Is Christmas Really Merry?

Turn on the TV these days and you can’t miss the ads for See’s Candy, Hallmark Cards and unending Christmas specials. As much as the media wants us to believe that this is the “most wonderful time of the year,” for many of us, it couldn’t be further from the truth. As much as each of us wants Christmas to be a happy, loving, family day, the reality is that many of us encounter loneliness, sadness, and discontent.

There’s no one simple reason for why we have these feelings. Some people have no family nearby and can’t afford to fly home. Others choose not to see their families for any number of reasons. Still others are sad because Christmas isn’t as fun as “they” say it should be or as we remember it from our childhoods. Toughest of all are those who are missing those who have died. Regardless, December 25th is coming, and we have to figure out how to spend the day in a way that leaves us feeling as content and fulfilled as possible.

A good starting place is to have as positive an attitude about your day as possible. Rather than focusing on who you’re not with or what you wish was different, embrace who and what you do have and make decisions with them in mind.

Then take steps to start building your own traditions. Perhaps you’ll share a meal with good friends. Cook some of your holiday favorites, and encourage them bring a dish to share. Maybe John will bring the baked beans his grandmother taught him to make, and Lynn will make her special spiced cider. Over the years, the friends with whom you spend Christmas will become your second family, and the positive memories you make will become what you think about when reflecting on Christmas.

Another way to help cope with the hard feelings that can come with Christmas is to reach out and help others. Perhaps you’ll volunteer at a neighborhood soup kitchen or visit a convalescent hospital. Regardless of what you do, you’ll be around others and doing something meaningful. As a nice by-product, you could end up meeting like-minded people you’d want to hang out with again.

Trying to cope with the loss of a loved one is always difficult, but never more so than during the holidays. The best way to remember them is by creating rituals that honor them. If Uncle Max used to smoke a cigar, rain, snow or shine, at 4 p.m. every Christmas, honor him by doing the same. You probably won’t miss him any less, but you’d likely find some peace as you try to enjoy the day.

Regardless of how you spend the day or whom you’re with, anticipate that you’ll be faced with challenging feelings and situations. As easy at it might be to give in and allow them to set the tone for your day, prepare ahead of time this year and make choices that leave you feeling loved and supported. And your Christmas will probably be merrier than you’d anticipated.

12 Responses to Is Christmas Really Merry?
  1. William Emanuel
    December 7, 2012 | 4:00 pm

    Very good advice.

  2. christina emanuel
    December 7, 2012 | 9:19 pm

    Super insightful, Steve! The holidays can be so difficult for so many people, but your advice will help them a lot!

  3. elizabeth
    December 8, 2012 | 6:49 pm

    Loved the article…made so much sense. I sent it to a friend who lost her 35 year old son this year.

    A lot of thoughts in this article can relate to everyday life, especially the part about positive attitudes and focusing on what you have……..

    • Mollie Wilmot
      December 10, 2012 | 4:34 pm

      I love the ideas here. I would just say don’t stay alone and feeling sorry for yourself because that will make it worse. Get out for a walk and pop in some place for a nice coffee. Later in the day invite friends for tea or lunch or dinner or to walk with you. If its a nice day enjoy being out and about and you will meet people to chat with.
      Cook some special sweet, have some good chocolates and phone up those you cannot visit with to offer them a happy Christmas.
      Maybe you cold cook something for the homeless and carry to them in the street.

      Mollie Wilmot

      • Steve DeBenedetti-Emanuel
        December 10, 2012 | 5:24 pm

        Thanks Mollie, you’ve made some helpful suggestions. Isolation (as opposed to a conscious decision to take some alone time) is never a good thing, particularly at the holidays. Connecting with others, rather by phone or getting out of the house, is key. Also, doing for others who are less fortunate than you is a fabulous way to feel good both for helping others and being reminded of the gifts you have.

  4. Cristi
    December 10, 2012 | 11:03 am

    Yes. Thank you for the opportunity to
    pause and reflect. There are many good
    suggestions on how to cope during this
    Season when our lives may fall far from
    what we desire. Let us shift our focus
    to the reason for the celebration. We
    celebrate Christmas because God sent
    his only Son to become man and die
    on the Cross to bear our transgressions
    so that we may have Eternal life.
    Christ is with us…Immanuel…Saved by grace
    through his death and Ressurection.
    The Joy is in Him. Alleluia

  5. Milly
    December 10, 2012 | 1:00 pm

    Lovely article!

  6. Karen
    December 11, 2012 | 3:02 pm

    Thanks for the post Steve. This is a difficult time of year for many people, for so many reasons. I really like your ideas about creating rituals for loved ones lost. This is such an important way to find peace and release some of the negative energy around the loss. Every year, on my father’s birthday, my siblings and I get together to light his memorial candle and drink a toast to him. It gives us a sense that he is there with us and is very comforting.

  7. Susan Fuess
    December 16, 2012 | 9:01 pm

    Hi Steve, Thanks for the kind words of advice regarding feelings at the holiday time. I felt you were talking to me, so personal and loving and caring. Thank you for helping all of us. My best to your family for a warm and happy time. Your friend, Susan Fuess

  8. Steve DeBenedetti-Emanuel
    December 17, 2012 | 4:10 am

    Susan, thank-you for your personal heartfelt response. I can’t imagine how you must be feeling at these holidays, the first without your son. My hope is that you’ll find ways to honor your son that bring a little peace along with your sorrow. My best!
    Steve DeBenedetti-Emanuel recently posted..Talking to your kids about Sandy HookMy Profile

  9. David Woodward
    December 17, 2012 | 5:04 pm

    Hi Steve.
    Enjoyed your article and it does throw up some of the pain that Christmas can unfortunately bring.
    I identify with what Cristi said in her comment about the ‘reason for the season’ and I do think that by focusing on the love and joy and celebration inherent in the Christmas story, it can help us to cope with some of the pain, loneliness, etc, we may find in our lives at this time. Jesus brought joy and meaning into the world despite our personal sufferings. I lost my 34 year old first wife to breast cancer almost 13 years ago leaving me with a 2 and a half year old daughter – but I can still find something to celebrate in the Christmas message that brings hope, joy, life, peace, etc. when there is that ache of loneliness and a missed life.
    As my mum has taught me also (probably the best advice she has ever given me), “Look back in happiness.” To be joyful and appreciative of what we have HAD rather than being sad at what we are missing.
    And as Dr. Seuss also famously quoted, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” If we can do that, we are some way to helping ease ourselves through the pain.
    Take care. Best wishes in this Christmas season.
    David Woodward

    • Steve DeBenedetti-Emanuel
      December 18, 2012 | 12:22 am

      David, thank-you for your sharing your insights. The holidays can bring-up so many challenging feelings, particularly for those who have experienced loss. I love your mum’s advice. Your thoughts on how you cope with Christmas are heartfelt and touching. My hope is that you and your teenage daughter find joy and peace in your lives together.
      Finding joy and happiness is going to be particularly difficult this year for those who are affected by the horrible hurricanes we had and, especially, for those who are grieving the loss of a child at Sandy Hook Elementary. I wish I had the right words to say, but there aren’t any…
      Merry Christmas!

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