The ticket to enjoying holidays (as the ticket to enjoying anything) is letting go of expectations.

My Christmas Started Off In the Toilet

This morning, before dawn, Christmas Eve, the toilet flusher thing gave way.

It would be easy for me to say, and true, that my Christmas this year literally started off in the toilet. Does it mean that my Christmas is ruined? No!

Not if I let go of the expectation that somehow the days around Christmas are magically exempt from things wearing out. Things wear out every day. Even toilet flushers. As a day, Christmas and Christmas Eve are like any other days. Things wear out. It hasn’t ruined my Christmas, unless I let it.

Whatever is going wrong with your Christmas, I’ll bet yours didn’t start out in the toilet. Not really. Not like mine did.

Great expectations aren’t so great.

We put so many expectations on big holidays that it’s hard for them not to be stressful occasions. Whether it’s unexpected random stuff, like toilets breaking, or things you can totally predict, like certain family gatherings, the disappointment is magnified when we hold up reality against our completely arbitrary ideals of what “should” be.

Start with the ideal that everything should be “perfect.” What does perfect even mean? Your idea of perfect and mine might be two completely different things.

Perfect for me means having no obligations to do anything but what I want to. Perfect to my mother means having every member of the family present at the “Family Christmas” celebration. Her idea of perfect and mine are, by definition, are mutually exclusive. I don’t go to the Family Christmas celebration. Her Christmas is not perfect. She sends a picture of everyone but me and my family around the Christmas table with a guilt note saying, “Everyone was here but you. Wish you were here!” My idea of perfect goes out the window.

Our ideas of “perfect” are illusions. It’s an illusion for me to think that I will ever be completely free of all obligations. It’s an illusion of my mother’s that it’s reasonable for my family to drive 11 hours one way when we have work obligations near home on Christmas Eve.

Life in general, and holidays in particular, are only perfect when we can let go of our expectations and accept things as they are. But how?

Here are a couple things to try.

First, let go of the word “should.” Strip it right out of your vocabulary. Any time you find yourself using should (or shouldn’t) stop and rethink what your expectations are. Take a deep breath, let go of the expectation, and start again.

  • The turkey should be carved in this way.
  • Uncle Jack shouldn’t talk politics at the dinner table.
  • The grandkids should have an attitude of gratitude after opening their gifts.
  • Cousin Arlene should refrain from bringing her lame-ass boyfriend with her.
  • The cat shouldn’t climb the Christmas tree.
  • The toilet flusher shouldn’t break on Christmas Eve.

Second, rephrase statements and assertions as questions. Using exactly the same words but changing the punctuation at the end opens you up to re-examining your expectations, nudging you toward a more open and realistic attitude.

  • Christmas is all about family. Becomes, Christmas is all about family?
  • Jesus is the Reason for the season! Becomes, Jesus is the reason for the season?
  • Holidays should be less commercialized. Becomes, Holidays should be less commercialized?

You get the picture. These may hit a nerve in you. That’s ok. They force you to consider that someone else may have completely different reasons and expectations. You can’t change them. It’s hard enough just to change you. Until you can change you, don’t worry so much about changing anyone else.

Christmas is as Christmas does. Let go of your expectations and let Christmas (or whatever holiday has you in knots) be what it will be. Watch it. Observe it. (That’s why people used to say, “We observe the holiday.”) Instead of trying to fit it into your idea of what it should be, see what you can learn from it. Accept it’s challenges as opportunities for you to rethink and change for the better.


Here’s to you finding your Christmas Zen! As for me, I’ll be out in the rush of last minute Christmas shoppers looking for a toilet part.