Arrow-right Camera

Washington Voices

Time has revealed real holiday joy

Sat., Dec. 25, 2010, midnight

Back in the day when perfectionism was a driving force in my life, I had great expectations for holidays, wanting them to somehow make up for unhappy ones in my youth. I wanted the dreams without the drama, the turkey without the tempest, the eggnog without the alcohol, the angels without the angst.

Once Richard and I were married, I was convinced that I could create the warm fuzzy Hallmark Holiday I thought other families had. I cleaned the house. I decorated. I baked, and made my coveted English toffee. Sugarplums danced in my head with abandon. I’d never eaten a chestnut, but doggone, I wanted ’em roasting over an open fire, metaphorically speaking, and Jack Frost nipping noses. I longed for a fireplace, holiday dishes, a holiday sweater, a sparkly dress and place to wear it; for all those things that would make the holidays special and perfect.

I thought holiday happiness was what you made.

Over time I learned differently. We’ve had many lovely holidays but also those that disappointed, derailed by illness, lack of funds, loss, and failed plans. This autumn Richard’s mother has been seriously ill and in and out of the hospital. During Thanksgiving week I had a painful tooth abscess and root canal, and on Thanksgiving Day I burned my hand by accidentally picking up my hot curling iron rod instead of the handle. I was thankful for endodontistry, urgent care, pharmaceuticals, a tender husband, and caring friends who brought us plates of food from their family dinner (which we couldn’t attend). But for a festive holiday the weekend was a real turkey.

Everyone has eye-rolling holiday stories like this and ones far worse – loss of loved ones and jobs, broken hearts, mishaps, accidents, weather events, and awful flu bugs that become family legend. Life happens without accommodating special dates, and unlike gifts laid under a tree, it doesn’t wait for us to open it at our convenience. And even when things go well, reality usually fails to measure up to the fantasies that advertising and childhood memories have planted in our heads. Just ask anyone who suffers depression during the “most wonderful time of the year.”

I once thought I could make beauty, truth, love, goodness and a warm family feeling happen with sugar cookies and fragrant candles. But my wishes simply exceeded my grasp. I never did get the Christmas dishes, the spangled dress, or even the reindeer sweater, but those things are no longer important to me. Time and experience have taught me that those things won’t buy me a close, loving family or good memories.

Poinsettias and placemats, and gifts, gadgets and gumdrops weren’t the measuring stick I needed for heartwarming holidays. All I needed, in spite of life’s imperfections, was the meaning of the day, the values I cherish, the faith I hold, and the love I give and receive.

And you know what? That’s perfect.

You can reach Deborah Chan at Previous columns are available at columnists/. 

Click here to comment on this story »