Don’t Let the Grinch Steal Your Christmas Joy

Written with Laurie Copeland (

What does hearing the word “Christmas” bring to mind? Caroling and joyful family reunions—or last-minute gift searches and fights with your kids?

As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve had many celebrations that fell short of my expectations. That led to disappointment, discontent, and sometimes depression. (Not a great way to start the New Year!) But now I realize that perfectionism is a dangerous hobby—a Grinch who can only steal my joy if I let him.

Here are the top six expectations the Grinch brings, followed by the more-likely-to-happen realities:

  • 6. Your grandkids will help decorate the house while listening to Bing Crosby.Reality: The children apply tinsel to the tree (in clumps) to the beat of some hip-hop artist you’ve never heard of.
  • 5. The sweet children you’re raising will gladly buy toys for poor children.Reality: Eight-year old Samantha stays in the toy aisle during the entire shopping excursion, whining that she absolutely needs a “Holiday Happenings” Barbie.
  • 4. You’ll make festive cookies for all the neighbors.Reality: Only when you see neighbors packing to leave for the holidays do you begin to bake, and then you realize you need to borrow half the ingredients from those same neighbors.
  • 3. You’ll lose thirty pounds to fit into the black party dress you bought three years ago (and have never worn).Reality: The diet went great until you started baking cookies!
  • 2. The extended family will all be together for a peaceful holiday feast.Reality: Two out of four families decide to spend the holiday with their other families. You decide it’s because of the turkey potpie you served the day after Christmas last year, which left everyone with food poisoning.
  • 1. You’ll send personalized Christmas cards—with gorgeous photos enclosed–in November.Reality: You can’t find the cards you bought on sale, so you end up sending a New Year’s postcard.

So what am I to do? I can’t stick my head in a hole for three months and ignore Christmas. Besides, I really love the season—I just don’t care for the unrealistic picture of perfection that so many people (including me) often harbor.

First, we need to give ourselves, and others, grace. Women, especially, are amazingly gifted at heaping burning coals of guilt on our own heads. Guess what? We don’t have to be Mother Theresa, Laura Bush and Oprah Winfrey, all rolled up into one. Besides, who could live with or be near us if we were that perfect?!

Practicing—and, therefore, modeling–generosity is the best way to avoid getting wrapped up in a “Grinch” mode during the holidays. When we are focused on others, our own problems become more manageable. And our all-too-human mistake of trying to make everything perfect becomes visible for what it is: a plea for attention and acceptance.

Second, we need to recapture the awesome love and immense hope found in the Christmas story. Then—and only then—can we discover the meaning and joy in the seasons of our lives.

Author Brennan Manning says: “Letting the expectations of others act as a subtle but controlling pressure on our Advent preparation and Christmas celebration is people-pleasing enthrallment.

When I’m honest with myself, I realize that I often live for other people’s approval. I let the praise of others and the critical voices in my head drown out my Creator’s whisper. When I take time to listen, He says: “Child, slow down. You don’t have to rush around in endless circles of doing. I love you just the way you are.” And that acceptance—given freely, without conditions–is the real reason for the season.

Manning says it best: “Christmas means that God has given us nothing less than Himself and His name is Jesus Christ. Be unwilling to settle for anything less . . . Don’t come with a thimble when God has nothing less to give you than the ocean of Himself. Don’t be contented with a ‘nice’ Christmas . . . Pray, go to work, play Trivial Pursuit, eat banana bread, exchange presents, go caroling, feed the hungry, comfort the lonely, and do all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

5 Responses to Don’t Let the Grinch Steal Your Christmas Joy
  1. Janice (5 Minutes for Mom)
    December 3, 2006 | 5:01 am

    A Wonderful post Dena – I am sure this will touch many!

  2. Kitsel
    December 3, 2006 | 12:29 pm

    Wow. What a great reminder that I truly needed right now. The quote from Manning was especially meaningful. I think I am guilty of “coming with a thimble”. Your ideals vs. realities were priceless. Thanks for the reminder to slow down and remember what I am supposed to be doing.

  3. Janean
    December 3, 2006 | 2:08 pm

    Please, God, let me remember this. I find myself stressing out already!


    Thank you for a WONDERFUL post. Really hit home!

  4. tricia
    December 4, 2006 | 5:45 pm

    This was a great post. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Dena Dyer
    December 7, 2006 | 5:17 pm

    Tricia, Janice, Kitsel, Janean,

    Thanks a bunch for your encouraging words. 🙂 I appreciate them very much!!!