Confession time. Norman Rockwell used to ruin my holidays. Every last one of them. The only thing his iconic painting Freedom from Want ever did was leave my heart wanting more. I wanted the big, extended family gathered around the beautifully decorated holiday table. I wanted the smiling faces. I wanted the apron wearing grandma to present the holiday bird on a fine china platter. Year after year I desperately wanted these things, yet I always wound up disappointed. Because, in reality, my holidays seldom looked like a painting that anyone would purchase. My reality was a small extended family separated by several states, making getting together to celebrate a near impossibility. Many holidays found our family celebrating alone.
My reality was a table filled with toddlers, so the faces surrounding me were usually crying, pouting, or trying their best to annoy the sibling sitting next to them. My reality was that I didn’t own an apron, I’d never baked a turkey in my life, and my fine china more closely resembled paper plates. I often found myself simply trying to survive the holiday at hand, while simultaneously making a promise that I would make the day more special next year.
Until one year, it hit me like a ton of bricks: my children were growing up and I was running out of “next years”.
I had to move past wishing for holiday painting perfection and begin making magic with the hand I’d been dealt. Two changes in particular helped me on my journey toward holiday happiness, and I’d like to share my secrets with you here:
Secret #1 : Just because your family is small doesn’t mean that your holiday has to be.
Never underestimate the power of “framily” (friends who are more like family). When I stopped believing the lie that holidays are only special when shared with a large group of people who also share my DNA, I began to experience the holidays my heart had been longing for. In our home, if we are not traveling, we now have a holiday open door policy. If someone in our community has no one to celebrate with, they are welcome at our table. Because of this, sometimes we celebrate with a crowd, and sometimes our numbers are still small. Sometimes we host, and sometimes we are generously hosted. We share a good meal and even better conversation. There are games, puzzles, and a whole lot of laughter. The faces around the table might change from year to year, but the joy of gathering with framily remains the same.
Secret #2: The goal is to create memories, not perfection.
Never underestimate the power of tradition. As moms, we have the opportunity to create for our children the holidays we longed for as a child. The trick, however, is to make your family traditions activity specific, instead of basing them around particular people or places which have the potential to change from year to year. Make it a point to serve a specific meal that your children will forever associate with that particular holiday. In our family that means chili and hot cider on Halloween and brunch on Christmas Day. No matter where you live or who you are celebrating with, a traditional meal can create memories that your children will cherish forever. Other ideas include participating in your town’s Thanksgiving fun run or serving as a family at a local food bank. Make it a tradition to visit as many different pumpkin patches and Christmas tree farms as possible during your children’s growing up years. Decorate your house for every season and allow your small people to help. (Seasonal decorating doesn’t have to break the bank. Construction paper bats, pumpkins, and snowflakes will go a long way in making your little people smile.) Don’t be afraid to go all out! Holidays are the stuff that childhood dreams are made of, and beloved family traditions have the ability to bring with them a bit of the extraordinary magic our hearts long for in the midst of our everyday, ordinary lives.
My journey toward holiday happiness hasn’t always been easy, but opening my home and building family traditions that tie heartstrings have helped. And though I might never attain holiday painted perfection, I’d like to think Mr. Rockwell would be proud.