It's the same every year.
I'm sitting on a couch surrounded by shreds of wrapping paper and stacks of new shirts and socks from a department store. The Christmas tree is still lit, but it seems somehow less cheery without any presents under it. The nearly-frantic cheer of Christmas morning has slowly faded into a quiet Christmas evening gloom. The kids are watching a new movie upstairs, and somebody's microwaving leftovers in the kitchen.
And, if I'm completely honest with myself, I'm disappointed.
Ever since I was a small blonde boy in footie pajamas, I've hoped that Christmas would somehow complete me. It's what the movies, carols, christmas cards, dancing stuffed bears and TV commercials promise. But while I've enjoyed Christmas many times, it's always left me feeling just a little bit empty.
As a grown man who no longer wears footie pajamas, I'm learning that this is okay. Christmas isn't going to complete me. It can't. And it doesn't have to.
But Christmas (and the surrounding holidays) can be a lot of fun. And I've learned a few things that help me avoid the Christmas evening gloom:
1. Take Care of Your Body
When December rolls around, I tend to completely neglect the proper care and maintenance of my flesh and bones.
I stay up way too late, sleep in way too much and skip the gym altogether. It seems like there's always a mountain of candy and cookies within arm's reach. All I want to do is lounge on the couch. This all sounds fantastic, until I'm unreasonably sleepy and grouchy and don't know why. An hour of sweat and fresh air makes me feel better all over. Not just in my body, but in my mind too.
2. Lay Off the Christmas Music
Christmas music is good, but when it runs non-stop from Halloween to New Years, I tend to get burned out on it. Not to mention, many Christmas songs that promise an unreasonably perfect holiday experience.
Take some time to listen to YOUR jams; it will help you keep your mind straight and remind you that there's more to life than mistletoe and holly -- even in December.
3. Don't Count Down to Christmas Day
When I was a little kid, I could barely contain my excitement counting down the days 'til December 25th. Sure, Thanksgiving and Advent and all the excitement and beauty of December was fun too, but Christmas Day was what really mattered. Invariably, Christmas Day was somehow a letdown.
I don't do that anymore. Instead of rushing toward Christmas Day with my eyes squeezed shut, I sit quietly and let small waves of holiday beauty wash around me. When it's about an entire season instead of one day, I'm not disappointed by that day.
4. Remember, It's Better to Give Than to Receive
We've all imagined that one present under the tree that will be perfect in every way. When you rip the paper off that box, your heart will erupt with perfect bliss; you'll never want again. But then, a year later, that present is stuffed in the back of your closet and you're hoping for yet another perfect life-changing gift.
Presents are cool and everything, but there's a special joy in giving. This Christmas, toss your wish list and make a "giving list" instead. Give to someone who isn't even expecting it. I've never been disappointed in that.
5. Don't Believe the Lies
Whenever I walk into a mall in November or December, I feel overwhelmed with inadequacy. Every storefront is screaming for me to find "the perfect gift" that will prove my love. I panic.
Have I bought enough stuff to prove my love to my wife? If I don't find the perfect gift for my boy, am I a terrible father? If I don't give anything to my friends, will they think I hate them?
Gifts are awesome, but dollars do not equal love. Don't let the TV commercials tell you otherwise.
6. Relax and Have Fun!
Sometimes everybody gets together for Christmas and then nobody has fun. There's drama about who is and isn't there. Somebody's slaving in the kitchen. Somebody's desperately attempting to revive a lost tradition from their childhood. We're all trying so hard to create the perfect experience that we forget what we're trying to celebrate in the first place.
Don't do that. Instead of worrying about what Christmas should be, just enjoy what it is. Take time to remember traditions, but make new memories too.
Give and receive. Don't spend too much money. Look at the pretty lights. Find people that you love, and enjoying being with them.
Follow Micah J. Murray on Twitter: www.twitter.com/micahjmurray