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Lowering Holiday Expectations

shutterstock_230110459As children, the holidays are things that we remember for our entire lives. Looking back at my childhood, I recall special moments of sneaking down the stairs Christmas morning to peek at the tree. I remember Easter egg hunts and trick-or-treating with friends. These are the memories that make us smile, and make us determined that our children have the same experiences. However, some people take these expectations to a new level and end up creating undue amounts of stress.

So often, we remember how important our childhood holiday memories are to us and decide that our children must have the same experiences. These high expectations can quickly lead to standards that are difficult to meet. Some parents believe that perfect christmas mornings must include expensive toys that are plentiful. This image reminds me of the Harry Potter character Dudley when he exclaims, “36!? But last year I had 37!!” He is complaining to his uncle that he received one less birthday present this year despite the gifts being larger. As absurd as this sounds, its actually an exaggerated example of the truth.

Parents try to create the perfect holiday because they want their children to remember how wonderful their childhood was. They can  spend more money then they can afford, and purchase tons of presents or elaborate decorations to make the experience memorable. These expectations can lead to stress and anxiety about performance. Each year must be better than the last, and better than the Joneses. Then they spend the next few months trying to pay down debt or manage the minimum payments. Holidays are stressful enough without placing high expectations on ourselves. With all the craziness that ensues, its easy to forget the true meaning of the holiday.

Im here to tell you, its not worth it and some well meaning parents have the idea wrong. Children rarely remember the material things they receive as presents. I bet most people can look back on their favorite holiday and recall happy moments which resulted from the action or behavior of someone. Let me explain. Most people do not recall the gifts that their parents gave them but they recall their parent reading them a bed time story. They remember a trip to the zoo, they remember stringing popcorn for the tree. What makes happy family/holiday memories is the attention and love from those we are close to, and the experiences that we share with them.

This year, take time to make your holiday memorable by experiencing it with those you love. Take time to do holiday activities with your child. Take a family trip to pick out the Christmas tree, bring it home and decorate it together. Make a new family tradition that can be carried on with your grandchildren. Take time to bake cookies together and then bring them to the homeless shelter or a less fortunate person. Show your children that the meaning of the holidays is taking time to love, gratitude for one another, and making life long memories.

Child at Christmas image available from Shutterstock.

Lowering Holiday Expectations

Michele L. Brennan, Psy.D.

Dr. Brennan attended Rutgers University, and graduated with a Bachelor's of Arts in Psychology. She also completed a Master of Arts in Psychology at Pace University. Upon completion, she began a doctorate program at Argosy University completing a Master's of Arts and Doctorate of Psychology in Clinical Psychology. Currently, she is an adjunct instructor for a community college, co-founder of the non-profit organization Little Hands International, and developing her own psychology clinic. Trained in the Practitioner-Scholar model, Dr. Brennan works with clients using empirically supported techniques such as CBT, ACT, and BFST. She specializes in treating anxiety, depression, and adjustment disorders.

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APA Reference
Brennan, M. (2014). Lowering Holiday Expectations. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Dec 2014
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