A survey conducted in 2022 of 2,000 people showed that 36% of the respondents did not want to celebrate the holidays due to feelings of grief or loss, and for millennials, the number of those bracing for a blue Christmas nearly doubled.
Considering the heartbreaking stories flooding out of Israel and Palestine, the financial strain of student debt repayments resuming last month for millions of borrowers, not to mention whatever personal struggles we add on top, would anyone be surprised if this number increased even higher this year?
The truth is the holidays may not be merry and bright for everyone, and if you’re one of the many bracing for a blue Christmas, here are five ways to not just survive the upcoming months, but even find healing and peace while everyone else is seemingly fa-la-la-ing.
Embrace This Season of Darkness
Christmas lights, fireplaces aglow, and your mom’s brass candlesticks on the dinner table allude to this season being for light and joy, but the origins of the season of Advent – the weeks leading up to Christmas – are actually about darkness.
The Advent wreath is a symbol in many households where the candles are lit progressively one by one for four weeks, dispelling the darkness. This darkness grows deeper and deeper literally: The days become shorter until the winter solstice. Christmas always falls just after the shortest day of the year, December 21, marking the Christian belief that Christ’s coming is the only true light. After a steady descent into darkness, the days finally gradually grow brighter.
In some churches, Advent is considered a season similar to Lent, one for fasting, penance, and sacrificing, not rejoicing. So consider your feelings of longing or grief just as valid as, if not more valid, than that of your coworker who won the Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest.
If you’re finding yourself in a season of mourning, heartache, or grieving a loss, Advent is actually the perfect season to lean into these emotions that you may have shoved down deep during the year, but are now hard to ignore.
Sidestep Uncle Joe
Okay, so maybe this season isn’t as cheery as the world has made it out to be (#heyconsumerism), but what can you do to combat all the external pressures to “Rejoice!” and prepare for what might be a blue Christmas?
Look at the ways you celebrated or took part in the festivities last year, and consider what might prove particularly challenging this year. Is it your family gathering, knowing that Grandpa won’t be there to cut the turkey? Will it be your best friend’s annual New Year’s Eve party, where you’re sure everyone will ask you why your long-term boyfriend isn’t there this year? Maybe it’s an annual trigger that feels impossible to avoid.
By looking ahead, you can come up with an action plan. Perhaps this is the year to skip that party and head to a movie that evening instead. Or if you know your anxiety is at its limit, what can you cut out to allow yourself more breathing room?
Helping others reduces focus on your own symptoms, particularly among people suffering from depression or anxiety.
Find Ways To Enter into This Season, Regardless
No matter how much we may dread it, this holiday season is fast approaching, and from Madewell to FOX Sports, that abysmally foreign merriment is about to be everywhere. But in your grief, there are ways to take part in the season’s offerings without isolating yourself completely from the world until January 1.
Instead of hunching our shoulders when we hear those infamous bells of Mariah Carey’s jingle-jangle (you know the one), check out seasonal music that speaks to your ache. For example, Maverick City Music’s “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is a hauntingly appropriate song for those with soul-deep longing.
Or, instead of mustering all of your energy into glamming up for a trip to The Nutcracker, check out a candlelit service at a local church. A dark, solemn sanctuary punctuated by small flickering flames, with choirs echoing hymns off cold, stone walls might be more your vibe this year – and just as seasonally appropriate. Ask: How would Jane Eyre celebrate ye ole Christmastide? Answer: With Gothic vibes.
Lastly, consider leaning into it being the season of giving, even if you feel totally depleted inside. A study released earlier this year found that helping others reduces focus on your own symptoms, particularly among people suffering from depression or anxiety. Whether that’s leaving a little surprise gift on your receptionist’s desk or picking up groceries for your neighbor, the benefits might be just what the doctor ordered.
Acknowledge That Grief Is Unavoidable
“How long does true grief last in the heart?” a fan once asked Brene Brown, a New York Times bestselling author of self-help books.
She responded, “As long as it takes. We live in a culture where people need us to move through our grief for the sake of their own comfort, and grief does not have a timeline. It takes as long as it takes.”
Grief can sneak up on us no matter how or even where we try to avoid it. I’ll never forget the gut punch I received just weeks after miscarrying my daughter. Christmas season had rolled in, and suddenly, the people in church around me were all singing her name: Noel. Worse yet, my stomach was constantly in knots seeing the number of empty mangers everywhere: a crib with no babe.
The way through suffering is not in denial, but rather in living fully in the midst of whatever trials we face.
Spiritual guru Henri Nouwen suggests in his book, Turning My Mourning Into Dancing, that by not ignoring or avoiding facing life’s pain, we can find peace in our suffering and loss, whatever that looks like for you. Nouwen suggests that the way through suffering is not in denial, but rather in living fully in the midst of whatever trials we face that life brings our way.
This may very well be a hard season, and the only way past it is through it. But that doesn’t mean gritting our teeth, forcing ourselves to be jolly, or even showing up. Instead, Aundi Kolber, author of Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move Us Out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode and Into a Life of Connection and Joy, has a new approach. She suggests to simply try softer, not harder.
“Trying softer isn’t about knowing or doing the right thing,” Kolber writes. “It’s about being gentle with ourselves in the face of pain that is keeping us stuck. Because no matter how hard we try, we can’t hate or shame ourselves into change.”
I remember feeling guilty for not looking forward to Christmas the year my dad was in Iraq. I was in eighth grade and kept trying to match my classmates’ excitement for break, but there’s no need to try and mirror what others around us feel. As Kolber says, we can’t shame ourselves into change, but what we can do is to remind ourselves that it’s okay that we’re not feeling the same as our peers.
Find (Little) Things To Look Forward To
It might feel like nothing can lift your spirits right now, or that ways you previously received joy and peace seem so foreign. It’s not just a cliché: Time heals, but making our way through that time can feel like we’re moving in slow motion. One way to mark the passage of time is simply by adding little things to your calendar to help it pass.
The good news is this season offers a plethora of indulgences, community gatherings, Christmas bonuses, spiritual opportunities, and more to help you take step after step. We’re talking about taking note of the little things in particular. For example, the final season of The Crown airs on Netflix on November 16. Or maybe you can schedule a trip to Trader Joe’s specifically to pick up Jingle Jangle snack mix, available exclusively during the holidays. Maybe this year, a date on your calendar looks like happily skipping your work party and, instead, splurging on your favorite take-out for a night in.
Grieving during the holidays is hard, no matter how you slice it, but find some solace in the fact that you’re not alone. There’s a plethora of articles out there about processing grief and pain and loss, but this article addresses ways that you can not just cope but find some healing during this particular season.
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