday”.

As much as you want the perfect holiday, it is not likely to go exactly as you have imagined in your head and it is easy to let the frustration suck out all the joy for both you and the rest of your family.


Ask yourself what traditions you can be flexible with and what traditions you really must hold onto.

I can be okay without the matching pajamas, but I really do need to hold onto a family evening of decorating the Christmas tree. I really do like to watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade, but maybe I can just keep the parade on in the background while I cook and the kids play rather than gathering everyone to sit still and watch it together.


If you must hold onto a tradition, what preparation (physical/mental/emotional) can you do beforehand to ensure you and the kids are able to participate.

If you really must get the perfect holiday card photo in coordinating outfits, you may want to think about some preparation a few days/weeks in advance. Maybe engage your child in the clothing selection process. Give them two choices of outfits to choose from and let them try it on to make sure it fits and is comfortable for them. You could keep the outfit out on display in their bedroom for a few days before so they have time to process and prepare that they will be wearing the outfit on the given day. Perhaps pack and change of clothes for after the family photo if your child becomes uncomfortable.


While the prep-work can be a pain, it can provide an avenue for an enjoyable tradition with less stress and volatile emotion.


What new traditions can you create that incorporate your children’s unique interests and needs?

My children really don’t enjoy sitting down to watch long Christmas movies, a cherished tradition for me from my childhood. Rather than forcing them to sit for this tradition that they do not value as I do, we started a new tradition. We sit and read the story of Jesus’ birth from our Children’s Bible and then we decorate gingerbread houses together.


Take time away from the hustle and bustle– curb that overwhelm for both you and your little ones.

Holidays can be really overwhelming for everyone. Everything is out of routine, there is often a lot of extraneous noise, furniture may be rearranged, there are extra people in the house (both familiar and not), and there are new foods and smells all around them. Allow some time for your child to go play quietly in their room for a few minutes with some familiar toys, or sit down in a quiet space with your child to read a book. You yourself may want to schedule a bit of time to hide away in your room or bathroom to take some deep breaths and calm your nervous system.


Lastly, choose to find joy in the “imperfect moments” because those may end up being some of your favorite holiday memories.

Mine will always be the sweet innocent thoughts running through Brooklynn’s head as she proudly sang her, ‘row row boat” solo to our entire church congregation.


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Jennifer Angelucci
Jennifer Angelucci
17 nov 2022

I love this!! Even without kids I find myself desperately clinging to old traditions and letting it sour my mood when it doesn’t feel how it used to feel. I can picture Brooklynn belting out in song and wish I could have seen that!!

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