Amy Carroll » Living Joyfully » Giving Up on the Perfect Christmas

Giving Up on the Perfect Christmas

The further I read into the editorial the shorter my breath grew, and I felt the heat of stress radiating from my constricted heart. “At my house, the bustle stops when we gather with our daughters to trim the tree,” the editor of Better Homes and Gardens, gushed.

Then she went on to describe her family’s lovely evening complete with traditional music, story-telling, and eggnog. She ended by saying, “By the time our quiet evening concludes, we’re energized and ready to try something new.”

Wow. That sounds just like my family. (Insert sarcastic tone here.)

My case of hives from the article came from memories of the previous year’s tree trimming at my house.

We all started well–hubs, the boys and me–matching up with the perfect pictures of Christmas preparations in my mind. It was just like BH & G. Amy Grant crooned Christmas carols in the background. Egg nog was poured into the vintage, red glasses I inherited from my grandmother, and boxes of decorations from the attic lined the walls.

However, it all started downhill over the lights for the tree.

Squabbles erupted over tangled strings of bulbs. Somebody turned on the football game, and the sound of the TV clashed with the music from the stereo. Instead of telling lovely stories of the ornaments’ histories as we hung each one, my boys began to make fun of the 70s-style bobbles from my childhood. It all fell apart faster than you can say, “Mama’s in a snit.”

Maybe they just got distracted, or maybe it was the maternal growls and snarls that drove them away, but suddenly I found myself sitting alone on the floor in front of the tree. The rest of my family had abandoned the traditional decorating of the tree.

I furiously gave the tree a yank to position it for another ornament, and…   TIMBER! It fell on me, driving the metal rod of one of the artificial branches into my arm.

That’s when it happened. Out of my mouth popped some of the overflow of a disgruntled perfectionist’s heart—a big, fat, four-letter word.

That brought the family back into the room.

“Mom! Did you just say #*!@?!”

To this day, there is one favorite Christmas story at my house. It’s not The Gift of the Magi or The Polar Express. Not even How the Grinch Stole Christmas makes the cut. Our family’s favorite story is The Day Mom Cussed When the Christmas Tree Fell on Her.


So much for the perfect family Christmas. Ours might be rated R….

I had to chuckle reading this story again that I originally posted a couple of years ago. In some ways, nothing has changed, but in the most important ways everything has changed.

Last year, I decorated the tree alone. Barry was traveling, and our sons were off at college until mid-December, so I thought no one would mind. I was surprised to find out that I was wrong.

“How could you decorate the tree without us, Mom?!” Anson exclaimed as he walked into our fully decorated living room.

Goodness. I didn’t know that they cared, but it turned out that both boys were incensed to have been left out of the yearly chaos… ahem, tradition… that is our family tree decorating time.

So this year, I worked hard to include them again. We were out of town for Thanksgiving, but Barry helped me haul the trees down from the attic and set them up before we left. On the one day that both Anson and Nolan were home before going back to college, we turned on Amy Grant and poured the egg nog.

We’ve learned a valuable lesson and now have pre-lit trees, and Nolan, our family tech support, showed his dad how to activate the double screen on the tv so that he could watch the game and stream the music simultaneously. Ok. Not quite what I had in mind but a compromise and win for everyone, right? My “vintage”/childhood ornaments were still mocked, but this time I laughed with the rest of the crew.

Finally, Anson, who is also a recovering perfectionist, must have felt a little tension on my part and asked the crucial question, “Mom, did you enjoy decorating the tree by yourself last year more than this? Is this stressing you out?”

I paused and assessed before I answered. “In the worst days of my perfectionism, someone would have been hurt by now! But no. I’m enjoying this!”

And I meant it. Finally. FINALLY, I’ve let go of the perfect Christmas. The joy of having my family around me was greater than my need to control and have things done my way.

It’s a Christmas MIRACLE! No joke.

How are you doing keeping your expectations in check this Christmas season? If you’ve had some bad days already, I understand. (I might have done a little rearranging on the tree once everybody left.)There’s always time for a fresh start, though. Start by purposefully prioritizing your people, and watch the joy increase.


Congratulations to Linda Gray (11.30.17 at 4:57 am)! You’re the winner of Make Your Move by Lynn Cowell. I’ve sent you an email, and we’ll get the book on it’s way once we have your mailing address. 🙂

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  1. Margaret Mills says:

    Amy, I loved this so much! Thank you for the reminder and the laugh. Merry Christmas!

    1. Amy Carroll says:

      You’re laughing with me, right? 😉 Merry Christmas to you!!

  2. Becky Foutz says:

    Thank you so much for this oh so relevant story of Chirstmas! I have 3 kids, all grown. Over the years the tree decorating has become solely my job, and my daughters, when she is in the area. She just moved back, after being gone 7 years~ what a joy it has been to share Christmas traditions with her again!

    1. Amy Carroll says:

      Oh, yes! There’s nothing like decorating without them to make we mamas appreciate doing it with them!

  3. LOL!!! Thank you Amy for telling this story again as I so needed this reminder. I am slowing learning to let certain things go especially as my children are getting older. I thoroughly cherish the time I get with all three of them. Merry CHRISTmas to you and your family. ~Lisa~

    1. Amy Carroll says:

      Merry Christmas to you too, Lisa!

  4. Mary Beth Spitz says:

    Oh Amy……you made my morning as I was you with not only expectations of tree decorating but the entire holiday! So refreshing to hear your chaos (which was also mine) and to realize this is probably the norm in the memory bank of tree decorating. But how years and maturity changes our perspective! Merry Christmas!

    1. Amy Carroll says:

      Yes, yes! Maturity is a wonderful thing and brings so much into correct perspective. Merry Christmas, Mary Beth!

  5. Amy Trivett says:

    Thank you! I know it states you previously published this article, but I need it this year, so thank you for republishing. Thank you for encouraging me to break up with perfect. What happens never quite makes it as grand as the scene in my head. I am a work in progress, but I am working on it.

    I was on my way to a Christmas party with a beautiful display of cupcakes I was proud of, of course you can guess it slid cupcakes when everywhere in my container, normally I would have tossed all of them, not this time. I simply said oh well, it is what it is. Score one to the 100 other times I have already failed this season, but at least I am on the board. 🙂

    1. Amy Carroll says:

      Well done! Smeared cupcakes are still yummy :), and I know what a victory it was to take them anyway!