The Secret to Celebration

Picture this: It’s Christmas day, melting heat, you have just come back from a ‘sleepover’ in which little sleep was had, you dump an entire carload of bags inside the front door, throw together a salad and madly repack the car with presents, desserts, salad and drinks to take to the next installation of festivities. As you shut the front door on the chaos behind you, you breathe in relief: “Thank goodness no one is coming to our house today.”

Fast forward ten minutes and you find that the destination for Christmas lunch has now fallen through – power failure, partially cooked meal, no air-conditioning. “Can we do Christmas at your place?” the desperate plea comes.

Celebration is usually an enjoyable concept for me. Whenever there is an event coming up, I like to spend a good amount of time planning, preparing the house and the food bit by bit. I write lists, dream up menus, consider decorations and execute the strategic plan over a good week or so. The bathrooms get a good cleaning, furniture rearranged and the laundry re-purposed as a drinks station.

In early December we threw a woodfired pizza party to celebrate Dave’s birthday and to find out the gender of baby number 4. I wrote here about our process for getting organised and we had an exceptional time celebrating with friends and family. We love to host parties and dinners – it has become a big part of the way we find meaning and connection with those around us.

Let’s be honest, finding out that you are the new hosts of Christmas at lunchtime on the day is not ideal for anyone, let alone a Type 1 on the Enneagram – one who finds solace in order, structure and control. I must admit to letting out a few tears on the way back to our place as I tried to get my head around the new plans for the day. Eli was very sweet in response, offering to clean the whole house and help us get ready. We flew around the place in record time – stashing unpacked bags under beds, hurriedly folding washing, dragging in more furniture to seat the expected twenty people. The kids were under strict instructions to play out of the way as we moved like a whirlwind – cleaning, sorting, tidying. The rest of the family had a partial Christmas lunch at Dave’s parents house, figuring out how to pack and transport the truckloads of food and presents without melting them on the way.

We gave Eli a crossbow Nerf gun for Christmas. He had expressed a desire for a bow and arrow for a long time prior to the day and we told him that he would need to wait and see what might happen. As soon as he unwrapped the paper he promptly burst into tears.

They weren’t happy tears.

Apparently the picture he had in his mind was more the old fashioned type of weapon and he was unable to get his head around this modern high-powered option. My first reaction was frustration and the words to deliver a lecture about gratefulness began to form on my tongue. Then I had a flashback of countless Christmases growing up when I too found the clash between expectations and the more messy reality of the day to be difficult to come to terms with.

We build up ideals – almost unknowingly at times – and the realisation that the moment we were desperately hanging out for has now passed us by in a pedestrian manner or shown up as a contrast to what we were hoping for can be hard to take. I told Eli the story of my own tears and it seemed to help. Wiping his eyes, he took another look at the much longed for present. “Can we open it and have a go?” He asked tentatively.

Celebrations shimmer with promise and expectation. We look forward to the day, count down the sleeps and arrange our tasks in the lead up to be prepared. Inevitably though, at some point, the picture of ‘how it was supposed to go’ will clash with the reality. How we deal with this will impact us greatly and determine whether we have a positive experience or one to forget.

I found it helpful to face my feelings of disappointment head on. I was looking forward to being a bit player in the day, playing my part and helping but being able to sit back and enjoy the look of excitement on the kids’ faces when they opened their presents. After acknowledging that and letting it out, I found that I was able to approach the new plans with open-handedness – willing to be a part of creating a new picture together with people who are dear to us.

When the kids look back on this Christmas, I don’t think the part they remember will be the last minute change of location. There was much laughter and connection, table tennis and water games, frenzied present unwrapping and toy sharing, and far, far too much amazing food. Cousins played countless games together and the evening was one to cherish and remember. There may not have been any special dinner sets or elaborate place settings, no carefully crafted soundtrack or decorations, but the memories made and the time spent together celebrating was priceless.

It still isn’t my preferred way to host a celebration, but the whole process did allow me to discover that the beauty of a gathering isn’t established solely in the painstaking planning. It is created in the forging of connection, the sharing of responsibility and the opening of your home to the probable chaos and unpredictability of people coming together.

Now, however, I’m ready to sleep for a week. Anyone with me?



This is the final piece in my exploration of monthly themes springing out of resolutions for this year.

January: The Art of Hospitality
February: A Quest for Spirituality
March: The Audacity of Authenticity
April: The Genius of Generosity
May: The Fortune of Friendship
June: The Tapestry of Family
July: The Humour Chronicles
August: A Celebration of Serenity
September: Poetry & Passion
October: Grappling with Gratitude
November: The Science of Self-Control

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  1. I love everything about this, especially the laundry turned into a drink station and being realistic that we all want a real SOMETHING as a kid. Better to be introduced to understand our disappointment earlier rather than later, and I’m soaking up the advice to face those feelings head on. Let them come. Let them come. I’m ready (or not).

    1. Haha yes, the laundry works quite well as a drinks station we have found! Helps that it is right off the kitchen too 🙂

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