How to Find Hope When the Holidays are Hard

By Jessica Wolstenholm

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… except when it’s not.

Sometimes the holidays are hard – for grown-ups and kids alike. As long as the list of things to adore about Christmastime can be (Advent calendars! Christmas caroling! Cookies and parties and presents, oh my!), the things that can trip us up this time of year are innumerable.

Perhaps someone is sick – or perhaps someone has died.

Maybe someone is missing, due to distance or work schedules or disagreements.

Did you or your spouse lose a job this year? Or move far from friends and family?

Or maybe this season highlights your lack of disposable income – or cooking skills.

Whether your family is facing challenges right now or simply reminded of something hard that’s happened over the past twelve months as we head into the Christmas season, it’s okay to admit that sometimes the holidays are hard.

As the leaders of our families, parents feel the pressure to make this season magical – and that can be even more difficult when we’re facing loss or pain of some kind. So how do we find hope – for ourselves and for our kids – when the holidays are hard? I think we do it by picking just one thing, because narrowing our focus and concentrating on what’s most important, most life-giving right now, can help us find the hope we need to hold on as we wait on Jesus.

If your holidays are hard this year, I encourage you to pick one…

One tradition: Think back to your childhood or simply a happier time when celebrating Christmas came more easily. What tradition filled you with delight, with excitement, with contentment? Was it frosting cookies or caroling through the neighborhood? Maybe it was reading Luke 2 with your kids in front of the fire or piled onto the couch. Perhaps it was putting together a new puzzle or dressing in matching sweaters or driving around to see all the lights.

Whatever simple activity you remember fondly, try it again this year. Maybe you do it a little differently, because this year is different. Can you drink cider instead of hot chocolate, or play Monopoly instead of Scrabble? What about letting the kids take turns reading the story, or only decorating the tree with homemade ornaments? But don’t let all the traditions take a back seat this year. You don’t have to do them all. Just pick one.

One song or verse or phrase: Sometimes music can be brutal on our emotions, bringing up memories of days past and forcing us to relive the things that hurt most. Good thing nobody said you have to listen to Christmas music this month! If traditional carols or the usual Bible verses hurt more than they help this year, try listening to something different.

Take this opportunity to introduce your kids to hymns or lesser-known holiday music. (One of my favorites that I rarely hear – but is so fitting when the holidays are hard – is “In the Bleak Midwinter.”) You could also read holiday books from other cultures or countries, or read Old Testament verses that speak about Jesus’s coming and then talk about how we anticipate His arrival even now (or especially now!).

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14, NIV)

One person: Sometimes the end of the year feels overwhelming with all the many opportunities we have to give back and serve others. And when your family is facing the season with a heavy load of grief or discouragement, reaching out to someone else may be the last thing you think you need. But helping someone else in his or her time of need will inevitably brighten your day and warm your heart.

So this year, pick just one person you can help.

Sometimes it’s hard to get into the holiday spirit. Or it just doesn’t FEEL like the holidays for some reason. Sometimes the holidays just plain make you sad.

That’s okay.

Even when the holidays come with as many (or more) hard parts as they bring happy ones, I believe we can still choose joy for our families. I don’t mean the fa-la-la, everything’s jolly, ho-ho-ho kind of happiness they’re selling in Hallmark movies and department stores. No, instead, I believe we can choose the filled with gratitude, eternal perspective, hallelujah kind of joy that only comes from the Lord in this season and every day of the year.