When a Hallmark Christmas movie airs on television, my family knows the remote is mine. No snickering or interrupting either, thank you very much.

I sigh at the end of every movie, but there’s also a snort of disbelief. My life doesn’t resemble a Hallmark movie in anything but the most general terms: I have a family I love. That’s where the similarities end.

Let’s face it. For most of us there’s a huge chasm between the perfect home and holiday we see on television—and the reality gathered in the still-smoky kitchen. (It’s a well-known fact in my family that dinner is ready when the smoke alarm goes off.)

There’s a lot of pressure during the holidays, a push-pull between expectation and reality that can suck all the joy out of the season—if we let it.

I remind myself of these things every year, so I thought I’d share my top 4 tips for a joy-filled, non-hallmark holiday season:

Stop trying for perfection

Growing up, one of my family members drove herself (and everyone else) crazy every year in her desperate quest to create the perfect holiday. From the decorations to the food, everything had to be just so. By the time Christmas arrived, she was exhausted and short-tempered and too worn out to enjoy any of it.

But then my children’s paternal grandmother showed me a better way. She always served simple food, heaped with so much love and acceptance that people were eager for an invite to her house.

So serve love. Everything else is merely a side dish.

Adjust your expectations

Will every family member be at every holiday gathering? Sadly, no, and that can be a bitter pill to swallow. To expect it is to set yourself up for disappointment. Rather, make it a point to enjoy every moment you can with the loved ones able to be there. Take pictures. Reminisce. Hug.

Laugh together

Often, holiday disasters and misadventures are the stories that become family lore, told and retold for years to come. We still laugh about the year someone put German wurst (sausage) amongst the Christmas tree branches, prompting the family dog to attempt tree-climbing.

Change Perspective

Instead of lamenting what isn’t, be thankful for what is. Count your blessings, on paper, if necessary. We don’t have to look far to find someone worse off than we are. Reach out and be a secret Santa in someone’s life. I’ve learned that the best recipe for joy is to look outside my own skin.

Those are my best suggestions for a Merry Christmas from my much-loved, non-Hallmark family. I’d love to hear your ideas.

PS–I love to read Christmas fiction this time of year. If you do too, my Christmas e-book, The Christmas Gift is available free to anyone who signs up to receive my newsletter. Or, if you know someone who would enjoy the story, The Christmas Gift is also available for $.99 on Amazon.com. I’d love to hear what you think of it.