Blue Christmas (What To Do When The Holidays Hurt)

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‘Tis the season…

For many people these are days of magic and wonder, a time when hope rises and peace falls and where miracles begin to feel commonplace. They are moments of joyous reunions and fierce embraces and boisterous laughter and crowded tables, all accompanied by waves of easy gratitude. Christmas is for lots of folks, a time when Goodness has the run of the house in their hearts. To them, it is sweet and possible and glittering with promise.

But you are not one of those people, and that’s what makes this season so much more difficult to endure. Your days are not merry and bright, in a time when the rest of the world’s seem to be and so the normal cavern between you and everyone around you feels wider than usual, the isolation more severe, the disconnect greater. You seem to find estrangement everywhere you look.

Christmas is here—and Christmas hurts.

Maybe it’s because of the chairs that will be empty or the calls that won’t come or the welcome you won’t receive. Maybe it’s the way the sentimental songs amplify your loneliness or the way the picture perfect images of blissful homes prick your tender insides or the way your shrinking family gatherings highlight the attrition you’ve experienced. It might be the effect the shorter, colder, darker days have on your fragile emotional equilibrium. Whatever the reason, a heavy yuletide melancholy has taken hold and you don’t know how to snap out of it.

Welcome.

For many of us depression, grief, and sadness hover in the background on even the most ordinary of days and we get used to battling to keep them all at bay on a regular basis. But there’s nothing quite like the holiday season to ratchet up the pressure we feel, not only to have it all together, but to wrap it in lights and tinsel and broadcast it in a heavily filtered Instagram pic. We feel more compelled than ever to feel good, and more guilty than ever to admit that we don’t.

The Christmas season lulls us into a parade of false comparisons. We find ourselves looking at other people’s lives from afar and using them to measure our own from up close; whether the lights on our houses or the trees adorning our living rooms, or our bank accounts or marriages or bodies or careers or families. Viewing others in the soft, flattering glow that distance yields, while seeing ourselves in the raking light of close proximity means we always come up short—we always feel lacking and less than.

If you happen to be hurting this holiday season…

Let it hurt. Make peace with your pain and allow it to come fully without alteration. Life is difficult and you aren’t okay, and you shouldn’t waste precious energy and time trying to pretend this isn’t so. Let grief and sadness do the necessary, invasive work in you that they need to do. There’s no defeat in feeling defeated right now.

Don’t hide it. Give people close to you the most authentic version of yourself you are able to give. Those deserving of you will not be pushed away by your woundedness or intimidated by your honesty. Allow people who love you to bear your burdens and sit in solidarity with you. Let them see you, not some sanitized, edited version of them you think they can handle.

Don’t be fooled by the calendar. Today is in reality, just another day even though the trappings and the framing may make your feel otherwise. Release yourself from the expectation to have some magical Christmas conversion; some George Bailey, It’s A Wonderful Life Moment. If this season finds you less than alright, be that. You don’t owe the calendar anything.

Don’t be fooled by yourself. Despite how it may feel, most of the pressure on you to be happy is usually an inside job. Since you’re the only one who truly knows the depth and scope of your sadness, and the only one who’s fully walked your road, you’re probably beating yourself up the most about this blueness that others may not even see. Don’t be complicit in your own debilitating guilt trip. Go easy on yourself.

Give yourself permission to scale back, downsize, or opt out. There are times and places during the holidays where the hurt is amplified, and you may see them coming; certain gatherings, parties, people, activities. Don’t feel as though you need to do and be it all and continually put yourself in harm’s way. Balance your desire to give others normalcy now, with your very valid need to protect yourself. Step away from the fray when you need to.

Embrace this Christmas as-is. You may be overwhelmed and bruised this season, but there is still goodness to be welcomed and blessing to be claimed here, even in the pain. There will be holidays in the future when you will feel stronger and lighter, and these very difficult days are part of the road to them so accept whatever gifts they have for you. You may not fully open them for years.

And above all friend, know that it’s okay to be blue this Christmas.

It really is.

So be blue, but be greatly encouraged even still.

Happy (though hurtful) Holidays.

65 thoughts on “Blue Christmas (What To Do When The Holidays Hurt)

  1. I was waiting for the bit where the Gospel makes it all better in an instant and, ultimately, even more unbearable. It did not come. Clever, that! And sensitive. Thanks for being authentic. And yes, this does help. And I realise too, that, though unstated, the help is from God, through you. And it helps because you have demonstrated just how well God understands – as opposed to the glib way that the well-meaning often have immediate answers to offer.

    • Thank you! I am so tired of hearing the gospel and feeling guilty that I am less than compelled by it- It doesn’t bring my baby back and I’ve heard it a million times as if it would magically transform my loss from tragic to joyful. To John, I would love to step out of the holidays this year. But when you have other children, it feels selfish to have them miss out. So many continue to fake it until I make it (one day). I know you’re missing your dad. Take care.

  2. Thank you. I used to love this season. Now it hurts more than anything else. It’s good to know I’m not alone. I will keep this nearby as a reminder. Merry Christmas John.

  3. As the mom of an adult son who will spend his 5th Christmas in prison, I can so identity with your thoughts on the sadness this season brings for our family. Thank you for voicing the words I feel.

  4. Thanks. I’m stuggling this yearas it’s the first one without my Mom. I am trying to do what I feel like, and the rest I’m not going to worry about. My biggest stress is going home this year. I want to be there for my Dad but I would rather stay home in pajamas and cry. After reading this I’m going to go and just be me. And it will all be ok in its own blue way. Ha, which happens to be my favorite color!

  5. A real experience for many us. It is ok for it not to be a great event all the time. Of all the times of year to be real, this is it. To remember the one who does bring Hope, no matter how long it takes or how hard it is to realize. Have a Merry Christmas John

  6. Thank you so much for this. After lots of loss, there are many empty chairs in my family. I really needed this today, you are a wonderful person inside and out.

  7. Thank you so much for helping to alleviate at least a smidgen of the guilt this season inevitably brings to me. I’ve lost a lot of people, some through death, but many through abandonment. I am disabled with severe depression and other quirks that make many of my family shun me. I haven’t seen my oldest son or little granddaughter in over five years. My heart is broken by a family who, as my catty oldest sister in law put it a few years ago after I emerged from catatonia, thinks of me in terms of, “You’ve been a horrible burden to the whole family!” Nice, right?

    I try so hard to balance my thinking by ‘counting my blessings’ and ‘looking on the bright side’, focusing on what I still have, the angels in my life, etc.’. But I must confess that this particular time of year, maybe because it was my favorite holiday, makes that task even harder. Makes it more of a struggle and brings with it the accompanying guilt at not always being able to stay cheerful and grateful, at least in front of other people. I burst into tears at the oddest times, just hearing a certain carol, or seeing grandparents with happy little grandchildren getting ready for Christmas…while forcing myself to pull out my late mother’s nativity set just to feel close to her. It aches! What is maybe the worst is I’ve lost most of my faith that used to get me by times like these. I no longer believe that ‘Everything happens for a reason’, that ‘God is in control,’ or in happy endings in Heaven. I left my cradle church of over fifty years last year over several important issues and I’m adrift. I feel betrayed by my church, my faith, feel that so much of what I was taught was a lie so how can I know what’s true and what’s not anymore? I feel abandoned and betrayed by God. It is selfishly comforting to know I’m not the only one who feels like this but, I really wish no one had to. I really wish I still had faith that there will be a happy ending.

    • I am sorry for your losses. It does make it difficult to face life day after day. But, please do not give up on God. He never promised anyone “the good life”, in fact, just the opposite. But, He does promise to get us through the hardships. AND, YOU HAVE GOTTEN THROUGH to this point. Believe me, I KNOW IT IS HARD. But, heaven is our hope. Heaven is the promised ‘good life’. It doesn’t mean that you can’t find some joy here on earth. Release all the negative and painful things to God. Look for little things that bring you joy. Find good people who will love and accept you as you are. I am believing for better days ahead for you. But, without the comfort, peace and Love of God, there isn’t a lot of hope. Don’t look to the church, look to God. Get to know and understand his character for yourself. He won’t let you down. His love for you is beyond your comprehension! He created you….The Bible tells us that nothing can separate us from Gods love…at least on His part. Only if you reject that love. Even then He continues to love you. You just don’t receive the benefits. Please know that people DO care about you. Satan will try to lie to you to bring you down…don’t believe him.

    • Wow….your story hits home for me. Total agree that it is selfishly comforting to know I’m (we’re)n not the only one who feels like this. You start to feel crazy when nobody can relate to your pain….my heart hurts for you as I know how bad that kind of rejection feels. And what it feels like to feel this day after day, its exhausting and so incredibly lonely. “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade”! There is another one that rubs me wrong!

  8. It is so refreshing to see honest comments about this special time of the year. It is an awful thing to feel sociocultural pressure to be cheerful when your feelings inside are just not in that groove. I too have been there just like all of you. The only thing we can really do is hop on top of our surf board and ride the wave until January 2.

    Siddigfan. Just for humor, I thought you might like to read the new “My Testimony” that was recently developed to encourage people in times like these:

    “Before I accepted Jesus, I was addicted to crack, heroin, alcohol, ecstasy, and seven other dangerous drugs—and cigarettes. I was schizophrenic, bipolar, and stark raving mad. I was also blind in both eyes—and all my arms and legs had been amputated at the trunk of my body. Everyone in my family died on the same day—even the uncles, aunts, and cousins—leaving me totally alone in the world. I had no friends in the world, and even though I had health insurance, my doctor would not even see me. Then in the twinkling of an eye in the tent revival down at the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) Church, I was shot through with fear, accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior like a bawling baby, and He saved me from Hell. In that very moment, the Spirit of the Lord seized me, and instantly, all of my drug addictions ceased, my mental illnesses went away, the scales fell from my eyes, all four limbs reappeared on my body, and all of my relatives came back to life again—and I got a doctor’s appointment. I grabbed both poles of the battery in God’s Ford Thunderbird, and I felt the power of the Lord surging through my body!!! Praise the Lord!!!! Praise the Lord!!! Praise the Lord!!!”

    I will not wish everyone Merry Christmas. Just have the best Christmas that you can under whatever your current circumstances are. Jesus really does love you—even if you cannot touch it or feel it.

    • Know there are those of us who have also lost our loved ones over the holidays… first we held my grandfather’s funeral on New Year’s Eve, and 18 years later, his wife’s was on Christmas Eve. I understand the sort of place you find yourself in and I lift you up. May those around you allow you the dignity of your grief.

    • My arms are around you in the biggest virtual hug I can give! I totally understand and I so wish I could be there for you if only to take you out to a movie or restaurant or someplace and distract you for even a little while. Please take care of yourself as much as you can right now. Be good to yourself and treat yourself with patience and gentleness. You are literally wounded right now and deserve every consideration and all the time you need to grieve. It’s hard at this time of year when everyone expects us to be ‘up’ when we feel like we’re dying inside. Don’t let anyone push you into doing anything you don’t feel like doing if you don’t think you’re ready. I’m not the best pray-er in the world, my own faith being sorely lacking lately but, I am on my knees for you and praying my darndest! Peace, my friend!

  9. In my early life, Christmas was yelling and screaming and my failing to make her Christmas something the than “You are ruining my Christmas”, she i sadly gone now and I was never able to perform to her expectations so as someone who is now 61, I wish the holiday would go away, but it has sustained longer than anyone ever will. Thank you for your insight and some of us just try to get through the next week or so.

  10. I honestly don’t even remember the Christmas of 2012. My dear father passed on 5 December 2012 and I remained in MN with family until 20 December. Did the kids (late teens) put up a tree? Did I buy gifts? Did I get gifts? I have no recollection. Grief plays out in so many different ways.

  11. I honestly don’t even remember the Christmas of 2012. My dear father passed on 5 December 2012 and I remained in MN with family until 20 December. Did the kids (late teens) put up a tree? Did I buy gifts? Did I get gifts? I have no recollection. Grief plays out in so many different ways.

  12. I think that even at the best of times Christmas rarely lives up to the hype that the ‘world’ puts on it. Makes it harder when circumstances and your own inner world plot to make things harder. But such is life I guess. I try to find the best and enjoy the moments. There is not much else you can do.

    I also think your advise is difficult to follow….I know I don’t want to make Christmas difficult for others by not being up and happy. Sometimes it is easier to just go along with it all and try to enjoy…and sometimes that means the enjoyment happens in spite of how you are feeling.

  13. Finding your blog this year has changed my life and given me hope, because of posts just like this. I am tired of fighting and trying to be something other people want me to be. I am not alone in my uncontrollable and unfathomable depression and anxiety. Thank you.

  14. Don’t be surprised if the holidays (Chanukah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, Festivus, New Years, ) aren’t merry and/or bright for _years_ to come; my husband died in 2009, and I’ve more or less gotten through this time of year since then; I’m a database administrator, so work has helped (yep, have gotten calls on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and New Years’ Eve) – this year, in particular, just doesn’t feel all that wonderful, and I’m just wanting it to be 4 January 2016…

    John’s advice to acknowledge your grief and sadness is serious truth….it would be awesome if THE CHURCH would actually ACKNOWLEDGE this and really BE THERE …. the ‘Grief Share’ hold-the–grieving-at-arm’s-length-and-just-throw-Bible-verses-at-us approach doesn’t really help – how about just having a place with _comfortable_ chairs, coffee/tea and good, warm snacks and just people to ___LISTEN__ to you talk about the loved one who has died/is alienated from you/incarcerated and MOST IMPORTANTLY: ALLOW YOU TO ___CRY____ AS MUCH AS YOU NEED TO.

    I am SO TIRED of being expected to be HAPPY, PERKY AND PEACHY-KEEN in the church; I am TIRED, as a WIDOW, of being treated as if I carried some filovirus (eg: Ebola, Marburg) that all the couples might “catch”

    Blessings and as much healing as possible be with and upon you all.

  15. Don’t be surprised if the holidays (Chanukah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, Festivus, New Years, ) aren’t merry and/or bright for _years_ to come; my husband died in 2009, and I’ve more or less gotten through this time of year since then; I’m a database administrator, so work has helped (yep, have gotten calls on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and New Years’ Eve) – this year, in particular, just doesn’t feel all that wonderful, and I’m just wanting it to be 4 January 2016…

    John’s advice to acknowledge your grief and sadness is serious truth….it would be awesome if THE CHURCH would actually ACKNOWLEDGE this and really BE THERE …. the ‘Grief Share’ hold-the–grieving-at-arm’s-length-and-just-throw-Bible-verses-at-us approach doesn’t really help – how about just having a place with _comfortable_ chairs, coffee/tea and good, warm snacks and just people to ___LISTEN__ to you talk about the loved one who has died/is alienated from you/incarcerated and MOST IMPORTANTLY: ALLOW YOU TO ___CRY____ AS MUCH AS YOU NEED TO.

    I am SO TIRED of being expected to be HAPPY, PERKY AND PEACHY-KEEN in the church; I am TIRED, as a WIDOW, of being treated as if I carried some filovirus (eg: Ebola, Marburg) that all the couples might “catch”

    Blessings and as much healing as possible be with and upon you all.

  16. It is a subdued Christmas this year for me and I don’t apologize for it. It’s OK to feel saddened by the unfortunate happenings in life. Life does go on following a loss, but it does change…..and that’s OK.
    We do survive the losses in life…..but let us grieve and recoup in the manner which works for us.
    I do wish everyone well and look forward to better times ahead.

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  19. This is a tough Christmas for our family as I have just begun chemotherapy again for my third round of ovarian cancer in three years. The cancer is in my abdominal cavity and lungs. I am too nauseous to enjoy the baking and wear out before the parties are over. However, as we don’t know how many more Christmases we will have together, we are thanking God for each day of the season–while still allowing some space in each day for our fear and grieving. We are clinging to Heb 6:19, “we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Love and prayers for all who are suffering this Christmas.

  20. This is a tough Christmas for our family as I have just begun chemotherapy again for my third round of ovarian cancer in three years. The cancer is in my abdominal cavity and lungs. I am too nauseous to enjoy the baking and wear out before the parties are over. However, as we don’t know how many more Christmases we will have together, we are thanking God for each day of the season–while still allowing some space in each day for our fear and grieving. We are clinging to Heb 6:19, “we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Love and prayers for all who are suffering this Christmas.

  21. Thank you, this message was timely and I appreciate it’s secular seeming nature as I am non-religious. A few days ago, my spouse of 18+ years, put his hands on me in anger for the first time. While I am physically intact, my heart is broken and my spirit is deeply wounded. There will be no Blessed Yule by the fire tonight, nor with there be a Happy Christmas a few days hence at his parents’ home. He’s there with family now (I asked him to go up there early, and alone). I will spend the holidays alone making the hard decision to stay and try to fix this, or go and fly solo, without my wingman, for the first time in over 20 years. I’m scared and so very hurt and sad.

  22. Thank you, this message was timely and I appreciate it’s secular seeming nature as I am non-religious. A few days ago, my spouse of 18+ years, put his hands on me in anger for the first time. While I am physically intact, my heart is broken and my spirit is deeply wounded. There will be no Blessed Yule by the fire tonight, nor with there be a Happy Christmas a few days hence at his parents’ home. He’s there with family now (I asked him to go up there early, and alone). I will spend the holidays alone making the hard decision to stay and try to fix this, or go and fly solo, without my wingman, for the first time in over 20 years. I’m scared and so very hurt and sad.

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  25. Thank you so very much for this. Like many, I have always loved Christmas, and I thought I was happily married (we would have celebrated 25 years in April) until the Monday after Thanksgiving, when I discovered my husband’s affair with his old high school girlfriend. He just moved out and in with her this past Saturday; apparently, their plan was to wait until after the holidays to break the news to their spouses. I actually managed to speed things up for them by discovering the affair. I am beyond devastated, angry, sad, have been crying almost to the point of physical nausea. All around me is Christmas – lights, music, celebration – and I just want to crawl into a hole and pull the hole in after me. I have lost my husband/best friend, my (his) family (who I have always loved), my heart, my holiday, my happiness, while he has moved into his happy new life (not to mention being spared the ordeal of breaking the news to me). He even took one of our dogs with him.
    Friends and family reached out to me at first, but that’s trickled off. No one wants to be around sadness at Christmastime. I am trying and trying to turn to God, begging for peace, direction, strength, sleep, anything to alleviate this intense pain, but even He seems so far away right now, and I am feeling utterly and hopelessly alone, more than I ever imagined possible.
    Apologies for the long post, but it is such a relief to know that I don’t have to force it, nor should I. But I miss Christmas. I miss my life.

    • I am so very sorry for the betrayal and loss of everything you knew, thought you knew and thought you had, Julia….your grief and anger are just as legitimate as if your former spouse had actually died – I believe you need to grieve and cry and be angry (yes, be angry….anger gets a bad rap, but I think true forgiveness (meaning [eventually] letting go so the hurtful act does not continue to wound you) has to go through some deal of anger, that no amount of Bible verses can immediately remove).

      I hope in the midst of your grief and sorrow that you find some moments of happiness and laughter, however fleeting.

      Blessings to you

  26. Let me say I love Christmas. I love the traditions. I love pulling the ornaments out of the box and remembering where they came from. But I also had the BEST Christmas’ when my mom was alive and I was a kid. Christmas today NEVER exceeds the memories of those Christmas’ and sometimes I really struggle to maintain a smile or not take the words to Blue Christmas to heart. This is great advice

  27. I understand these feelings in the holidays. My mother died in 2005. My life has never been the same since. It’s been many years since she passed away, but I am trying very hard to live life feeling happy. I get depressed around times like these, but I know that later on I will be feeling better. It’s only temporary. I also try to watch funny shows on television to help me with the depression. I hope everyone feels better soon. I’m sorry for all your loss. Things will get better. Hang on in there. Have a great holiday.

  28. I understand these feelings in the holidays. My mother died in 2005. My life has never been the same since. It’s been many years since she passed away, but I am trying very hard to live life feeling happy. I get depressed around times like these, but I know that later on I will be feeling better. It’s only temporary. I also try to watch funny shows on television to help me with the depression. I hope everyone feels better soon. I’m sorry for all your loss. Things will get better. Hang on in there. Have a great holiday.

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  34. My only sibling died shortly before Christmas 2011. I barely made it through the holidays and wouldn’t have celebrated except for my daughter’s efforts. A year later I gave my son a DVD that I’d already given him the previous one. I had no memory of any of the gifts I gave.

    My mom died when I was 14 and my grandmother less than a month after her. My dad decided we no longer needed to celebrate Christmas. If not for my older sister, I wouldn’t have had any more Christmases.

    Christmas makes me sad for the people and traditions I no longer have. My children are adults with other obligations so I am grateful for the celebrations I share with them. They recognize that the holiday makes me sad and respect when I feel blue.

  35. Read this again this year, 2016, John! It helps immensely! I still cry about my Mom dying every Christmas and, so far, after 6 and a half years, the grief hasn’t lessened. Other things, too, have combined to make my ‘normal’ depression worse. I really appreciate this article! Have a Merry Christmas, John!!! 🙂

  36. I lost my wife in august she was only 54. I have opted out of this Christmas as I didn’t feel up to it and be a burden on anyone. After reading this article I now don’t feel guilty.
    Thanks
    Paul

  37. John, your writings are always so ‘right on’, so on the pulse of what people feel and think and this post is no different. My own blog posts these last few weeks have been from the lens of a widow at the holidays, yet I was so moved by all the losses in each of the replies. I am reminded that as varied as we are as people, as different the losses we sustain a broken heart is is a broken heart. It’s my second Christmas as a widow, the first being a very numb 6 weeks after my husband died suddenly last year. This holiday, however, feels even heavier somehow; the realization that he is gone and never coming back sits heavy. Still as you wisely said, without expectations, without the ‘shoulds’, it is indeed just another day. While Christmas is not ‘merry or bright’, there were many years that were and for that I’m sad but grateful. I’m definitely not up for tinsel and eggnog but I’ll get through it the best I can and that’s all we can expect of ourselves. Thank you for always having the touching the hearts of those who look to you for comfort and understanding…..

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