Holidays…Joy or Disappointment?

“Expectations are only premeditated disappointments.”

When do we have more expectations than at holiday times?

Overall, this is a good year. I feel abundant joy during the holidays. It emanates from the sights and smells. It vibrates from people I know and love and those I pass on the street. It buoys me up over any small irritations or challenges in my days.

I also feel and acknowledge the pain and disappointments in my own life and in stories I hear. I see it in the trembling lips and sad eyes as the words, “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah”, reverberate everywhere.

It’s difficult for life to equal the Hallmark images of perfect holidays.

Although I no longer shop for anything but gift cards I remember that when searching for gifts in crowded stores I wanted my choices to be perfect. I imagined (unrealistically) the delighted response of recipients. In my imagination shoppers in the crowded stores took on the enthusiasm of a choreographed flash mob smiling and singing, “Joy to the World”. The sharp elbows of fellow shoppers and snappy responses of exhausted clerks often burst the bubble of my fantasy life.

It’s a universal experience.

When we light the candles anticipating the arrival of eagerly awaited guests, we have created a vision of our time together. The smell of food, the setting of the table, the ringing of the doorbell, all herald the beginning of our expectations.

So did your holidays fulfill your expectations? Probably not.

Maybe you are in transition. It’s hard to have the perfect tree if you’re still unpacking. The Menorah is at the bottom of the box in the bottom of the stack. Your plane may have been delayed so long that the family had dinner without you as you sat in a difficult-to-distinguish-from-any-other food court.

Your relationship may have just ended.

Or your children are growing as fast as their disinterest in celebrating with you. They would rather be with their new love or decorating their own apartment. Some didn’t have the money or initiative necessary to buy you even the smallest gift. (Never mind that you always insisted that Christmas was not about the gifts.)

Losses and unresolved issues can cloud our enjoyment of even the simplest of celebrations. Illness, death, and dying. Lost jobs. Financial difficulties. Family dissension. The list of serious problems is as long as our wish list.

Because our expectations are self-imposed doesn’t mean it’s easy to give them up. From forgetting to light the candles by the fireplace (the house wasn’t perfect, was it?) to missing a phone call from our children – we have set up a rosy image that is hard to relinquish.

Gratitude…playing the “glad game” is a perfect antidote. But does anyone else have trouble doing that sometimes? When I’ve been sick and missed the family get-together, when weather interfered with my trip to the Christmas play, when my kids have had to work and didn’t make it home when I was counting on them – I have struggled with plans having gone awry.

Although it is never easy, reconciliation of expectation to reality seems to get easier with practice. This year, at least, my setbacks have not dampened my joy.



  1. Being at an age when “things” no longer interest me what is joyful is company and I get plenty of it from friends and family. In many respects, I am blessed because I have been given them as I also see the trembling lips and sad eyes on quite a few faces who do not have that for whatever reason. Also, being retired, I am on permanent holidays!


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