The holiday season often conjures up images of smiling faces, cozy settings and all the makings of a Hallmark movie. The reality, however, can be quite different. Part of what sets the holidays apart are the expectations that go along with these special days — warm gatherings of family or friends and holiday miracles. But those high expectations often can set people up for disappointments.

The holidays can be just as imperfect and challenging as any other day – sometimes more. This year, after all the hardships of 2020, we want the holidays to be great – or at least I do. We may yearn for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, or New Year’s to provide a break from thinking about all the hard things going on in the world. The reality is that as much as we want the holidays to be the salve to our aching selves, those days can bring pain, too. If you think about it, many of those holidays have struggle built into their origin stories.

This year there will be limitations on how and with whom we spend the holidays. Some people are dealing with financial struggles due to lost or impacted jobs in addition to the other financial implications of COVID-19. People may be grieving the loss of loved ones and preparing to spend their first holidays without them, even as they limit themselves from spending time with the people who are still around.

So, let’s look at the holidays and appreciate them for what they can be, not what we build them up to be. The holidays are opportunities to think about what matters most to us and to try to honor those things or those people. These days don’t have to be grand events filled with food, people, parties, and presents. They can be simple attempts to have gratitude for what we still have and our hopes for the future. These holidays can be times to find rest and appreciate smaller celebrations.

Let’s give ourselves permission to celebrate, but do so with our eyes wide open. Let’s relax our expectations and standards and enjoy the simple pleasures of what may be available this year. If for you this year includes grief, give yourself the gift of grieving what you have lost. Acknowledge that feeling and honor the loss you have endured.

There is sometimes a gift in having less – the opportunity to be grateful for the times when we have more. There is a gift in letting go – the chance to welcome something new. My hope for you this holiday season is to find some joy and meaning from having less and letting go.

Kellie N. Buckner, Ed.S., LMFT
Counseling Services
Group & Workshop Coordinator