“Deck the halls with boughs of holly,” sing Clark and Ellen as their station wagon zooms down a freshly plowed highway. Russ and Audrey roll their eyes in the back seat. The search for the perfect Christmas tree is about to begin.
I make some hot chocolate, and once more my husband, kids, and I settle in to watch our favorite funny holiday movie, Christmas Vacation. It’s dated, it’s silly, and sometimes it’s inappropriate, but year after year we follow along as the Griswolds make their way through December. We laugh until our sides hurt as Clark cuts the rope binding the Christmas tree (“Little full. Lot of sap.”), pours egg nog for Cousin Eddie into a moose-shaped mug (“Drive you out into the middle of nowhere, leave you for dead?”), and investigates the noise in the living room (“Squirrel!!”). If you’ve watched Christmas Vacation over the years, I’ll bet you have your favorite lines, too.
Of all the heart-warming Christmas movies available, all the beautiful musicals, all the rollicking comedies, why does this one endure? Why do we watch it over and over? Clark Griswold is a farcical character, so why do we identify with him so enduringly?
I think it’s because we’ve all been there. In our sometimes crazy-busy lives, who among us hasn’t aspired to create the perfect Christmas?
Who hasn’t tried to create a lasting memory by tracking down the perfect tree? Or attempted a stunning lightscape in the front yard? Or labored to plan the merriest holiday party? Or slaved to cook the most toothsome holiday meal?
We have good intentions. We want to make the holidays memorable for our families. And everywhere we look, we find inspiration. With all the magazines we read, the blogs we peruse, the Pinterest boards we scour, and the Instagram photos we scroll through, we’ve convinced ourselves that every element of the perfect holiday should be within our grasp.
This blogger has a different tree in every room of her home, each one decorated with a particular theme.
That Instagrammer boasts the most beautiful front-door wreath and garland we’ve ever seen.
One magazine features the six most elegant holiday desserts ever created, while another provides recipes for ten kinds of homemade candy that we simply must try.
We start with good intentions, and we work hard to create something special. But as we collect more and more inspiration, our plans for Christmas have enlarged to include more, more, more.
Somehow we imagine that we can take the best elements of everyone else’s holiday plans and combine them into one stupendous effort. Clark Griswold called it a “fun old-fashioned family Christmas.” These days I have my own term for it. I call it the Mythical Composite Christmas.
Many years ago my husband told me that I was constantly comparing myself to everyone around me. He said, “You choose the best attribute of everyone you meet, and you assume you should share that attribute. You’ve created for yourself a Mythical Composite Woman made up of all those attributes, and that’s who you think you should be.”
I struggled with comparison for so long that I finally wrote a book about my journey of wrestling with it. InterVarsity Press published the book, called Mythical Me: Finding Freedom from Constant Comparison. Finally, after many years of comparing myself to others, I’m finding freedom.
But then Christmas comes, and if I’m not careful, I’ll slip right back into my old ways of trying to create the perfect Christmas. This year, I’d like to leave the farce to the Griswolds, so I’m taking my own advice.
In Mythical Me, I tell a story that I’m remembering this Christmas. One week I was rushing around like crazy, trying to pack too many activities into too little time. In the middle of one of the busiest days, a friend asked how I was doing, and I answered honestly: “Frantic.”
My friend pressed for details, and I shared them: in addition to the normal activities and responsibilities of the week, my son was celebrating a milestone birthday, I was hosting a dinner party for an important client, and I was preparing for a business trip that would keep me away from home for a week. With a haircut and a dentist’s appointment thrown in for good measure, I had way too many things to do and not enough time to do them, at least not the way I wanted to do them.
And how did I want to do them? Well, I had great examples. One of my friends makes each family celebration unforgettable. Another is an ace hostess. Yet another glides through business trips with apparent ease. I wanted to perform at least as well as the people I was comparing myself to, if not better than anyone else could.
Had I stopped to think about how privileged I was? Did I pause to consider how rich my life was? Not one bit. Instead, I let myself be frazzled by trying to be the best at everything.
My friend prayed for me, and I heard God’s voice speak to me. Simply and clearly, God said, “I made you to bless, not to impress.”
Tears sprang to my eyes as I realized that truth. The reason I was working through my long list was to bless people. When I got stuck in comparing myself to others, I lost sight of that purpose. My talented friends had inspired me and taught me, blessing me with their examples. But when I started comparing myself to them, I twisted that blessing into a kind of contest that no one could win.
This is the trap I’m especially susceptible to at Christmastime. Maybe you struggle with it too? Then maybe you’d like to join me.
This year I’m choosing to remember God’s words to me: “I made you to bless, not to impress.”
When freed from the burden of wanting to impress people, we are able to bless them and be blessed by them. That’s the way God designed us to be, at Christmas and all other times.
This piece originally appeared at ImpartingGrace.com, published with permission.