When Christmas is Hard.

Because Christmas is hard sometimes. Even if we don’t want to admit it.

This is my scary realization about my memory. I was going to write a post about “When the Holidays are Hard” then when I was linking posts to yesterday’s post, I saw I had already posted about this. Nonetheless, it is a good reminder for me and maybe it may help someone. This was originally posted in 12/13.

I want to write about something that a lot of people don’t talk about, including myself. In fact, for many years, I lived in blissful denial until reality smacked me in the face, each and every time. For some people, the holidays can be difficult.

joy ornament

Yes, I know that this acknowledgement doesn’t have everyone running for Christmas cookies and singing Christmas carols. In fact, maybe you just threw the cookies at the screen, stuck your fingers in your ear and started singing extremely loudly, “Fa la la la la la la la la…”

I know this isn’t true for everyone but I was blessed enough that both my mom’s family and my dad’s family got along well enough that we spent holidays together as a group. That’s rare and special and I treasure those memories very much.

Then my parent’s divorced.

Here is the lie I told myself: Nothing really is going to change. Your parents still love you. Your parents still parent you together. Your parents respect one another and care for one another and even laugh together. Count your freaking blessings. It’s Christmas! Joy to the World, NINA!

I don’t blame myself for telling myself this lie. In a way, I needed to tell myself this lie. But the lie got me into trouble, especially during the holidays. Because I would sing Christmas carols and wrap presents and talk about advent as the day approached without even thinking about the lie I told myself. Then the day would happen (it could be any holiday, but let’s focus on Christmas) and I would wake up with this unbearable sadness that I took out on everyone around me in the form of meanness. Total Christmas cheer for everyone, right? Joy to the world is right.

Finally, after a couple of years of reality smacking me in the face, I admitted: holidays are difficult in some ways and that is okay. It is okay that it makes me sad that not everyone can be together. It’s okay that it makes me a little sad even when I am having a great time with my dad’s family because one crucial person is missingโ€“my mom. And It’s okay that it makes me a little sad when I am laughing with my mom’s family too. It’s okay to admit that it is not fun to leave one family’s house early to go to dessert at the other house.**

This bit of sadness comes from a good and healthy place. It’s not wrong to feel it (which is what I thought when I lied to myself and took it out on others). So now, I feel it. I let it wash over me. I go into the holiday knowing the push and pull that is in my heart (not because anyone ever makes me feel guilty) because who doesn’t want to be with everyone they love on Christmas?

It’s not just divorce either. If we’ve lost someone, we can feel the joy of Christmas morning but also be very aware of who is missing. I would argue that we are more aware of loss on the days that our families come together. And that’s okay. What do we expect of ourselves?

I learned that I could feel this way without sinking into that feeling, that in fact, admitting it, kept me from sinking into it and becoming withdrawn or angry on the actual day. And yes, I realize I am a grown woman, and on a daily basis there is no woe is me about the divorce, but on holidays, yes, there are hard parts.

I am by no means an expert but the biggest piece of advice I can give people is to actually allow themselves to feel however they are feeling (and no, that does not mean I am suggesting anyone wallow in it) and to actually consider the day before the day happens so there isn’t an avalanche of feeling on Christmas morning. If you need to talk about it, talk about it…beforehand. With someone it is safe to talk about these types of things with. But, don’t try to talk about it on the actual day, because I don’t think I need to spell out for you how that is a recipe for a domino effect of depression. Haha?

Do the best you can and give yourself grace.Hope Ornament

Please know that I will be doing these same things this Christmas. I am in process, constantly. Aren’t we all?

*My disclaimer that I must give is that I continue to be blessed by my family. Everyone, and I mean everyone, works very hard to make it easier for both Joe and I, whether that means eating dinner earlier than normal or just saying to us over and over again, “It’s okay. Do not feel bad. It’s okay” when we leave early. I am never made to feel guilty (I can only imagine how difficult that would be in a situation like this); I am well aware that people in similar situations cannot always say this. I am encouraged to spend as much time as I want or is necessary with either side of the family by either side of the family. My nonna puts together a plate of her infamous, delicious shells for my cousins on my mom’s side because they still miss them. My mom gives my nonna a Christmas present. The place my feelings come from is a good place because I am blessed to have all these incredible people in my life .

christmas is hard

You know those Christmas cards that are pouring into your mailbox? They are great and I love them. I do. But just know, that is a picture. That is a flat image. Christmas doesn’t always go as beautifully as those cards. Something burns. Someone brings up politics. Whatever it may be. Isn’t that why people love the Griswold Family so much? I mean, maybe it’s just us, but my family could be the Griswolds. But then I remember, and I suggest gently that you also remember, that Christmas is not actually about you or me or decking the halls with boughs of holly.

It actually IS about Joy to the world.

…and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Don’t beat yourself up for feeling a certain way. But don’t relish in it either. Relish in The Joy.

Okay, so I hope I handled that diplomatically and graciously.

Addendum: I really enjoyed this read by Jen Hatmaker.

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20 thoughts on “When Christmas is Hard.

  1. B @ The Sequin Notebook

    I try to focus on the joy, but definitely feel the pain of lost family members more at Christmas than any other time of year. Very bittersweet, but I guess that just goes to show how special they were.

  2. chelsea jacobs

    I think that Christmas magnifies feelings of all kinds–it makes small joys seem bigger, but it also brings out hurt to the surface sometimes. You’re so right–you have to give yourself grace.

  3. Biana Perez

    I try to focus on the positive especially at the end of the year and during the holidays because reflecting on everything that has gone right this past year is so much brighter than the negative! I love how you ended it – “It actually IS about Joy to the world.” so true!! xo, Biana

    1. Nina Post author

      I totally agree. I just know that if I don’t at least acknowledge the bit of sadness, to myself, then it will come out in ugly ways. ๐Ÿ™‚ At least for me.

  4. Maureen

    My husband just lost his mother in the last two weeks and he is feeling the loss of her being around. She loved Christmas.

    It is also hard for parents that have a child in the hospital for a serious health issue as my sister has her 3 yr old daughter in the hospital and she has four other young boys at home. The joy will be in seeing my niece getting healthier and her parents and grandparents being able to rest and relax some.

    1. Nina Post author

      There are so many reasons it can be hard. Like I said, for me what helped was admitting what was hard, instead of forcing myself to be SO HAPPY. Then I could feel the all the emotions, the bitter and the sweet, instead of the bitterness exploding out of me because I was in denial. I am so sorry to hear about your mother in law and your niece.

  5. Meagan

    This is perfect. I’m from a divorced family as well – and how you feel is exactly how I feel every Christmas. Mostly guilt about not being with one side vs. the other. And sadness. But it’s important for me to count my blessings and realize that I have two full families that love and support me, and then it’s ok ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Mia @ MakeMeUpMia

    I love what Chelsea said, how Christmas magnifies both sides of emotions. So true! I love what YOU said about allowing yourself to feel it and preparing for it in a way. I’d thought about that recently. Last year Christmas was 3 months after Christians accident, he was in the hospital and everything was crazy. I put on a brave face and had actually convinced myself that I was totally fine with waking up Christmas morning and just staying home, Dustin and I would have a nice break and alone time together. Well I’ll never forget waking up Christmas morning last year and seeing the flood of pictures on IG. Families, feasts, gifts, stockings, trees, etc. I walked in the living room and collapsed in Dustins lap and just bawled my eyes out. Sure I was fine after a bit, but if I’d just allowed myself to feel the true way I was feeling, I think it would have been avoided and the day truly would have been an ok day. Sorry to ramble on haha, I just really like that you pointed that out ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Nina Post author

      Your words made me ache. I denied sadness for years and then it would explode out of me. Thanks for this Mia. I read it when you posted. I am sorry for the delay in responding!

  7. Rebecca

    This is such a beautiful and honest post Nina! My parents are divorced as well and the holidays were never easy. Thankfully my dad always had this attitude that Christmas was just a day and we could have our Christmas any day of the year. So we celebrated early. Now that I’m an adult and I live far away from my family, Christmas is much harder. I’m feeling it so much more this year the loss that we can’t all be together. I’m really trying to experience the joy of Christmas with my husband (because he is family now too after-all) but it’s hard not to long for the Christmas of childhood.

    1. Nina Post author

      I see your point! And I also think we kind of idealize that time in our childhood. We don’t remember the fights or anything like that. I think the holidays are hard for everyone in different ways (whether they admit it or not). Like usually the divorce is the part that is hard but this was also the first Christmas without my papa. My nonna (on my other side) said the second christmas is actually harder than the first after losing someone and it never went away for her and it has been many years. Thankfully, God meets us.

  8. Melissa @ The Rambling Llama

    What a tough thing to talk about / think about during the holidays. BUT you’re so right. 100% right. Not everyones’ Christmas is as happy-go-lucky as they appear on the Christmas cards. My parents divorced when I was 9. It’s still not easy for me. Esp when my husband, kids and I have to leave in the middle of one dinner to go to the next one on Christmas. I’ll be thinking of you and praying for you during this season. You’re not alone. <3

    1. Nina Post author

      Back at you. I was thinking about everyone and praying for anyone that the holidays aren’t all sparkly magic for. I am so thankful for what I have but it’s on the big days that the gaps show…like you mentioned leaving one house…

  9. Katie Elizabeth

    The holidays bring out all the feelings – both good and bad. I still have a hard time on Christmas morning thinking about my mom not being there and it’s been 10 years! Don’t feel bad at all – totally normal feelings and you are right, it’s okay to be sad. Sounds like you have a pretty awesome family!

    1. Nina Post author

      I do. But you are right…it is hard. I had a therapist tell me it will always be hard in different ways…

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