Christmas, Spirituality

The Year I Skipped Christmas

This year is a joyful time for me, but I have many friends who are struggling with grief and loneliness at this holiday time. The following is a reprint of an article I wrote last year for the Lighthouse Connection’s Refresh Magazine. My prayer is that it will bring you hope if you are in a sad Christmas season.

Christmas carols played as I trudged past decorations and displays of gingerbread cookies at the grocery store. Happy shoppers surrounded me, but all I felt was despair. “I wish I could just skip the whole month of December and start fresh on January 1st,” I thought, tossing a box of Christmas cards into my cart.

Christmas and I were not getting along. We began having our struggles after I married and moved to Georgia with my husband. When our son was born, we wanted to stay home for Christmas Day, which meant being away from our families. Even though we traveled to North Carolina and Kentucky to be with our parents in the weeks before December 25th, I still missed the big family celebrations from my past.

 The Christmases of my childhood were picture perfect — sparkling decorations and lights, a fire blazing on the hearth, rich food coming from the kitchen, and lots of presents under the tree. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins filled the house and gathered around the cloth covered tables. Bing Crosby himself could have settled down with his pipe and sweater in our den and been right at home.

Now that I had my own home, Christmas just emphasized my inadequacy. Other women seemed to be juggling jobs, kitchens full of homemade treats, beautifully decorated homes, and just-right gifts for everyone under their ten-foot trees, while flitting to choir practice and parties. I was struggling to get one tree up and cards sent out in time. Instead of holiday joy, all I felt was frustration.

In the fall of 2002, my father’s health was failing. He was a proud veteran of World War II and a successful businessman and church leader. Watching him become a frail and confused old man battling Parkinson’s disease was devastating. Mama tried her best to care for him at home but was forced to put him in a nursing home. We visited at Thanksgiving and knew that the end was near.

That was the year I skipped Christmas. I put up a wreath and bought a few presents but didn’t have the heart for much else. A week before Christmas Day, Mama called to say that Daddy had gone into cardiac arrest and a miscommunication with the nursing home staff had caused them to disregard his ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order. He was lying comatose in the hospital.

I immediately drove up and spent the next few days with Mama by Daddy’s bedside or in the ICU waiting room. The doctors had gotten his heart to work again but we were not sure how much brain activity was there. He didn’t speak and looked at us with vacant eyes. We were waiting for him to die.

His body finally gave out on December 22nd. Christmas was something other people were doing that year. We managed to fit in the funeral and burial around the many obligations of our family and church staff.  Mama and I spent Christmas Day at my cousin’s house and while it was comforting to be with family, we were both shell-shocked, moving as if acting a part in a play.

Mama apologized to me for the timing, for ruining my Christmas. But I felt a sense of relief at not having to meet all the holiday expectations. In my grief and exhaustion, I had not missed it. Skipping Christmas hadn’t been so bad.

Two months later my mother-in-law Bobbie died suddenly, hitting us hard so close to losing Daddy. She had moved to live near us when our son was small, and she and I were extremely close.  I felt more alone than ever.

All I could do that next Christmas was grit my teeth and get through it. If that’s where you are this year, I understand. I have sat and cried through a church service, forced myself to smile at others’ excitement, and gone to bed as early as possible on Christmas Eve just to get it over with.

My advice is to be kind to yourself and if you feel the need, skip Christmas for a season. Because it gets better.

As time has healed my grief over loved ones no longer here, I’ve realized that life keeps moving on.  People die, children move away, and circumstances change each year. Instead of focusing on Christmases past, I’ve learned to be thankful for what I have today.

Christmas and I have now made a truce. It has agreed to slack off on the guilt of not having a perfectly decorated house and a kitchen full of homemade goodies. And I’ve agreed to focus not just on Christmas Day, but on the music, sparkling lights, time with friends and soul moving church services of this special time of year. I’ve rediscovered joy in the season.

The word Immanuel is one of the names for Jesus that we hear at Christmas. It is a Hebrew word meaning God with us and carries the weight of Old Testament prophecy. Jesus came as a baby and gave us the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts, to always be with us. The beauty of Christmas reminds me each year of this amazing fact.

I know there will be years to come when Christmas and I may not get along again, when grief and pain may interfere. But there will be plenty of years when joy and laughter will make the holidays bright.  I feel peace knowing that either way, God is with me.

Christmas and I are finally on good terms.

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means “God with us”). “Matthew 1:22-23, NIV

Prayer: Father God, we thank You for sending Your Son to be with us no matter what our circumstances. Help us to feel Your presence as we struggle with grief and depression during the Christmas season. We pray for our hearts to be full with the simple joy of the coming of Your Son. Amen.

Questions:

  1. What are some specific ways you have experienced Immanuel, God with us, in the past year? Take time to thank God for His presence in your life during these times.

2. What are some specific things you can do this Christmas season to make it a more meaningful and joyful time?

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