Joy in the lack of holiday perfection this year

December 23, 2021

By Reba Hull Campbell

I hate to think how many gatherings I didn’t host over the years because I worried that my house wasn’t _______ enough. Fill in the blank – clean enough, straight enough, decorated enough. Too much dog hair and too many fuzz bunnies. Too many magazines stacked on the hearth and too many guitar cases crammed behind the sofa.

Finally, after years of struggling with this, I think I’ve finally beaten the house perfection gremlins into submission. This week, I hosted my annual holiday “soup supper” for a group of girls I’ve known for well over 40 years. It’s a simple affair. Chili and two soups. Some years, I’ve made all three. Some years, I’ve ordered in all three. This year, my cook-of-a-husband made the soups, and I made the chili.

I wasn’t sure I was up for hosting this year. One friend offered to pinch hit at her house knowing the holidays might be dicey after my father’s death in October. I considered it. My house is still a mess from moving in furniture from my parents’ recently-shuttered apartment. I recognized my heart wasn’t into decorating a big tree. I knew everyone in my family had lots on their plates.

But … I also knew that this gathering brings me joy – and most importantly, these friends don’t give a hoot that my partially wrapped gifts were laid out on the living room floor. They didn’t care that I improvised expanding my dining room table by commandeering my neighbor’s drop clothes and repurposing them into a rustic chic look draped over my husband’s desk that I pushed up to the end of the dining room table.

They didn’t care that the normally expansive centerpiece was a simple flower arrangement set in a beautiful bowl my sister-in-law gave me for my birthday – one that I’d never properly thanked her for. They didn’t notice that my 3-foot Charlie Brown tree was set up on an end table in the front window so it kind of passed for a full-sized tree from the street.

But they did notice my kitchy, sparkly, white wreath resplendent with a red flocked reindeer in the center. And they noticed my dog’s new reindeer antlers jauntily attached to her head. Plus they noticed I got to repurpose luminaries from the recent Homeless No More fundraiser to light my front sidewalk. I sure got more pleasure out of them noticing these than I would have for them noticing fancy mantle garlands or extra shiny silver serving pieces on the table.

As my kitchen (yes, everyone crams into the kitchen) filled with the hugs and laughs of these long-time friends on Sunday night, I was so grateful that I’d finally accepted that this gathering (or any gathering in our house) doesn’t have to be perfect – or even close. Sure, I crammed a few things into drawers as the first guests were arriving (and hoped I could remember where I had shoved my husband’s new hat), and I’m always in a last-minute frenzy to add one last touch to the table.

But these girls know me well and know I don’t set up this evening up perfection. In the past I’ve burned the cornbread, forgotten to put out butter and cheese, served on paper plates, or completely overlooked the fancy coffee I’d bought to go with dessert.

I’ve learned to let them bring something. I don’t have to do it all. I’ve learned to accept help from them and my husband to clear the table or bring the birthday cake or light the candles or stir the soup or refill the ice bucket.

I’m a little stubborn about this, and it took many years of my husband trying to convince me that people don’t come to our house because it’s clean enough or straight enough or highly decorated enough. They come because we enjoy bringing people together, making connections between our friends who may not know each other, and sharing a good meal made in our slightly disorganized kitchen. And that’s way more than good enough for me.

My mother has spoken a lot recently about sources of joy. It’s something I hadn’t given a lot of thought to. But as I stood in my kitchen listening the conversations twinkling around me – the laughter, the reminiscing, the connecting and the absolute delight we took in each other’s presence in that moment – I knew exactly what she was talking about.

May everyone find some joy in the lack of perfection this holiday season.


Reba is passionate about travel; writing; learning to play the uke, guitar and keyboard; and staying connected with old friends. She can be reached at [email protected], @rebahcampbell on Instagram and Twitter and through her blog, Random Connect Points.