FYI

How is Christmas Comparison Robbing You of Holiday Joy?

Kara Powell

Photo by Sarah Goldschadt.

One friend collects ornaments from all her family trips, so her memory-filled tree looks amazing. In stark contrast, most of the ornaments on the Powell family tree come from boxed sets we bought on clearance years ago.

Another friend makes multiple homemade treats for her family and friends during December. Through the month of December, we Powells continue our usual dinner routine of simple four-ingredient-or-less dinners, with leftovers on subsequent evenings.

Still another friend decorates the outside of his house to look like a winter wonderland. We Powells spend four minutes tossing some Christmas lights into our bushes and call it done.

I can’t keep up with my friends.

But here’s the good news:  I don’t have to.

As parents, we worry that the holidays will cause our kids to compare their gifts with their friends’. But if we substitute the word “experiences” for “gifts,” then we’ve named a comparison trap that we adults are prone to experience. We might not care as much about what our friends receive as gifts, but we can easily feel insecure if other families’ holidays seem more peaceful. Or more memorable. Or more homemade. Or more fill-in-the-blank-with-any-adjective-you-want.

But here’s what I know about family holidays:

  1. We often only see other people’s best, while we’re well aware of our worst.

    Families don’t always look as cheerful as on Christmas cards, and houses aren’t usually as clean as they are for holiday parties. That other shiny family has its own dull moments also.
     
  2. Comparison is never good. 

    If I compare myself to others who are in a particularly hard season, it’s easy to feel smug and proud. If I compare myself to others who have it “better” than me, it’s easy to feel insecure and ungrateful. There’s no good that comes from comparison.
     
  3. Every family does the holidays differently. Figure out how you do holidays best.

    Your holiday will look different from your neighbor’s, or your best friend’s, or mine. That’s great. You have different traditions. You have different family rhythms. You have different family members.
     
  4. Show yourself and your family members grace when that supposed “special moment” falters.

    Sometimes our actual experiences will fail to match our vision for what that experience could be like. People are grumpy when it’s time to decorate the Christmas tree. Your kids don’t thank others for gifts as you’d like. When (not if, but when) your family experiences fail to live up to your expectations, remind yourself that God shows us grace constantly. We can show the same to our family.

This holiday season let’s stop comparing our worst to other people’s best.


Published Dec 18, 2014
Kara Powell

Kara Powell, PhD, is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women to Watch”, Kara serves as an Advisor to Youth Specialties and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences.  Kara is the author or co-author of a number of books including The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Essential Leadership, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum.

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