I’m not lowering my expectations, I’m re-arranging them.  Where once it was cooking and decorating, it is now laughter, candlelight, flowers, and family that I long to decorate my Christmas with.



I’ve been avoiding decorating the house for Christmas.  I’m trying to figure out why.  I think it’s partly stubbornness about it still being Advent.  I love Advent, but Christmas – not as much. I think it’s a lot of missing parents and a brother who have all died in the past few years.  Christmas, honestly, just ain’t what it used to be and it makes me very sad.  It’s also a lot of associating Christmas with work and tiredness . . . you know, the decorating, cooking, shopping, cooking . . . being little Miss Martha Stewart!

As I write this, I look across into my dining room.  On the table is my mother’s Christmas cactus.  The blooms are a pale pink. Its arms drop gracefully onto the table, heavy laden with blooms. She loved that cactus, always remarking about the miracle of it blooming at Christmas, right on cue.  She said the secret was to give it lots of light during the summer.  So I still do that, and darned if it doesn’t still bloom on cue at Christmas!

I can see the Advent wreath that we made at church a few weeks ago. That was fun – lots of chaos and mess and I wasn’t in charge and so I just got to enjoy the chaos and mess.  I didn’t light the third candle last night – John is out of town, so I’ll wait for him to come home tonight.

I see the box of Christmas wrapping paper that I left in the corner, ready for me to buy more tissue paper. I found some but it says Victoria’s Secret on it, and I don’t think that’s a good idea for my son-in-law’s presents. The cat sat on the bows so I’ll have to scrunch them back into shape at some point.

And outside it is snowing. The snowflakes are fat and falling slowing leaving a blanket on the brick walls and patio, and decorating the trees with bits of memories and fluffiness. It’s beautiful.

And exactly why do I think I have to decorate more than this? I don’t really, but I get trapped by my expectations – ghosts, maybe – that I carry from Christmas’ past.  Maybe you do too.  There is the expectation of myself to produce the perfectly decorated house with the sprinkle-covered sugar cookies and the perfect presents perfectly wrapped under the seven foot Christmas tree that it took me hours just to put the lights on, never mind the rest of the stuff.  There is the expectation to have every kind of Christmas food that anybody in the family ever had and even though we didn’t like it I still need to make it again.

Now in my mid-fifties with family differently configured and my priorities re-arranging themselves, I no longer want a Christmas spent decorating and un-decorating, cooking and cleaning-up.  I want to hang out with family, walk, read the new book on Cleopatra that I hope Santa is bringing me (hint hint), and play that silly paper-clip hockey game on Wii.

So, I’ll keep trying to lower my expectations of myself.  Little steps, Carolyn, little steps.  I didn’t buy the December issue of Martha Stewart Living, but I have already made my mother’s cheese ball and it’s “curing” in the refrigerator.  I’ll make cookies – but I’m not decorating them. I did decorate the fireplace mantle last night, but Sebastian the cat un-decorated it for me 20 minutes later. Oh well. He made me laugh.

And that’s it, really, isn’t it? It’s the laughter, not the perfect mantle. I’m not lowering my expectations, I’m re-arranging them. Where once it was cooking and decorating, it is now laughter, candlelight, flowers, and family that I long to decorate my Christmas with. Hint, hint, Carolyn! Listen to your soul more, cook less. Use more laughter and fewer red and green candy sprinkles. The perfect decorations are right there ready to enjoy if I will but look and listen.


Carolyn Moomaw Chilton writes and blogs as a spiritual discipline and an invitation to conversation with others. She is currently on staff at Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia as the Assistant for Evangelism and Stewardship.

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