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What are your expectations for the holidays?

If we’re being honest, we’ll admit we all have certain expectations for the holidays. The holidays are a powerful time, aren’t they? They make the sweet seem so much sweeter and the bitter seem, well, you know. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype and the holiday spirit year after year, and end up setting the bar pretty high.

If you’re like me, you imagine that the holidays should be what Norman Rockwell portrayed in his famous drawings: the 1950s iconic happy family sitting around the dinner table, rosy-cheeked children beaming at their adoring parents. Rockwell, Hallmark, and Disney have inspired many of these idealized versions of what “Home for the Holidays” should be like: Family togetherness, peace and tranquility, acceptance, forgiveness, selflessness, generosity, affection, laughter…need I go on?

The problem is, it’s never the reality.

More often than not, the reality goes something like this: Our parents drive us nuts because, despite the fact that we are adults managing a career, a spouse, our finances, children – or some combination of these – they continue to treat us like we’re 16. Likewise, our siblings react to us as they did when we all lived under the same roof – as if we had borrowed their favorite sweater without asking.

So, what we imagine the holidays should be versus the reality of what they are is our simulacrum. We all get caught up in the hope of a better picture, of a Rockwell-esque reality – and are so often disappointed by the difference between what we imagined and what is true.

Simulacrum – a brief definition

In the Latin it means “likeness” or “similarity” and in English has come to mean a representative or imitation of a person or thing. According to Wikipedia, “By the late 19th century, [the word simulacrum] had gathered an…association of inferiority: an image without the substance or qualities of the original.” Essentially, it is the fake idea that we carry around in our heads – the Rockwell-esque reality; a picture that makes everything look perfect, but we don’t see what happens once the camera is turned off, the sketch pad is put away, and everyone starts arguing again.

So back to the topic at hand: We often make the mistake of imagining that our parents and siblings are who we want them to be and fail to accept them for who they are. Just as we are flawed, it is a given that our family members are flawed. They will sometimes get caught in their own wishes and desires for their relationships; they may be stuck behind their own struggles with who they wish they or their children had turned out to be; and so on.

It is a difficult but significant psychological step to adulthood when we manage to accept the flaws in our parents and siblings. When we can form relationships with them that incorporate these flaws into our choices of how we relate to them and love them – not just despite their flaws, but by including their flaws in our understanding of who they are and how we think of them.

Now, wouldn’t that make for a great holiday season.