I remember a few years ago when I heard the term, “Blue Christmas” for the first time. Blue Christmas services are held by churches in many communities to support those who are grieving during the holidays. Losing a loved one, losing a job, uncertainty about the coming year, coping with illness, financial or mental health challenges, difficult memories of childhood, or simply just not being as into the festivities are all very valid, and very common reasons people sometimes struggle with sadness during the holidays. The experience of feeling separate or different from the twinkling lights and merry music often make people feel even more alone than usual.
When I was 16 years old my Father was diagnosed with cancer and died within a few months. It was a swift and life-altering experience for our family. He died on July 3rd, however, the service and burial were not until July 6th. The day after he passed we attended a 4th of July celebration. There were happy people everywhere. Lots of music, hope, and pretty lights filled the sky. It was the most bizarre feeling to have such deep grief inside while the bustling activity went on all around us. It felt a little bit like watching a play that I couldn’t leave…everyone around me was playing their parts but I could only watch. Christmas can be a similar feeling but even more intense as the celebration is everywhere you go for weeks on end.
I share this because I know there are some of you who this Christmas, or maybe most Christmases, may feel like this. You may find yourself able to join in with family and friends on occasion or you may literally be struggling day-to-day just to get on the other side of January 1st. Whether your life is full of activities and people or you are feeling deeply alone, the pressure to “enjoy yourself” can be suffocating. Even for people who have no discernable reason to feel sad during the holidays it is common to have a blue day here or there simply because we are human. The expectation of the holidays paired with the memories of the past can create a tension that is deeply painful.
So, if you are bummed out this holiday season, that’s okay. If you spend the whole season bummed out, that’s okay. If it’s just a day here and there, that’s okay too. If it’s actually on Christmas Day and your child steps on an ornament and you end up in the ER, or your adult child can’t make it in because of poor weather or family circumstances, or the pie burns or the new gift gets broken or…whatever. It is more than okay that not every day is filled with the merriment of the season.
Sadness is an emotion that is allowed during Christmas.
Here are some survival tips if you or someone you know struggles with sadness during the holidays:
- Try not to judge your emotions. Feeling sadness when encountering loss or disappointment is normal. Shaming yourself for being normal usually only serves to make you feel worse.
- Opt out of events and reach out to others as needed. You may find that more people than you think will “get it.”
- Your present to yourself is self-care. Remember to sleep, exercise, eat well and do those little things that feel good…long shower, good book, whatever works for you.
- Go outside. Even if you have to bundle up. Seasonal affective disorder is a very real thing and we need daylight.
- Allow for some “gray space” in your holiday. Just because one day, one gathering, or one of the many trips to the store was difficult doesn’t have to cast a shadow over the entire experience. Leave room for God to redeem moments as they come.
- Reach out to people who you know may be struggling with sadness this season. People who are grieving during Christmas sometimes feel pressure to “put on a face” so as not to bring down everyone’s merriment. The best present you may be able to give someone is the permission to cry on your shoulder.
- Do what you need to in order to honor Christmas in a way that is meaningful for you. Putting a present on a grave, spending time telling stories about the person you have lost, shedding a few tears on a “remembrance walk” are all ways to let your love and your grief share space.
- See if you have a Blue Christmas or Longest Night service in your community. They can be both powerful and beautiful.
- In general, try to set aside any expectations that have little chance of being met. A Christmas filled with an openness to whatever the days may bring has a much higher chance of being enjoyed.
Grace and blessings to you all.