I honestly cannot remember a time in my life when I enjoyed the Christmas holiday season.

When I was in grade school the holiday break meant not seeing my friends from school every day, and that was no fun. I had to be home with my family? All the time? No thanks.

When I was a teenager the holidays would make me feel sad that I was single (or I was fighting with my high school boyfriend, which was even worse than being sad). As if fluctuating teenage infatuation is a thing to be grasped and wanting more than single! independence!

As a college student, it meant coming home from school and feeling like a different person each time. It felt like trying to fit my present, changed self into a past mold of who family and friends knew me to be (and being sad that I was still single and not bringing anyone special home with me or going to where they were at).

As a post-grad young adult, living back in my hometown and childhood home with my parents, a plan I swore I’d never do to myself, it meant not being where I thought I’d be and being reminded of expectations I had for my life that hadn’t come to fruition yet. The devastation, I know.

My last two Christmases have been laden with hard and heavy circumstances – an ailing mother fighting for her life, the next Christmas without her here, high family tensions, broken relationships, sides being taken, assumptions being made, the list could go on and on, but I digress. 

But wait, doesn’t the title of this post have the word happy in it? Yes! Bear with me.

I knew going into this Christmas season that it would possibly be the first “new normal” one for me as it could get. I wasn’t having to take care of anyone, I wasn’t anticipating an event that would drain all the emotions out of me but force me to put on a brave and supporting face, so this year was going to be the first one where I could just be. I could show up to the day with all of my nuanced feelings and grief, not have to worry about anyone else or taking care of them, or work hard to control the expressions that came across my face, or walk on eggshells to avoid possibly upsetting someone, and man what a gift it has been. I felt like I had the freedom and permission to simply let the holiday come and go this year, to let the season and day bring what it had to bring and leave what it needed to leave. No more, no less. I guess you could say the expectations were nonexistent (or at least better prepared for) and that made all the difference.

I made the conscious decision this year to lower the bar of expectations for how this Christmas season and day would go, and to do my best to take it all — the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful — in the best stride that I could. All the while, noticing and making note of the pieces of joy and hope that made this holiday season enjoyable because gosh darn it, I deserve need an easy and simple one after the most recent past ones. 

So without further ado, here’s my holiday happy list for 2021:
  • receiving Christmas cards addressed to me from people I adore
  • putting those Christmas cards on a mini tree at the dining table
  • listening to Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus on repeat
  • purchasing my own ornaments that I find beautiful or remind me of something special
    • Georgia Southern University
    • Hand embroidered Rifle Paper Co pattern hoop
    • Atlanta Braves World Series Champions
    • Grace Upon Grace
    • How Marvelous, How Wonderful
    • Callaway Gardens (from a trip I took with my dad)
  • making an Italian cream cake and cupcakes, the dessert my mom would make every year for the holidays
  • receiving exactly what I asked for from grandma that exceeded my expectations
    • the fanciest weighted blanket
    • the nicest dutch oven in my favorite color
  • receiving gifts from friends that made me feel so known
    • a frame for my cross stitch projects
    • a lovely blush palette that looks great with my skin tone
    • a Moleskine daily journal for 2022
    • a new game to play with friends
  • making cross stitches to give as gifts for friends
  • reading lots of different Advent content (links to these will be in my December review)
    • She Reads Truth: The Everlasting Light study
    • Hannah Brencher daily Advent emails
    • Sharon Hodde Miller weekly Advent emails
    • Michael Wright weekly reflection emails about returning to church during the Advent season
  • writing prayers for Advent
  • enjoying a Christmas Cantata at my childhood church
  • getting to talk and catch up with an old friend there
  • going to my childhood church’s Christmas Eve service with my dad
  • Dad coming with me to my church’s Christmas Eve service
  • sleeping in late on Christmas morning – not getting out of bed until 9 am
  • a slow morning at home with an easy breakfast
  • dad and I assembling our Christmas gifts (a bookshelf for me, a new cordless vacuum for us)
  • receiving Merry Christmas text messages from family and friends
  • making an Oriental Trading Company photo ornament for 2021
  • helping out a friend whose car battery died
  • taking a hot and homemade meal to that friend
  • seeing a pregnancy announcement from a friend
  • cooking a simple and small holiday meal
  • talking to my dad about his feelings
  • a friend’s offering to have us over during the day
  • driving around local neighborhoods to see Christmas lights after it got dark
  • taking a day trip to Callaway Gardens to experience their Fantasy in Lights with my dad
  • leaving the Christmas decor up for just a little longer to enjoy their beauty and light
Holiday Happy List things

This past Advent season truly was such a gift and breath of fresh air compared to the ones from the last few years. I got to focus more on the Christmas story rather than the other seasonal spectacles that distract me, and my soul felt the grounding difference that it made. Choosing joy in the midst of grief and pain can feel like such a hard and seemingly-impossible task, but this year I was not going to let the holiday season pass me by without at least trying to find and see the pieces of joy the Lord put in my path. I mean, look how long that list is! Won’t He do it?

What would be on your holiday happy list from this past year? I’d love to hear about them!

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