The National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. In my opinion, it’s a holiday comedy only on par with “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” Some of my family’s favorite lines come from it, and Mike and I are already making plans to watch it together this year.
But I think the movie is compelling for more than it’s humor.
Clark, the protagonist, embodies the American idealization of the holiday season. He longs for and wraps his identity in hosting the perfect family Christmas. It’s his pursuit, and he goes to great, and often humorous lengths, to make it a reality. And things never quite go as hoped. He continually comes up empty, disappointed and frustrated. Clark makes the perfect Christmas his idol and worships it accordingly— resulting in numerous, hilarious escapades. We laugh because it’s funny and we laugh because there’s a little Clark Griswold in all of us.
Is it a surprise my campus minister at Purdue often used Clark as an example of how idols disappoint us?
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not here to point a finger at Clark. I only use him as an example because his situation is one I know well — I too idolize and idealize the holiday season and the times with family and friends that accompany it. I have expectations of what it should look like, and when those expectations aren’t met, I’m disappointed. What makes the days between the fourth Thursday of November and December 25 different from the rest of the year? We buy into the notion that our holidays must be perfect (whatever that means for you) to be beautiful, joy-filled and meaningful; and slowly but surely, our inner-Clark Griswold comes out.
Everyone’s idolizing of the holidays will look a little different. This is my first year navigating this season as a newly-wed, and I’m already starting to see unhelpful expectations on my part regarding what Thanksgiving and Christmas should look like. Here are three steps I’m taking to avoid idolizing the 2014 holiday season.
Recognize the Idealized
Figure out what subtle, unrealized expectations you have regarding the holiday. Do you have ideas about what should be talked about during meal times? What foods should be served? How after-dinner discussion will go? Who should talk to whom? What the pace of December should look like? Your expectations may not be bad things. In fact, they’re probably very good things. A slower schedule leading up to December 25. Talking about the beauty of Jesus’ birth over Christmas dinner. Catching-up with family and old friends about life’s happenings in 2014. These are all good things, but they’re not be the MAIN thing. We can still rightly celebrate the beauty of Thanksgiving and the glory of the Incarnation without the above happening. Our expectations like the above can’t define our holiday successes.
Embrace the Imperfect
In wedding planning season, people would always tell me that something will go wrong on the wedding day, but that it wouldn’t matter in the end. This is good advice for holidays. The meal won’t go as planned. You’ll learn of last-minute of friends who have no place to spend the holidays and invite them to your place. The weather won’t cooperate. The table setting won’t turn out the way Pinterest described. Stuff like this may overwhelm or disappoint, but look for ways that the unexpected adds depth and dimension to the well-laid plans. Imperfections are what will make holidays beautiful, funny, meaningful.
Focus on Loving
I’m learning that if my goal is to love well, I won’t be disappointed in my holidays. The holidays can be difficult. Someone will do things differently than you would have liked. You won’t get to talk to the people you wanted to. Someone’s comment will rub you the wrong way. Instances like these are hurtful and/or frustrating. But as I focus on loving the person in front of me without an agenda instead of focusing on me and my agenda, I usually walk away content and enjoy myself more. It isn’t always easy, but it’s pretty simple.
Whether you’re at a get-together with your college friends or sitting around the dinner table with your family, recognize how you’re prone to idealize, embrace the imperfect and choose to simply love those in front of you. Our holidays may not be all that Clark Griswold hoped his would be. But they’ll be beautiful and probably a lot of fun.