When Your Fantasy Christmas Falls Flat - Kimberly Thompson


“My family’s Christmas is not like a Hallmark card – they’re more like The Far Side [wacky comic strip].” Years ago my dear friend made that observation, and it continues to amuse me with it’s accuracy and honesty. That’s life in a family.

One year my pastor got up in the pulpit and confessed his own family’s Christmas disaster – he had had a fantasy of a fun night of driving around viewing Christmas lights, singing Christmas carols, and drinking hot chocolate. Instead, his teenage kids didn’t want to go – he insisted – an argument ensued. Then, somebody spilled hot chocolate in the van. And somebody else got carsick.

I’ve had my own sad Christmas tales – beginning when I was 7 and woke up on Christmas Eve with a case of the mumps (both sides, in case you were wondering).  For those of you too young to remember the disease (it’s the middle M in the MMR vaccine), it’s an infectious illness that causes swollen salivary glands as well as flu-like symptoms. Christmas was not very merry that year.

I grew up on the Gulf Coast, and believe me, there was never any snow in Houston, Texas on Christmas. Sometimes it was uncomfortably warm – Christmas sweaters were worn at family celebrations for about five minutes before people starting shedding them.

I got married three days after Christmas in 1985.  Which was a happy and exciting time for me – but it did send Christmas into a tailspin that year.

When we were first starting out, we were on a budget so tight that it squeaked. Somehow, my mother managed to duplicate two of the three presents I bought our first son for his first Christmas. I was kind of mad about that – maybe unreasonably, since it was an accident, and he was a baby anyway – but it was definitely a Christmas Fail. We learned to communicate better after that, that’s for sure!

We have never lived close to relatives, so there have always been hard decisions to make about where to spend Christmas, is everybody getting a fair shake, and is anybody feeling mad and left out. There was one Christmas we spent in Austin in a hotel – we opened our own Christmas gifts before leaving home, and I crammed the contents of four children’s Christmas stockings into a suitcase so that we could “play Santa” on Christmas morning.

Christmas is still a challenge. All three of our older kids now work irregular work schedules so I am beyond thrilled when we manage to find a date where everybody can come home – December 22 this year (don’t expect me to answer phone calls that day!).  As they age and as the gaggle of grandkids grows, there will probably be fewer and fewer occasions that they all come home at the same time.

If you find yourself disappointed in your family’s Far Side Christmases, I implore you to lower your expectations. Hallmark Christmases are a creation of a card company whose mission is to sell stuff. You can buy the cards without buying into the fantasy! Instead –


     Do what your family enjoys. You know your family better than anyone – so don’t try to get them to go to a classical choir Christmas concert if they’re going to hate it. Go alone, or with friends, or not at all.  If your kids are small, it’s time to start some traditions based on what you like – just be aware that you might be starting something they are going to hold you to! Once I made the mistake of making homemade cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning breakfast – it took me far into the night to get them ready to pop into the oven Christmas morning, and the kids got up at the crack of dawn – and now every year they plead with me for homemade cinnamon rolls. (Some years I do the whack-em-on-the-counter refrigerator cinnamon rolls, and I always see a little disappointment in their eyes.) Which brings me to my next point.

            Make plans based on what is reasonably achievable. So, how fun is it going to be if mom and dad are exhausted, sick of Christmas, and completely broke on December 26? Decide what you can afford in terms of money, time, and effort, and decide it beforehand. Budget everything. (The time and effort budget is known as a calendar).  And – enlist help, for pity’s sake! One person should not be doing everything.

            Cut the crazy.  I like putting up my Christmas tree as soon after Thanksgiving as possible. It’s not just so I can enjoy it longer, it’s also because I can “do Christmas” at a more leisurely pace. Due to this preference, I have always had an artificial Christmas tree. On Christmas night about 30 years ago, my sister-in-law and her family lost everything they owned when their real Christmas tree caught on fire and burned their mobile home to the ground. Ever since then, I have been very aware that real Christmas trees are a fire hazard and should not be put up too early (because they dry out).  So I compromised on my desires for a real tree, use balsam-scented wax in my wax warmer, and put up the Christmas decorations at my own pace.

You can substitute Hanukkah or Kwanzaa (or even Festivus, if you’re a Seinfeld fan) for the word Christmas and the points still hold. Holiday celebrations are meant to be enjoyed, not simply endured. If you find yourself feeling like you’re in the middle of a endurance race to January 1, then you’re losing the true joy of the holiday season and you’re probably working too hard to make things “perfect.”  Don’t lose the beauty of your very own Far Side Christmas!


     I am Dr. Kimberly Thompson, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Lubbock, Texas. I work with mothers and their children to help them heal, grow, and live their most vibrant lives. My particular expertise is pregnant and postpartum women, and moms of “littles.” My book, Perfect Mothers Get Depressed, is available on Amazon and from Praeclarus Press. If you live within driving distance of Lubbock, you can work with me face-to-face; if you live anywhere else in the state of Texas, you can work with me via online therapy. Send me a message if you need more information, or call my office at (806) 224-0200 if you’re ready to book an appointment.