There is something special about the Christmas season, even prior to Christmas Day. There is anticipation and excitement. There can also be a building feeling of dread. As Christmas traditions trigger memories of years past, it gets increasingly difficult when you know something is missing, like your family, or the ones you really want to be with, but can’t.

The anticipation, magic and wonder of the Advent season is precisely why this time has the potential to be depressing. It has the potential to be lonely, empty, or missing the piece that is filled when near your family. The visuals of warm, happy families and constant questions about holiday plans are heart-warming when you have a happy family and busy Christmas schedules. Otherwise they are cruel grains of salt in gaping wounds.

It doesn’t have to be that way! There will be an inevitable emptiness that comes from missing home, but you can soothe the ache in your heart enough to actually experience joy and cheerfulness!

December 25, 2014 was the first Christmas I ever spent away from home, and it was full of unexpected joy. Here are 5 tips to survive a (potentially) depressing Christmas and transform it into a special day:

  1. Acknowledge what’s missing. Ruben and I are in Madagascar. We have each other but we don’t have our families, our siblings, our regular traditions. We don’t have snow! We are with an entirely different group of people on a floating steel box in tropical Eastern Madagascar. It’s not so bad, but it’s just not the same. Accepting that Christmas away will never be the same and giving up all efforts to make it the same helps with the huge hole. There will be people we miss at home and that is impossible to change. I’ve always spent Christmas morning in my childhood home watching my sisters open the gifts I thought out for them. We always have to remind Teressa that we can’t go redeem our new gift cards right after presents because all the stores are closed. We either spend the rest of the day bored at home or stressed about getting to multiple Christmas dinners. It just won’t be that way this year. That’s ok. Missing it is ok and the right expectations can actually carve room for a new type of Christmas experience.
  2. Spend time with families and eat homemade food. I can’t take credit for seeking this out, but it helped so much I will try to be intentional in years to come. I was blessed to be invited to spend time with people who wanted to care for and love Ruben and I in that way. However, someone who is really dreading the holidays or feels defeated by loneliness might be tempted to skip out on personal invitations to others’ homes. Maybe you don’t know if you can put on a happy face when you don’t feel it inside. Maybe you feel like you will drag others down. Maybe you feel sorry for yourself. Don’t let your inner demons defeat you! Spending time with people that have made it clear they want to be with you does so much good for the soul. I would encourage the lonely or the hurting to accept those invitations. Ruben’s coworker lives on the ship with his wife and 4 kids and invited us over for homemade pizzas. You can’t get pizzas like this in Madagascar anywhere! It was mouth-wateringly delicious. One of my coworkers made lasagna from scratch for many of us, and there is nothing like a meal made with love and care. These guys really made a difference in our day: Thank you Koontz family and Noel and Justin!
  3. Be honest. This difficult self-discipline never seems to fail me. Lonely, broken, hurting people feel like they are the only ones. You never are. It’s a lie. We are never alone in our pain. There is always someone very near who is hurting just as much. Be honest with your disappointments. Be honest when you’re hurt. Do it with yourself and with the people around you. In addition, sometimes the holiday season makes us stressed out about the dumbest things. A tiny detail goes wrong but it seems like the end of the world. We want to impress our family. We want to please everyone. Letting our pain to the surface gives our friends and loved ones an opportunity to give us perspective and remind us that we’re loved either way.
  4. Serve others. This should have endless exclamation points next to it. When we focus on our pain and our emptiness, it amplifies. There is always someone who could use some help, who could have a brighter day if I acted in the fullness of the giving woman God made me to be. I spent the morning preparing Ruben’s Christmas surprise. (I didn’t have to buy a single thing. I’m sure there are other people out there trying to honor a loved one with a special gift from a budget of $0. Check it out here!) Instead of moping all morning, I devoted my time to figuring out how to make Ruben feel as loved and valued by me as possible this Christmas. It filled me with Christmas spirit and joy and gave me energy to treat others in my community with love and kindness.
  5. It’s only about Jesus. The whole reason the Father decided to send Jesus to Earth was because there was no other hope for humanity to break free from oppression of all kinds. We are stuck in cycles in every aspect. Financially, emotionally, relationally, physically. We just cannot seem to break free. Jesus came to understand us, to see what it was like to live in this very broken world. He can now relate to us, and he knows the feeling of betrayal, loneliness and being misunderstood. So even in my sadness or loneliness, in my emptiness or excitement, Jesus has come and understands. I can be who I am, and feel what I feel with freedom. Jesus loves me and doesn’t need me to be anything but me.
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Ways to Survive a Depressing Christmas; Provocative Joy; Life Overseas

I wish you a peaceful and joyful Christmas season with unexpected pockets of blessing. What do you find helpful to soothe the pain of emotionally taxing holidays?

4 comments on “5 Ways To Survive a Depressing Christmas”

  1. Wow, Ivanna. I love your insight. I know about your feeling, since I've experienced it. It's true, looking outside yourself to bless others ad make their Christmas happier always filled my cup with joy.
    Sometimes sharing with someone close by can be the best gift you can give or receive.
    May you both have a blessed Christmas. We'll be thinking of you. Love Titi

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