Expectation (noun) 1. the act or the state of expecting: to wait in expectation.
2. the act or state of looking forward or anticipating. --Random House Dictionary
It is now Christmas week, one day post the 25th but still six days to go in our yearly holiday journey. How’s your spirit doing? Your yuletide yearnings? Your holiday expectations that got so built up in the days leading up to the 25th?
Strewn about the house is the detritus from the big day. Scrunched up balls of torn and wrinkled wrapping paper. A recycling bin overflowing with empty wine and beer bottles. A half finished carton of eggnog in the refrigerator, a caloric time bomb ticking away. Your special holiday stretch pants are stretched to the limit. The tree by now may be listing a bit too, ten degrees to the west, groaning under the weight of too little water and too many ornaments.
December holidays, and all the human hopes that go along with them, have become mighty large in our modern world: promoted, advertized, mythologized and pumped up beyond any realistic outcomes. Admit it. At this time of year it is so easy to fall victim to an unattainable vision of just how these holly days are supposed to go.
Everybody is supposed to absolutely love what we got them. “It’s perfect!” The Christmas Eve party is supposed to come off without a hitch, every guest fully welcomed, every hor d'oeuvre fully enjoyed. The tree is supposed to stand true and tall and every ornament hangs just so. The family is supposed to all get along, domestic bliss, a silent night when all is calm, all is bright. That longed for toy or gadget is supposed to be easily assembled, directions in real English, no missing parts.
But here’s what happens. Some gifts are deeply appreciated and some gifts are just tossed over the shoulder of the receiver as they dive into the next bauble. At the party cousin Victoria got drunk again and stumbled over Rudolf in the front yard but lots of the guests didn’t notice. PHEW! The tree is pretty but the cat just used it as a litter box. Christmas dinner was delicious but it was kind of sad to remember someone was missing from the table this year. And it took until 3 am to put together that %$#@& dollhouse! Expectations hoped for and expectations dashed.
The reality is that Christmas and the holidays are usually like most other days in how they come together and how they fall apart. There are precious moments when we can’t believe how blessed by God we feel, how wonderful life is. There are sharp times when we get hurt or disappointed. It snows: YEA! SLEDDING! It snows. BOO! THE PLANE IS DELAYED! The turkey is moist and tender and the rolls are burnt to a crisp. Always in life, whether on a special day or just another day, our outcomes usually wind up somewhere in the middle and maybe that’s ok.
There’s a worldwide “happiness” survey that’s been taken the past few years which compares the level of bliss in various countries. Almost every year the Danish win. The Danes—what’s the deal with that? They’re frozen out much of the year. They’ve got that midnight sun thing, months and months of winter darkness. They do well economically but aren’t as wealthy as many other nations. I mean they haven’t even got a Super Bowl! But in the U.S. we ranked 23rd out of 97 nations surveyed in 2009. What gives?
Professor Kaare Christensen at the University of Southern Denmark offers this conclusion. “What we basically figured out is that although the Danes were very happy with their life, when we looked at their expectations they were pretty modest. By having low expectations, one is rarely disappointed.”
Wise thoughts. So when it comes to the holidays maybe we would all do well to decrease our expectations and increase our gratitude for the simple gifts of the season. A warm and safe house. Folks who love us. Faith in God who sustains us. Time off from work. Just one gift that made us smile. A glass of sweet eggnog after the kids go to bed. A child home from college. Sitting in front of a brightly lit tree and savoring the quiet.
Me? I’m letting go of all those holiday expectations this year. The perfect holiday may happen in the movies and at Martha Stewart’s house but not here on this imperfect earth in my imperfect life or in my imperfect home and that’s how it is supposed to be.
Have yourself a content little holiday season!
The Rev. John F. Hudson is senior pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn (www.pilgrimsherborn.org). If you have a word or idea you’d like defined in a future column or have comments, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or in care of the Dover-Sherborn Press (Dover-Sherborn@wickedlocal.com).