Surviving When the Holidays are Hard

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. With the immense loss of lives, jobs, and financial security along with feelings of isolation and uncertainty—overwhelming fear even—of what the future holds, these words may ring hollow this year. For many, the joy and excitement that once filled the days leading up to Christmas have been replaced with anxiety, loneliness, and sadness. Grief. The holidays are hard.

If this is where you find yourself this year I want you to know that you are not alone. There are many of us who are well acquainted with feelings of loss and grief during the holidays, many for whom the holidays are always difficult-every single year. I’m thinking here of single men and women, single parents, those who have lost loved ones and those who have never known financial or relational security.

 I do not say this to diminish any pain you are experiencing this Christmas, as though your pain is less significant simply because it is new. In my experience people can drown in 3 feet of water or 30 feet of water. The level of water is not what is important. It’s the depth of grief that matters. I say these things to offer you hope. You are not in uncharted territory. 

I don’t typically write “How To” pieces, mostly because I don’t know what I’m doing a good portion of the time. I’m more often in need of advice than standing on ground firm enough to offer it. But I do know a few things about surviving a difficult Christmas, and I thought I’d share what I’ve discovered in the hope that it is helpful to someone this season.

Let yourself grieve-The worst thing you can do with grief is to stuff it away and pretend it’s not there or to minimize it and tell yourself that you’re being irrational because you have so many other good things in your life. Your grief is real, and it’s important. Cry. Journal. Pray.  Take the small step of acknowledging your grief and know that you do not go there alone. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:15.

Make a plan-You have to have a plan in place as to how you will celebrate Christmas BEFORE Christmas day…and your plan cannot be lying on the couch all day watching sappy movies. It sounds nice, but trust on this one. You will be miserable by the end of the day. Your plan may look different from mine, but it should include the following things:                                                          

 1. Exercise- Go for a jog or take a walk. Get outside. You’ve got to get that heart rate up for a little bit. It will do you a world of good. Seriously.

2.Human contact-Do not spend the day completely alone. Call someone. Zoom with family or friends that are far away. Have a drink outside with a neighbor. Get creative. You need human contact. This is non-negotiable.

3. Stay off of social media– For the love of everything good in this world, do not get on Facebook or Instagram. Nothing good will come of it. It doesn’t matter that you know your college roommate’s family bickers non-stop or that their spouse is battling cancer. You will see a picture of a happy family gathered around a fireplace in their matching pajamas and you will instantly be jealous. You can’t help yourself. None of us can. Social media is a dangerous thing during the holidays. Stay away!

4. Do something for someone else-Grief is a powerful force. The temptation can be to cuddle up with your misery and self-pity as if they were warm blankets on a cold night, but they will be the nooses around your neck if you give them that power. You must get your mind off of yourself. The best way to do this is to do something for someone else.  Bake cookies for the neighbors. Rake someone’s leaves. I once painted a kid’s bedroom. It feels good to do something for someone else AND it’s a great way to use up time in the day. You won’t regret spending your time this way.                                        

5.Treat yourself-It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking the holidays aren’t the same this year so what’s the point of decorating the table for a nice meal or planning something special to celebrate. Don’t listen to that voice in your head. After you’ve done all of the things above, build a fire in the fireplace. Decorate the table. Have a nice meal. Drink the champagne. Watch a great movie. Find some way to celebrate. 

Give thanks-Gratitude is a Christian discipline and the only path to finding true joy. It’s not an attempt to trick our minds into thinking everything is all right, even though we know it is not. Through gratitude we remind ourselves that God is still at work in our lives blessing us and doing good things even in our suffering.

I know from experience how difficult it is to find things to be thankful for when you are hurting. You have to force yourself to name them. Name the truth. If you need help getting started, you can begin by remembering that there is a God who adores you, who will never leave you nor forsake you (Joshua 1:5). He has counted the hairs on your head (Luke 12:7), kept track of your sorrows, and bottled your tears (Psalm 56:8). A bruised reed He will not break and a shouldering wick He will not snuff out (Isaiah 42:3). He still has a plan for your life.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

May you find joy this Christmas, even in the midst of grief. You are loved.

Merry Christmas!

Author: Rebekah Durham

Rebekah Durham lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her three children.  She is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and has written for numerous publications. She is an avid reader and in particular an admirer of C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, G.K. Chesterton, Henri Nouwen, and Dorothy L. Sayers (in no certain order). She'd also blindly follow Miss Marple (Agatha Christie's famous spinster sleuth) anywhere she wanted to go.

5 thoughts on “Surviving When the Holidays are Hard”

  1. Wow! I thought of those lonely years following divorce and separation from my family. I was not a Christian then, so I was totally alone. Now, as a Christian, I’m never alone, but fortunately God has again graced me with family. Each one of your advice points was beneficial. At the time, I didn’t know any of them. Thanks for sharing, and God bless. Merry Christmas, Rebekah!

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