8 Ways to Overcome Expectations for the Holidays

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Inside: What are your expectations for the Holidays? Do you set unrealistic expectations and then get disappointed? Here are 8 tips for you this year!

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The perfect Holiday… what do you envision?

A festive home, lavish feast, and your family laughing and having fun together?

Everyone you love is present, and no one is missing or sick?

The whole time together is nothing but bliss?!?

That’s probably how many of us imagine the perfect holiday get-together.

Maybe your holiday expectations are that everything you do makes you look like you have it all together?

Everything you touch looks like Martha Stewart was present, and you’re cool and calm fully present at the moment.

Perhaps you can maneuver through the holidays with a positive, happy mood even though inside you’re stressed and overwhelmed to the gills, but you’re able to hide it from everyone.

When Our Expectations for the Holidays Aren’t Met

The problem is: we all have expectations for the holidays.

We envision that this year it will be different. Our family will be different, and all grudges and grievances will be put behind.

The reality is when expectations aren’t met, we suffer stress, disappointment, and angst.

It becomes a yearly letdown.

Our longings are to just get it right one year- to enjoy this Holiday season fully!

And we’re hopeful that if we nail our expectations one year, the other years will follow.

If we’re dealing with sickness or even other mental health issues, we might not have the energy, and ultimately, feel like we are letting our loved ones down.

So not only do we not feel like ourselves, but we add guilt and shame to the emotions we feel.

Don’t we expect others to finally “get” us this year and offer us grace or a free-pass?!?

We might end up feeling not only disappointed in ourselves but frustrated when others don’t understand us again!

Your Most Needed Holiday

The biggest question we need to ask ourselves is “what do we really need this holiday?”

In the grand scheme of life, does it matter that the table was perfectly set or that the food was point-on?

This holiday season, we might need quiet time around a few loved family members. Or maybe even time spent away resting and relaxing.

How we enjoy our festivities doesn’t have to look like someone else’s.

So I beg you to ask yourself, “what do I need this Holiday?”

If you aren’t sure, pray about it! God tells us to ask Him for wisdom!

So ask Him what would fulfill your heart this holiday season?

Expectations for the First Holiday

When we look back to the birth of our Savior, we see an unconventional story. Mary and Joseph needed to leave their hometown and travel to Bethlehem to be counted in the census.

Let’s think about this: a woman close to delivery isn’t about to travel any distance unless she absolutely has to. Her instincts would yearn for the comforts of her own environment and her “nest.”

Once in Bethlehem, Mary delivered in a stable, which wasn’t ideal, and her delivery didn’t look like someone else’s. God knew what Mary needed and what would fulfill her, even in the stable with animals nearby.

What were Mary’s expectations? Did she ever feel regret? Or… maybe it happened better than she could ever have imagined?

Mary found contentment in her story as part of the larger story of the birth of the Savior.

This might not have happened at first, but through the years, she could see how God orchestrated the perfect holiday just for her, and it looked mighty different from others, or even her expectations.

(Luke 2:19 NLT).

19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often

Even though we have expectations as humans, we can pull back this year and ask God to help us find contentment and fulfillment in however we celebrate Christmas.

We might not realize what He’s doing or understand the pain and hurt we feel, but God directs it all, and someday we’ll understand.

Our families and friends will disappoint; the perfect holiday is only found in the paintings of Norman Rockwell.

Tips to Overcome our Expectations for the Holidays and Find Contentment in Our Holiday

  1. Don’t place expectations on others.
  2. Focus on what we learn and how we can grow this year during the holidays.
  3. Find joy and contentment in Jesus and not in people are things.
  4. Give up control; we never had control anyway.
  5. Set up boundaries so the family can’t cause pain and hurt.
  6. Embrace all feelings and look at ways to use them to grow.
  7. Practice more self-care this year.
  8. Focus on showing love to those who mean a lot to us this year.

We will never feel contentment and fulfillment when we place this on people.

True fulfillment comes from believing, trusting and finding joy in Jesus.

The only thing that can be perfect this holiday season is the birth of our Savior.

The perfect babe in a manger came to save us from our sins and give us the gift of eternal life. When we drop our expectations and focus on the birth of Jesus, we can celebrate this holiday season and find joy and happiness.

(Psalm 107:9 ESV).

9 For he satisfies the longing soul,

    and the hungry soul he fills with good things

Father- thank you for showing me how simple the first Holiday was. You didn’t need the perfect setting, but rather you sent Jesus amidst regular life with all its imperfections! Help me to find what you want me to see this Holiday season! Give me the wisdom and guide me to find what will fill me! I know you can only fill me, so help me find you in the midst of my life! I await the blessings of this season! Amen!

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  1. Great tips on how to be “real.” I think that is our problem, at times. With the advent of social media, we now have access to all those “picture perfect PINS” and think that is what we must do/have/be, etc. Nope! I am not buying into it. But I’ve only recently been able to find that mindset. Maybe it comes with being older and, hopefully, a little wiser. When I was a young mother, I think I stressed out more because I wanted my children to have those magical Christmas memories. I think they probably do have magical memories, but boy, that came at a cost to mama – just sayin’. Today, mama takes time to reflect more on the reason for the season – that is the best memory of all.

  2. Great suggestions and very timely. I know many of us fall into the trap of making holidays perfect and then being disappointed when they are not as we imagined. I will certainly try these out this year

  3. I love your tips. Especially your suggestion to relinquish control. You are correct, we never had it anyway. I think we often miss the important elements of this season because we are too caught up in the insignificant.

  4. This post helps us to focus on what really matters. I have so many plans to make Christmas wonderful for the whole family this year, but I try hard to write them with a pencil so they can be erased and re-written. It’s really more about enjoying our time together and making wonderful memories than fulfilling every plan. Focusing on some self-care during this time is good advice.

  5. I love what you said, “How we enjoy our festivities doesn’t have to look like someone else’s.” Our nuclear family decided a while ago to stop traveling to the grandparents’ for the holidays. It’s just extra stress & expectation built up with the inevitable relational issues.

    So we spend it with friends – or sometimes just us. It’s not exactly as I would have it, but it seems to be what’s best and allows more time for focus on Jesus. I do sometimes feel “left out” not celebrating in the same way as others. Thank you for acknowledging that we may all have our own unique way of celebrating & as long as it centers on Jesus, it is good!

  6. This is great, and I really appreciate your point about how we enjoy our festivities doesn’t have to look like someone else’s. Forget keeping up with the Joneses – let’s just set our sights on God.

  7. Julie, this is a great takeaway: “Even though we have expectations as humans, we can pull back this year and ask God to help us find contentment and fulfillment in however we celebrate Christmas.”

    That really meets me where I’m at. We relocated across the country since last year, and our holiday will be unlike any we’re ever had. We won’t see some of our family that we’ve always seen at Christmas. It’s a year for practicing the contentment and flexibility that Mary showed when she submitted to God’s plan and when she went with Joseph to Bethlehem. I’m waiting to see what God has for us and attempting to walk in this sort of contentment. Great post!

  8. I love your tips to overcome expectations and find contentment, As a children’s ministry on staff at a church, the tip that stands out to me is to practice more self-care this year. It is so easy during this time of year to not take care of myself for the sake of others…to the point I get sick…like I am today! Thank you for the reminder. 🙂

  9. These are great suggestions, Julie. The last one probably speaks to me the most. I want to focus on loving people just as they are, including any disappointments that come with them. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Great tips! I used to be the queen of unrealistic expectations. I’m still an optimist, but as a recovering perfectionist, I have decided I don’t care about the perfect anything anymore! 🙂 Focusing on the simple, holy joy is the best course, in my opinion.

  11. Great tips! Honoring the LORD should be our first and highest priority throughout all seasons of life yet we tend to let down our guard for the sake of “the perfect Christmas.” I love your statement about the “The perfect Babe in a manger.”

  12. Thank you for the timely repost. God used it for a perspective shift: Not to focus on those family members who won’t be there but on those I am grateful to share the holidays with. I shared it on Facebook. Hope your holiday season is spent ever closer to Jesus!

  13. I love these timely tips. It’s too easy to slip into the idea that we can have the perfect Hallmark Christmas–the one that comes at the end of the movie. The best way to the best Christmas is letting it unfold instead of toiling to create it ourselves. Great post! God bless!

  14. I love tip #1, “Don’t place expectations on others.” For me that is key! People are not perfect and cannot meet our expectations… only Jesus can.

  15. Great suggestions! Seems that we always have visions of the perfect Hallmark Christmas. Sometimes a peaceful, quiet Christmas with family is absolutely perfect.

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