A Standard of Merry

Ah, the holiday season.


It should be full of cozy nights in, and festive nights out. It should be peace-on-earth and joy-to-the-world. It should. Right?


Carrie Bradshaw was right when she said, “Maybe we should stop should-ing all over ourselves.”


Expecting that things should be a particular way inevitably leads to disappointment. Expectation leads to exasperation. Before you sit down to another family dinner, attend the office cocktail, or turn up for your nephew’s part in the school pageant make a double list. List your expectations for the holidays vertically down the page, and next to them list what standard you are trying to achieve. An expectation is what you think is fair (read: ideal) in a situation, like you expect there will be no shouting/crying/criticizing at Christmas dinner. A standard is the larger goal. Why is it that you expect your family to mind their emotions during the meal? You probably want a standard of respect/listening/acceptance at dinner, not a disingenuous exchange. There’s a difference. Start with that end goal in mind. Expect that things may be emotional at dinner, and be prepared to help the situation stay on course to meet your standards. Don’t waste time being upset that things “should” be otherwise. It’s a waste of time.


Last night I was at a holiday cocktail at someone’s house. The food was tasty, the hostess had on great shoes. The dishes from breakfast were still in the sink, and the kids had a pretty loud fight over whose turn it was to hold the iPad in a back bedroom. It was a party that was special, intimate and memorable because of the wabi sabi—the perfection in the imperfection. The kids, the dishes—they should have been otherwise, but it was much more charming that they were exactly as they were. The standard of a warm holiday gathering was enhanced because of them, really.


There is no perfection in human interaction and relationship. We all fall short, get tired, feel hangry, and are a little too sensitive (or aren’t sensitive enough). The wrong thing gets said, an even worse thing follows it up, we shut down or flair up and in the end feel sorry for hurting the ones we love most. Give yourself the gift of realizing that “should” is part of the problem. Stick to standards, take a breath, smile before speaking, speak only what you’d want to see printed on the front page of the New York Times. Be merry.