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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, even though there are things that are different this year. 

Our family of eight, including our kids and their spouses has not been together under one roof since my eldest son’s wedding in fall of 2019. Thankfully we’ve seen one another at different times. But gathering together for the holidays wasn’t possible both because of COVID exposures and because my daughter was hospitalized during December the past two years. 

Those were quiet Christmases but still so appreciated, especially considering those who have lost their loved ones in these crazy times. We learned how to connect on Zoom and Facetime to keep the laughter alive during the holidays and to find other ways to celebrate the season.

This year has been a very slow time of preparing for the holidays. Christmas on a Sunday means that we were able to enjoy four full weeks of Advent, seemingly extending the time to prepare for Christmas.

In November, I wrote in my journal: “This is the Advent for letting go.”  I reflected on those words I knew to be an inspiration of the Spirit preparing me for days ahead. Because I’ve been keeping a daily journal for 40 years, I’ve learned that each entry can be read from different perspectives depending on experience and what is happening in my life at the time.

At that time, I imagined clearing out the garage, and two closets to set up space for the supplies we use for our Johanna’s Hope projects. I imagined that by this last week before Christmas, I’d have a perfectly organized office, the house beautifully decorated, gifts purchased and wrapped and Christmas meals planned and shopped for. We’d be well on our way to having the perfect Christmas.

Speaking of perfection, my kids and their spouses initiated a family chat to hone in on our Christmas plans — almost as if they’d read my journal and my thoughts. After a few texts back and forth my son nicknamed the group “The Griswolds” complete with memes from the famous movie “Christmas Vacation.” 

While I really don’t care much for the humor in the movie, there is a lot of truth in the family dysfunction that makes me laugh out loud. This year, my husband even has a camper we are fixing up for the kids to stay in. He might be getting a “cousin Eddy hat” in his stocking! Like Griswold, I find myself in danger of imagining the perfect family Christmas, especially after spending these last two holidays alone.

Imagining perfection isn’t a bad thing in itself until reality gets in the way and leads to discouragement. 

But here I am, four weeks in a cast for a fractured wrist that the doctor tells me isn’t healing as well as she’d like — probably because I’m using it too much — wondering how Christmas is almost here and my “letting go list” is yet undone.

Maybe it is my fractured wrist that makes it almost impossible for me to use two hands together that deterred my Advent projects. Maybe it’s the wound care and doctors appointments that persist two months after Jo’s last surgery. Maybe it’s the time spent with my sweet friend, a single mom whose 8-year-old daughter was just diagnosed with a very complicated and aggressive rare disease. Maybe it’s that nagging fatigue in my brain and my body that seems to get in the way of all these best-laid plans for the perfect Christmas.

Or maybe this “Advent of letting go” had more to do with letting go of my perceptions and plans for the perfect Christmas this year. God knew that since I missed us all being together, I would try to plan the perfect holidays. The call to let go was deeper than I knew.

I may not have my office, the closets and the garage organized or all of the decorations hanging in their perfect place. We may not have the perfectly wrapped presents or holiday dinners with all the trimmings.

But God willing, we will have each other to hug and hold and laugh together, even if only for a few days. If the last two holiday seasons have taught us anything, it’s that these days are more about being present to each other than the presents under and decorations on a Christmas tree.

With one week left till Christmas, I’m going back to the beginning of this season to reflect on what I still need to let go. All that’s done is done and what is undone can wait for another day and season. This season is the time to let go so I can hold on to the gifts of those present around me who mean the most. 

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Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen