I am a hard person to buy presents for. Always have been. I’m not much of a “stuff” guy. I don’t want a lot of stuff.
For a long time, this truth ran contrary to my deep desire to have more. Lots and lots of… I don’t even know what. I just wanted things. I wanted people to give me things.
All of this was the perfect storm for a disappointing Christmas. Year after year, my expectations would rise. Maybe they would figure out something great to get me, something I myself couldn’t even think of. And I always got good gifts. Well thought out, caring gifts. But I was almost always disappointed.
One of the dangers of Christmas is the expectations we place around it. When Kylie and I got married, we saw quickly how much expectations are a part of any major holiday. We have expectations not just about getting presents and being satisfied with them. We have expectation about when we will open presents, what time of day we will eat (and what kinds of food will be there). What Christmas movie will we watch? Will we play a game or do puzzles?
And all of this makes the day after Christmas a little dangerous. Nobody circles it on the calendar, but it is the day where we deal with our expectations.
This is one of the reasons Boxing Day (and Black Friday during Thanksgiving) are such wildly successful cultural phenomena. They distract us from dealing with our loss of expectations by giving us the glorious opportunity to buy more. They let us eclipse and make up for our expectations by unbeatable sales.
Sometimes the day after Christmas is a sad day. The celebration is over, you are eight pounds heavier than you were a day ago, and your family is starting to wear on each other’s nerves. Good thing there is soccer or basketball or football on TV. Good thing there is a great sale at the outlet mall.
Rather than deal with the result of our unmet (or unhealthy) expectations, we look for the next set of expectations. The next wave. We do not sit idly. We expect our team to win or the big item we bought on sale to make our lives better.
The pit of despair is what we feel when our expectations do not match with reality. And the best thing we can do in those moments is not run, hide, or deny. The best thing we can do is feel our disappointment. And ask ourselves why? Why do I feel disappointed? What expectation or hope was unmet? Was it a healthy expectation? The real question we are avoiding so vigorously is what matters to me? We are afraid the answer will expose us. And we will be known and rejected.
But in avoiding it, we avoid not just the ways life falls short of our hope. We also avoid seeing the truth behind our hope and the ways life fulfills the deepest of hopes in ways we may not expect (or even want up front).
The pit of despair is not a bad place. It is a place of evaluation. A place of introspection. An opportunity to know ourselves better. The day after Christmas is not that different than Christmas Day. It is an opportunity.