If you were asked to draw a picture of your favorite holiday memory from childhood, what would you draw? A Christmas tree? A wrapped present? Santa Claus?
That’s exactly what the Very Rev. Mary Hemmer Demmler, rector of St. Matthias Episcopal Church in Toccoa, asked members of WomenSource to do Thursday at its monthly Brown Bag Lunch in Gainesville. The artistic exercise was part of her topic “Combating the Chaos: Finding Again the Happy in the Holidays.” It was intended to help the women simplify their favorite experience and perhaps uncover untapped feelings about the holidays.
More often than not, members drew images centering around positive feelings or something they long for during the holidays. WomenSource member Jan Knight shared her memories of decorating the tree as a child.
“We lived in the country and we were kind of poor,” Knight said. “My dad would go out and get us a Christmas tree and make a stand with planks and we would decorate it with paper and cardboard. I remember making the star on top of the tree out of aluminum foil and cardboard. We’d make popcorn to string the tree. That was the most fun because it was all of us together and we, the children, helped make that tree.”
Others shared similar stories of family traditions and the positive emotions that accompany the memories.
Demmler said sometimes the stress that accompanies the holidays can be rooted in “candy-coated memories” or a longing for the warm feelings of holidays past. People often try to recreate their favorite experiences or experiences they wish they had and the stress of making everything “perfect” ultimately takes away from their enjoyment.
As the only full-time staff member and pastor of a church, president of her local Rotary Club and mother of three children younger than 5 years old, Demmler said she understands how the holidays can get hectic. She said people often fall into the trap of the “holiday myth.”
The myth assures that so long as everything is done exactly according to plan, the holidays will be perfect and everyone will have an amazing time. But that just isn’t the way of things, Demmler said.
“Step outside of that holiday myth and have a little time being honest about what the holiday season really entails, for most people,” Demmler said. “It’s a dirty little secret. We don’t want to talk about it. But let’s be honest. The holiday season is filled with lots of negative emotion. It really is. If you are over the age of 25, then I guarantee — it’s younger than that really but let’s be safe — you are going to mourn and grieve some sort of loss during the holiday season.”
Sometimes people mourn the loss of a loved one, time or have feelings of loss because they haven’t had a positive experience in the past. People often feel lonely and incompetent during the holidays as well.
These feelings can be exacerbated by seeing others live out their holiday dreams online or in the movies.
“It’s worse now than it has ever been because of Pinterest and Facebook,” Demmler said. “And it’s immediate. There’s no more just catching a commercial on the TV and thinking ‘Shoot, I meant to do that, or I wish I thought about that. ... We feel so inadequate because there are lots of other sources that make it look like we’re not doing a good enough job. But people lie. Let’s just be honest about that.”
The Gainesville native reminded the women not to believe everything they see online or on television and to give themselves permission to be less than perfect.
Demmler shared some of her “anchors” that keep her holiday expectations grounded. She keeps a Christmas tree in honor of her grandmother who always gave nuts, hard candies and an orange for presents. It reminds her of simplicity and consistency. She also keeps her faith foremost in her thoughts so she remembers the reason she’s celebrating.
She encouraged the women to find their own anchors and create a positive grounding for their own version of the holiday myth. Above all, staving off the chaos of the holidays is about having a positive attitude.
“Things are ruined only if we allow them to be,” Demmler said. “If the turkey falls on the floor that can either be an absolute crisis and the worst thing that happened that Christmas and it will go down as the worst Christmas ever. Or you can stand back and absolutely double over in laughter and think that’s some funny stuff right there.”