Column: Dreaming of a perfect holiday

In my ideal world, everyone would look forward to Christmas, Hanukkah or the winter solstice with calm, upbeat anticipation. We’d participate in events or celebrations that best express our wonder at the wintry world, our gratitude for warmth and shelter, and hope for the return of spring.

We would find ourselves quietly satisfied with the old year and reinvigorated by the clean, pure potential of the New Year calendar.

But sometimes I find that the ideal holiday season I have in my head gets disrupted by ordinary, less uplifting things. Memories of happy childhood holidays sometimes compete with reliving lonely or disappointing ones. While the breathtaking beauty of snow frosting Prescott’s pines fits in perfectly with my greeting card Christmas, a sudden boot filled with icy slush can also take my breath away along with my cheerful attitude.

I love the way the Courthouse Square explodes with colored lights, as if our shared exuberance had overflowed into the trees. Decorated streets and store windows, the chatter and clinking glasses at social events are welcome in my holiday utopia. But the strident “joy” of TV commercials can block out the invisible whisper of the real thing; a charitable impulse can sag under the weight of blizzards of ads urging me to buy, buy, buy. It’s enough to drive a person to stuff stockings with coal!

For me, it’s the tenets of faith the holidays are based on that help me keep the seasonal flurry in perspective. The intervention of saving grace embodied by an infant, the miracle of the temple oil represented by the menorah, the natural miracle of days lengthening once more – none of these promise to eliminate the obstacles and challenges of daily life.

Instead they point to a hopeful overall balance. They remind me that a dark experience, dark room, dark day will inevitably give way to light.

That realization gives me a much calmer, less frenzied attitude toward the holidays. It helps chase away shadows of the past in favor of fully enjoying a delicious present moment, like stirring a steaming mug of cocoa with a candy cane. A run-in with a strip of black ice doesn’t automatically send me careening into bah-humbug mode. When I have things in perspective, it’s the small things that catch my attention: the birds flocking to the feeder on a snowy day, the red-cheeked toddler in the wooly hat and mittens sitting down at the next table, the glint of the setting sun turning the snow to diamonds.

Rather than getting caught up my to do list—the wreath, the tree, the ornaments, hostess gifts, Christmas cards, tape and scissors and wrapping paper (whew!)—I can dwell a little more on something larger and grander than my own agenda. I find one of the most effective antidotes to holiday overwhelm is a healthy tolerance for the things that don’t go according to plan. For isn’t that the essence of grace, of miracles of faith and of nature? They happen unexpectedly, defy expectations and shake up old habits of thinking in the most wonderful ways.