Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” – Melody Beattie

Making valiant yearly efforts to sit back and enjoy – rather than ridiculously stress over – the Christmas season is easier said than done. Far, far easier.

Many of us dip into the frigid season with warm intentions to pace ourselves and get a holiday head start, yet as our to-do lists dwindle, other tasks tack on, Sisyphean-like.

While some of this burden may not quite be in our control, perhaps much of it actually is.

Twinkling lights aren’t the only ones high-strung and burning out.

The truth is, we set high expectations of ourselves this time of year.

Worse still, we set high expectations of one another.

Suddenly we find ourselves in a world of trying to outdo our own Christmas Pasts with viciously great expectations.

This sounds more like a bizarre Charles Dickens movie mash-up than real life.

This season, let’s remember to gift each other with the benefit of the doubt.

Let’s forgive easily.

Like those wise men we’ve heard about – who, by the way, only brought one gift apiece for a Pretty Big Deal – we too should keep our eye on the prize; perhaps not a luminous star but on peace and gratitude.

Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight, and even easier to get lost in the peripherals of grudges and heavy burdens.

Life is short.

I started my Christmas prep shenanigans very early this year, knowing full well it would be the first holiday season my husband and I were officially outnumbered in our family.

Our three wise men and shepherd render us only a few characters short of a Christmas pageant.

So plan ahead I did.

But even so, a dear friend of mine kindly let me know he received an envelope in the mail from me with no Christmas card in it.

Even so, our Christmas tree decorating day was a monumental challenge – something that merited an entire column recently.

Next year, we’ll probably go fake on the fir.

But I couldn’t help but make the parallels between Christmas trees and our culture around the holidays.

With each passing year, we sometimes accumulate burdens and resentments.

Like ornaments that weigh down branches of a tree over time, focusing on past grudges just doesn’t help any new growth or direction.

Perhaps it’s only by lowering expectations and unloading hard feelings of Christmases past can our world truly enjoy the season’s wonder.

People spend the season chasing, rather than enjoying.

But it’s blessings that should be counted, not sparkling gifts.

Company should be enjoyed and loved ones embraced, not outgifted.

Mounds of presents make up the things one really doesn’t need for a perfect holiday.

Those who have lost loved ones around this time of year have perhaps the heaviest hearts, and in a small way I understand.

I lost a dear grandparent during peak foliage one year and another over a Thanksgiving break; it’s difficult to not make those associations each time the leaves fall or turkey is gobbled.

While the past is not completely forgotten, the existing time at hand should be embraced.

What makes a perfect holiday season really is in your control, after all.

Spend your time showing gratitude. 

Be thankful. For what you already have.

It’ll set the right example for your kiddos.

This week, it’s Christmas. 

Fill your heart with peace, not expectations. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to jot down some notes for a killer Dickens Broadway revival idea that just came to me.

Merry Christmas to all!

— Michelle Cote is creative director of the Journal Tribune and a nationally-syndicated columnist. Rocking out to the classics in her minivan with husband and three sons is totally her jam. Contact her at [email protected]

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