How to Have a Merry, non-Hallmark Holiday

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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 I’d love to hear what you think of it.

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    The Conversation

  1. Jamie Janosz says:

    Thanks, Connie. SO true! I will have a quiet Christmas this year – not many members of our family are in town. It is so funny that for years I longed for a less rush-around type of holiday. Now that I’ve got one, I am worried that I might be bored. On the other hand, I am secretly relishing the idea of curling up in my pajamas with a hot cup of something and not going anywhere! Have a blessed holiday!

    • Connie Mann says:

      You made me laugh, Jamie, because the push-pull never ends, does it?? I hope you enjoy every single pajama-clad, quiet moment this Christmas!! Merry, Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  2. Loved the post! One of my favorite Christmases was the year our tree just would NOT stand up straight, so Mom nailed it to the floor. Good thing we had shag (ugh!) carpeting. The hole never showed.

  3. Alana Lorens says:

    The first Christmas after my divorce, my daughters and I went out to get our tree, having no real idea what we needed or what the correct parameters were. We ended up with a tree that was too tall and had to be lopped off, and then it was so wide that we ended up tying it to the corner curtain rods with rope. But by the time we finished, we felt so accomplished! It’s the tree we talk about most from all the years. Imperfect is sometimes the very best. Thanks for sharing.

    • Connie Mann says:

      What a great story! We have some of those too. While frustration may run high during the adventure, afterwards, it becomes a cherished memory! I agree–imperfect is sometimes the very best!

  4. diane burke says:

    This year is a Christmas of firsts. It will be the very first Christmas in my adult life that I am not the one running around decorating and cooking. It will be the first Christmas I won’t be spending with my younger grandchildren as they got a wonderful opportunity to ski in Aspen for Christmas week. It will be the very first Christmas that I will be spending with my oldest son and his family at their home. I am going to do exactly what you suggest—have no expectations and sprinkle liberally with love, love, love.

    • Connie Mann says:

      Good for you, Diane. Firsts often come out of change, which can bring sadness for what was. I’m so glad you will get to enjoy many firsts and that you’re looking forward to each one and anticipating the possibilities for joy and love! Have a wonderful time!!