Paint Your Own Traditions

When I was a flight attendant, people would ask me all the time what my best travel advice was.

I always answered the same thing.

Don't just assume you're going to get from Point A to Point B without any problems.  Things happen, delays, weather, equipment malfunctions  - and even cancellations. If you can mentally prepare yourself to roll with it - to accept that it might be harder than you thought to pull off a flawless flight plan, then you won't be devastated, shocked or angry if something goes wrong. Always have a back up plan because you might have to leave on a later flight or even the next day. Be resilient.  Be calm. Be ready.

So many times I'd see families en-route to Disney who had flight delays, missed flights, or cancellations. When they finally got on the plane they would tell me how it 'ruined' their vacation - the weather or the delays, etc.  How they were heartbroken that things didn't work out they way they imagined, or that they couldn't believe they could have such terrible luck and wouldn't it figure they had to take a later flight. Don't even get me started on the holiday airline passengers if something went wrong.  I saw some of the worst behavior in my airline career during the holidays if people experienced a hiccup on a travel day. Most of the time it's for safety reasons that passengers aren't getting out at that particular time and not because the airlines are trying to ruin family holidays. It's upsetting for sure - but it's out of our control - what can we do but grin and bear it and hope we don't get too delayed - or stuck too long in an airport.

When I first got divorced, I had to deal with sharing holidays with my ex-husband.  I knew it was part of the deal - part of the way of life I was choosing.  Kicking and screaming wouldn't solve anything - and sitting around crying and gazing out the window wishing things were different certainly wasn't going to get me anywhere.  You can't imagine how many people would say, "oh you must be absolutely devastated that he is not with you this Christmas!"   The things I wouldn't believe.  I know people mean well, but it's crazy what people will say when you are divorced through the holidays.  I learned early on that I needed to rearrange everything - the holidays, sharing, compromise - in my mind to mentally survive. The bottom line I had to remember was that my son had so many people that loved him, he got to have two Christmases, two Thanksgivings, two of everything.  Not so bad, is it?  So although it was very easy and tempting to be devastated for the holidays gone wrong, I chose to reframe it all in my mind.

What if this year I didn't get him on Christmas Day.  I'd have Christmas Day on the 26th!  My Christmas celebration would be the day I had him - and I would celebrate twice as hard! I'd be Merrier than Merry, Jollier than Jolly!  No Thanksgiving with him? Well who said Thanksgiving had to be on a Thursday?  How about the Saturday after?  That would be my Thanksgiving that year!   I learned that it was important to savor the day we celebrated - not the date of the holiday. The first few holidays I didn't have him were tough (but not nearly as tough as the ones that I spent in an unhappy marriage!) -so I did something nice for myself on those days.  I kept busy.  I helped others and I tried my best to laugh at every possible moment. People get too wrapped up in the postcard perfect holiday - and it's the DATE we celebrate and if it can't be that day then just forget it.  Why? Why forget it?  Things happen - you have to adjust how you look at it in your mind - it's not the end of the world if that day doesn't go exactly how you think it's supposed to go.  You're not going to always get through the holidays point A to point B without any problems.  Unless you live in a Thomas Kinkade snow globe, sometimes, you might have some stormy weather to deal with during the holidays.

Last year, I recall so many Facebook posts on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that kids were throwing up, had fevers, were in bed terribly sick with the terrible stomach bug that went around like wildfire through families everywhere.  People had to postpone their gatherings, their dinners - reschedule parties and dinners. It happens.  Our kids are a reflection of us.  If we freak out and start crying hysterically that everything is ruined,  then they will do the same - but if we stay calm and say - we'll celebrate twice as hard tomorrow when everyone feels better - they'll be thrilled with that.   A little resilience and creativity goes a long way.  Keep calm and have a backup plan.  We can't always celebrate on our birthday or our kids' birthdays - sometimes we wait until the weekend - sometimes a few days - sometimes a week or a month later.  Why should holidays be so different?

So many people have this idea of the Norman Rockwell  holiday.  Everyone is smiling, the turkey is perfectly browned, the kids are neatly dressed and happy, sitting politely at the dinner table.  The family is together - loving, laughing and exchanging pleasantries.  There is no illness, no sadness, no strife, no resentments, no anger, no grudges, no nothing.  The holidays are a time to put everything on hold and sit still for the painting. But that's not realistic.  We all have problems - some bigger than others, some not as serious.  We have sick family members, friends that are struggling, maybe more than some, maybe less.  The sooner we learn to find the joy in the time we have together during the holidays, the more we'll actually enjoy the small stuff instead of sweating it.

As far as Norman Rockwell goes - I like to think of him painting those perfect holiday scenes while in a room all by himself, hiding from the arguing  and bickering at his own holiday dinner table.  He had three sons, just like me - and I'm thinking if they were anything like mine, they were kicking each other under the table, complaining about the cranberry sauce they didn't want on their plate, or asking if they could be done with their dinner.  He painted 'the America he knew and observed..' and ended up creating an illusion in so many minds on how the majority of Americans look during the holidays. An illusion that so many of us stress out trying to make happen.  The picture isn't what's important.  The memories, the giggles, the spills and chills - the impromptu silliness - the real behind-the-photo scenes filled with crazy, merry chaos - that's what the best stories are made of.

Whether you have the most perfect holidays known to man (and if you do, then good for you!), or whether you are divorced and either new at sharing the holidays, or it's old hat, or maybe you're overjoyed during the holidays, or loathe them and everything they bring - it's your choice - you can find joy should you choose to find it. You can re-write the stories, you can paint your own Rockwell. You can celebrate on the day you feel like celebrating - the day you're able to celebrate it - or whatever makes you happy and works for your family.  It's a choice.  Don't let the date dictate how to handle it.  Don't let the painting make you feel like you're missing out on the real picture of happiness.  The holidays are not about dates.  They are about love and kindness when those things are so hard to find.  They are about reaching out to people, doing the right thing, forgiving, accepting, trying something new - creating new traditions, and making our own stories and memories.   Celebrate the day, not the date.  Paint your own holiday happiness.

That's all for now - keep calm - and pass the giggles.


  1. I love everything you wrote. You are so right - all situations are what we make of them! My holidays are going to be stressful this year even though I'm NOT traveling, at all. I lost my cool a couple times yesterday (thought the turkey was overdone when in fact it wasn't cooked enough) and had to apologize to the kids, but I am tryyyyying to stay positive. I can't - and shouldn't - gloss over everything that is wrong, but being brave and carrying on is the best for me and the kids. So thanks for the beautifully-illustrated and thoughtful reminder!

    1. Thank you for your comment - I'm sure your turkey was absolutely perfect. I think all of us go through that ridiculous panic "the turkey is drying out, the turkey is going to burn, the turkey popper hasn't popped and it's been 6 hours!" Turkey cooking is one of the most stressful events of the year! lol! xoxo as always big hugs - DG

  2. Incredible piece. Thank you very much for saying what a whole bunch of folks need to hear during this time of the year.

  3. My husband is recovering from surgery this year and getting used to an entirely new way of living. I already knew that this Christmas would be a little different (starting with our tree situation) but this is great to read!

    1. Hope everything is okay - sending you warm thoughts.

  4. I love this so much, it speaks to what a great mom you are and how great your attitude is as well. I'm with you, there are so many bigger things that can go wrong in life that these small things, the missed flights and the burnt turkey, they aren't something to waste a moment on. xo

  5. Sweetheart,I dig this the most. I was a kid who split time between families. We learned to adjust, just like you suggest. Well said!

  6. This? So good. We have to split our holidays three ways and we're all learning to be content with the day we get to be together and not freak out about the date. Coming from a family of six kids (and five of us married) we have to be flexible. But I love that you added "resilient" so good. So good.


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