Not every Christmas is a spectacular fantasy of happiness.  There are many of us who will have a harder Christmas this year than usual.  You may have had wonderful Christmases in the past, but this year is different.  It may be a death, loss of job, family estrangement, an unexpected diagnosis, divorce, children have grown and moved, or any number of other events or problems which bring unhappy thoughts to this “joyous” season.

For me, I am thankful my three daughters and one of their boyfriends will be at my house.  However, Dad died in September; he was 94.  We had a lovely service for him in October and placed him between the two wives that preceded him in death to rest and wait for that day.  The bouquets have wilted.  The thank you cards have been sent.  The bills have been paid.  His belongings have been divided.  And…  I received my small inheritance check last week.

That check made it all so final.  I feel alone.  I miss him.  He will not be around to even call for Christmas.  (Read this article for more about my Dad.)

I have gone through that first Christmas before, when Mom died less than a month before.  Dad came for Christmas and I had four young children who were excited about Christmas.  For me, it was a day full of fighting tears, but the next Christmas was easier.  And so it goes…

How do you handle a Christmas that is less merry than you would like?  I advise giving it thought, and making a plan.  Here are some tips I have found which may be helpful:

  1. Accept your feelings.  Tell yourself it is ok to be sad.  Remember this will get better.  The sun will shine again.  This will not kill you.
  2. Find something fun you will enjoy.  A loved book, or a new one.  Snuggling up with some hot chocolate and a movie at home.  Maybe writing a tribute, a letter to someone you miss, or a letter to God.  Do an activity you rarely have time for such as a craft or building project.
  3. Remember the basics like drinking water, showering, eating, walking, etc.  I have personally recommitted to drinking water recently.
  4. Pre-plan for difficulties.  You may want to avoid a particular time or place.  If you cannot avoid it, then plan your response.
  5. Remember what you are thankful for.  Thank God for these gifts from Him.  And perhaps, find a creative way to give a gift to God; after all He has given each of us more than we can ever give back.
  6. Old traditions may not be possible this year, or maybe you just want to plan something new.  What do you like about past traditions that you can still do or even make better?  What do you dislike about past traditions that you might like to replace?
  7. Be honest with those around you; this is not going to be your best Christmas and you may shed some tears.
  8. Ask for help.  This may be physical help with some tasks or it may be emotional or spiritual help.
  9. Think of something you can do for others.  Many others need help in this season.  Perhaps you can help out with a dinner somewhere for those who will not have Christmas food otherwise.  Buy gifts for children.  Send cards to friends or family or perhaps to someone you know who may not get a lot of cards.  This could even be a fun Christmas Day activity to ready New Year’s cards to be sent the following day.
  10. Also remember there is such a thing as depression, and particularly seasonal depression.  This is the time of year when many of us are not getting nearly enough sunlight.  Make an effort to get at least 20 minutes of sunlight every day–even with coat and boots these power-packed rays of light can penetrate up to 8 cm into our bodies causing our cells to produce products we need to be happy and healthy.  If you need to seek help from a professional, do not hesitate.  Sometimes we just need help, and likely you will not need their help forever.