Mention the word Christmas or Hanukkah …

and a panoply of childhood images floods your mind: the food, the family gatherings, the beliefs about what needs to happen to make this a successful holiday. But because nothing in the present moment can actually be perfect, you collapse on the bed exhausted and turn to butter cookies with colored sprinkles for comfort.

Although I realize I am treading on sacred ground here — no one wants to admit that they don't love the holidays as much as they are supposed to — I'd like to express two thoughts that could make you feel less calorically uncomfortable this season.

The first is that if you remember past holidays as perfect and glorious, most likely your brain has chosen to retain the Disney version of events rather than the truth of what really happened. There is no such thing as an all-good season. We're imperfect beings and mistakes are made.

Don't try for perfection. Do the best you can within your limits and let the rest take care of itself. Despite the voice that tells you otherwise, you are not in control of the immediate universe. And since you can't achieve world domination, maybe you should try to control what you can control, which is what you eat.

My second thought is that you might ask yourself what you want now. If the answer is that you want long arms so that you can grab all the cookies or that you want to hide the plum pudding in your bedroom so you can eat it all before bed tonight, you know that the child in you is directing the show. That child is opening your mouth, putting the food in, grabbing for more.

Take a moment, take 15 moments, and write down some notes about your ideal holiday. Mention people's names and particular things you want to give (and what you'd like to receive). Name the foods you want to have. Now, read over your words and notice where you got those ideas. Are they the longings of a lonely child or of a satisfied adult? Do they resemble feelings you had the year your mother died or the year you got divorced or had your first child?

Holidays can be illuminated, tender, horrible, painful, fragile, glorious times because they exaggerate our longings, our love, our generosity, and our selfishness — and they evoke dreamy dreams of angels and peace and miracles. But if we are aware that the holidays, like life, are often more messy than magical, and if we can combine our childlike longings with the tenderness and power of our adult selves, then we are more likely to ride through this season with a measure of grace in our lives and ease in our bodies. And that's what I call a mini miracle.

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