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Christmastime can be a time of beauty, joy, family connections, décor, and meals, all done to perfection. Right?

“Perfection? Good luck with that,” says Deb Reason, a licensed clinical social worker with Samaritan Counseling Center in Michigan City and La Porte. “Has that (focus on perfection) worked before? How much does that take away from your feeling satisfied and just enjoying the time?”

Dr. Lisa Richardson, a family practitioner with St. Catherine Hospital Community Care Network in East Chicago, adds: “There’s is no such thing as a perfect holiday. It is important to always remember that; otherwise the high expectations cause increased stress.” And that added stress can lead to depression: “There is no need to increase that risk by giving yourself unattainable goals.”

Reason says approach is important: “Is it OK to ask others to pitch in so you can have a fun time together, to take a walk, or play a game? Or does it have to be perfect, so you have to do it all yourself because no one else can?” The added burden of the latter isn't necessary.

The Rev. Peter Speckhard, senior pastor at St. Paul's Lutheran Church/School in Munster, says people can have an unrealistic vision of how the holiday should be. “When you can’t make it that way, you get almost an anxiety about it.

 “Every (holiday) card, every movie shows snow softly falling—but you can’t control the weather. That shows how you can’t control everything,” he says.

Besides, such unrealistic expectations can "rob you of contentment when you focus on ‘This is exactly how it’s going to be.’ Then, things happen, and Christmas Eve is not what you had in mind,” Speckhard says.

News flash from Toni Halgas, a therapist and licensed clinical social worker at Franciscan Alliance in Crown Point: “We’re not all renaissance men; we’re not all Martha Stewart. We think, ‘I should be able to do all those things.' But we don’t have to find all those abilities within ourselves.”

To make the holidays manageable as well as memorable, decide what’s most important. If it’s decorating or food, enlist help from a friend who’s good at those. If it’s the people, demonstrate your love for them. Halgas said she makes the best gluten-free pancakes for her sister, with less attention on how to get the bow perfect on the front door.

“Keep it simple. It’s a meal, and the purpose is to entertain and feed your soul,” reminds Reason.

“What can ruin it is when the wrong people are here, and the right people didn’t come,” says Halgas. “'Maybe this time my brother won’t talk politics or won’t drink too much.’ You’re inviting the perfect brother, not the one you have.” Instead, she says, “be glad you have a brother to be here and who wants to be here.”

“Love the people who are here,” Richardson says, and yourself. “Take time to do something fun for yourself: Go to a museum, an art gallery—embrace the things in your town that you don’t ordinarily do.”

“Do your best; your best is good enough,” Halgas says.

Speckhard says you can still prepare, buy things and get your home ready—but remain flexible: “Something really great can happen Christmas Eve; don’t let (a change of plans) make you miss being contented and thankful for what you do have and for what happens. Let it be joyful anticipation. Perfection really isn’t the whole point.”

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