Despite the perfectly joyful holiday cheer we see in movies, magazines, on TV, across social media, or in any local shopping center, the holiday season is often a bittersweet and not so happy time of year for so many people. In fact, the holidays can be some of the unhappiest times of the year, a feeling that is exacerbated by continual pressure to be happy and merry.
Maybe it is sickness, financial pressures, relationship challenges, deadlines, projects, deployment, anxiety, depression, death of a loved one, faith struggles, or anything else that impacts you during this time. Whatever the reason, many people battle on various levels during the holiday season. I happen to be one of those people. If I am being completely transparent, my last few Thanksgivings and Christmases have been some of my roughest terrains. A few years ago, my mom got sick two days after Christmas, and for nearly four years, I spent every holiday in a hospital and or nursing facility. Hard? Yes. Sad? Yes. Different? Yes. Happy? No. I was anything but happy. Growing up I loved holidays and all of the traditions my family had. But, all of a sudden, my once joyful and happy holiday experience was different, very different and sad. It was only through my relationship with Jesus, prayer, and good friends that helped me navigate the least wonderful time of the year.
Here’s some encouragement that I learned along the way when holidays aren’t so happy:
You are not alone
When it’s the least wonderful time of the year, it’s easy to feel like you’re on an island and the only person who has ever experienced this kind of pain. Regardless of what you are going through, it is important to know that you are not alone. There are others (many others) who feel the same way you do right now. It often helps to connect with others who are experiencing similar feelings. You could contact local support groups and see if there are programs in your area that allow you to reach out to others in the same situation. In the Gospel of John, we are reminded that we will not be left orphans…Christ is present. As Christians, we know life will not always be perfect, happy, or easy, but we know God is always with us, especially during hard seasons of life.
Expect this holiday season to be different
There’s no sugarcoating it. Expectations play a significant role in our happiness. If we go into this holiday season expecting everything to be perfect, happy, fun, and enjoyable, we will surely be disappointed. However, if we go into this season embracing and expecting that things will be different, nostalgic memories will surface, then we are acknowledging our feelings, and it will help. It’s ok to experience different emotions: sad, happy, angry, lonely all simultaneously. Embrace that you might not enjoy specific gatherings as you have in the past. In no way am I saying expect everything to be terrible, but I do believe setting realistic expectations can help you from feeling more sad or disappointed. Additionally, one of the most important reminders we need to tell ourselves is to have hope. After all, our faith always points us to be people of hope.
Offer yourself grace
Having a happy holiday or merry Christmas doesn’t come easy to everyone, so be gentle and kind to yourself! Don’t force yourself to do things. Take breaks. Rest. Do something just for you. You deserve a gift too. Treating yourself is an essential act of self-care.
During the holiday’s challenging times, it is easy to feel a little overwhelmed by life. As a result, negative feelings can creep in, making it difficult to see the positives. However, cultivating the practice of gratitude can help to alleviate some of these feelings and remind you to focus on the simple things in life and what you are thankful for.
Remember the real reasons for the season
This time of year is about welcoming Jesus into our lives and celebrating the joy that life brings. Read the nativity story – Luke, Chapter 2. In the Word of God, you will find joy, hope, miracles, and the assurance that Christ is with us. Cling to your faith and Jesus to be the central part of your celebrations.
Your feelings are real. They make you human. There is never a one-size-fits-all solution when the holidays aren’t so happy. And, there is no right way to feel. Recognize these moments as an invitation to lean into our loving Father. However, you decide to celebrate the holiday season, know of my prayers.