We don't know where we get it, we don't know where it comes from, but lots of us will stumble over this holiday illusion: "There is one right way to celebrate the holiday season!"
This one's sneaky. It comes to us through images, songs and Christmas cards. It rears up between newly married couples, as they try to blend his way and her way and make their own way in the face of competing in-laws.
You'll see it working in tear-in-eye TV commercials: a happy multi-generational family (all in attractive, color-coordinated sweaters) gathers round a flickering fire.
A groaning table sits beyond, crowned with a glistening turkey. Angelic, shining-haired children lean breathlessly on Grandpa's knee. Mom and Grandma trade good-natured looks over their work in the bustling kitchen--and outside, it's snowing in the starlight.
There is no room on these greeting card images for real life! Do not be seduced into comparing your home, family and circumstances with this touching image of the small screen.
Your children don't lean breathlessly on anything during the holidays; they bounce off every surface in the house, high on too many sugar cookies. It's a struggle to keep them clean, much less to stuff them in stiff-and-scratchy formal clothes.
The only thing that flickers in your home is the stack of three television sets, each tuned to different sports events. Dad and Uncle sprawl before them in a rumpled bed of crushed potato chips, pilfered olives and empty beer cans. When you try to prod the males to their feet for some "appropriate" holiday activity, like carol-singing, they howl like a herd of wildebeest have entered the house.
That oh-so-perfect holiday dinner? Well, the commercial didn't show the burned pie crust, the runny Jell-O ring, or the curdled gravy. Not to mention the cook, staggering around the kitchen at 5 a.m. and muttering under her breath as she crams stuffing into the enormous (still-frozen) bird.
Give it up, friends. There are lots of reasons why we may not have a storybook family on a storybook holiday.
This former single mom is waiting, just waiting, for the advertising geniuses to sentimentalize the reality of the Holidays after Divorce. How will they portray over-tired, over-extended children who've had two Christmases with two parents, assorted step-parents or stepparent wannabes, plus their collective offspring?
We may have lost family members during the year. Clinging to a picture-book definition of "family" only underlines their absence from our table and our lives. Distance may separate us from those we love. Isolation and the ravages of grief have no place in the "perfect" Christmas, yet they are realities that must be acknowledged and accepted, however unwillingly.
Life is simply not like that. We must give up the illusions in order to truly treasure, truly cherish, and truly celebrate that which we do have.
There can be just as much joy in the home of a single mom and her children as in that "perfect" gathering of grandparents, parents and children.
There can be just as much joy in icing a tube of slice-and-bake cookies with your children as in building a complete replica of the White House in designer gingerbread.
(Probably more, since you won't find yourself saying, "Johnny! Don't eat that cupola! No! You may not add purple shake-a-sugar to the back entrance! This is the White House!")
There can be just as much joy placing your motley collection of preschoolers' crafts on an artificial tree as in decorating a 12-foot blue spruce with a costly collection of 19th-century ceramic cherubs.
What's the one right way to celebrate Christmas? Yours!
To find that joy, you simply have to go looking for it. At home. Your home . . . for an organized Christmas.