Finding Joy in a Messy Holiday Season

Our latest effort to bring our family together for Thanksgiving seemed more like a complex math equation or military strategy than travel plans.

Somehow four airports, three daughters, two rental cars, three shuttles, two octogenarian parents (that relentlessly set off airport security systems with their newly acquired parts) and assorted carry-on and emotional baggage needed to add up to a holiday of memorable moments. I am happy to report that the “square root” of our time together equated to a truly priceless experience. Although, I may reconsider this when my Visa statement arrives.

Out of the 86 hours of overeating, visiting, game playing, football watching, messy chaos, I even managed to learn a few things that I believe will lead to more enjoyable holiday season.

Last month, I talked about the importance of embracing an imperfect holiday. In case you need an added boost to get you through the season, here are some additional tips to having an imperfect, joyous holiday.

Embrace the mess

I believe in miracles but I do not expect them. I have changed my outlook. The crumpled wrapping paper on the floor, unmade beds and slew of dirty dishes is proof positive of the abundant food, shelter and blessings we have.

Maintain an attitude of gratitude

Focus on your state of mind. Not everything and everyone for that matter will be perfectly buttoned and bowed. One year my then five-year-old decided to decorate for the holidays. Unfortunately she used her mom’s permanent markers and little sister’s face as her “canvas” to design a pretty Christmas motif right before our annual holiday photo was to be taken. To this day we have a serious picture of us on the front of a card and an imperfect, chaotic shot of us on the inside.

Celebrate diversity

This applies to everything from tinsel to religion. Back in high school, I was asked to help decorate a tree with my boyfriend’s family. Having carried my holiday beliefs and traditions of my childhood forth, I grabbed a handful of tinsel and pelted it toward the tree. I looked over at my soon to be ex-boyfriend’s mother to see that her face was oddly contorted. Apparently, in their family, tinsel placement on the tree is an activity that requires precision and PERFECTION.

What is the norm in your household may not be so in others. The same goes for expressions of one’s faith. Being at our holiday gathering with Catholics, Protestants, a cousin who is delving into Buddhism, one agnostic and two conservative Jews, I have learned that everyone (literally) brings something to the table.

Indulge in a vice

I am not suggesting you down a few lemon drop martinis (although one during the season can be lovely). I do however, feel it is important to find the guilt-free pleasure of some quiet time, hot cocoa, a good book, a glass of vino or a soak in the tub during this crazy time of year.

Just say “NO”

To me cookie exchanges should be outlawed. I finally asked myself, “Why I am doing things that make my life stressful?” If you believe your friends will stop loving you if you do not whip up four dozen cookies then maybe it’s time to evaluate your friendships.

Set limits

Set limits on everything from budgets, food and alcohol consumption, time spent with relatives and especially on your expectations. Remember, even though this is the miraculous season of goodwill and giving, your bank account is not going to expand and unresolved family issues will most likely stay that way.

Let go and grab on

Most importantly, let go and grab on. The more you let go of the need to be perfect, past hurts and grand expectations, the more you can grab onto the precious moments of the holiday. I am beyond blessed that my kids’ Dad joins us for our annual Eve, Eve Before Christmas Eve party. We have been divorced for over 15 years and having us enjoy the evening together means the world to our children.


Do the math. Trains, planes and automobiles plus botched plans and massive delays plus cooking disasters beyond explanation could equal a lifetime of memories you will grab onto for years to come.

MaryMary Helen Darah is an award-winning columnist who has appeared in numerous publications in the Toledo area and beyond. Her column, The Mother of Mayhem, publishes on ProMedica HealthConnect the first of each month.