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When You Don’t Feel Like Christmas

A writing colleague wrote about not being ready for Christmas – only one gift purchased, an injured husband, mental stress, a son’s illness, no tree, no decorations, and no time.

I was feeling the same way.  My house was disorganized, finances were tight, and I had the worst flu, ever.  However, the degree of my fever was not best measured by a thermometer.

The ultimate symptom of the terrible virus was me not wanting to decorate the house for Christmas.

No one was more surprised than I.  My family laments the twenty some totes of stuff I haul out every Christmas.  No one appreciates the hundreds of tree ornaments:  one year my son counted over two hundred, mostly gifts.  He wanted me to throw out the ornament if I could not remember the name of the person who had given it to me.  Imagine!  I told him I remembered the feeling I had when I received the gift, and that was all that mattered.

And it isn’t just the ornaments – or the number of trees (one year there were five).  Or that I would go out in 20 below weather to try to throw a few lights on some tree branches so I would have outside lights.

It is the Christmas cookie tins piled on top of the kitchen cupboards.  ‘Too many, too cluttered,’ my family comments, every year.

There is more.  Garland with lights and teddy bears.  Christmas towels and candles.  Christmas books.  Christmas throws and door-hangers.  A welcoming large snow lady with a snow baby.  Pine cones with lights, a glass bowl with coloured Christmas balls, and an Advent arrangement from left-over Christmas branches.  Santa’s workshop, a church, and of course, a huge nativity scene.

‘STOP!’ my family would cry.  But I don’t stop and I don’t listen.  I love the ambience of Christmas and all it represents.

But not this year.  I just did not care – or so I thought.

As Christmas Day marched ever closer, I realized that, deep down, I did want a Christmas tree.  I wanted to be able to sit on the couch in a darkened room and look at the lights on the tree, beaming like a steady beacon, unchanging from year to year, even though the house and location might be different.  They would shine the same as when I had gazed at them as a child, or later as a love-sick teenager, and now as a grandmother.  Yes, I wanted a tree, but knew I did not have the energy to hang even twenty ornaments.

My family intervened, which is fortunate, for had they not, I might just have bought a string of lights and and randomly thrown it anywhere to create a semblance of Christmas for my grand kids.

My daughter-in-law put up a tree.  My daughter took over the menu planning and most of the grocery shopping for our family Christmas get-together.  I even managed to put up the nativity scene and garland with the teddy bears.  Only five totes this year.

Most of all, my husband, Cliff, helped.  He prepared meals.  He bought his specialty groceries and shopped for the gifts for the grandkids.

Other years had not been so.  Although supportive, Cliff had not always been able to help.  I remember how hard the years were when Cliff had one of his numerous knee and/or hip surgeries and was out of commission at Christmas.

Those were dark years.

For the most hopeless of those Christmases, my oldest was three and the baby ten-months old.  Cliff could hardly walk the length of a hallway, let alone prepare any food or go shopping.  We were barely scraping by on his disability insurance and my part-time teaching salary.  We warred against fleas and mice in our run-down rental property, and our December rent cheque bounced.  The medical community could not agree on what was wrong with my husband’s hip.  We couldn’t get a referral to Cliff’s surgeon, who we knew could help us as he had many times in the past.  Our faith was frayed and tattered and our household was not always infused with love and joy.  My husband, a man of the cloth, could not pray.  He said the only light he could see at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train.

Recently, we were discussing this Christmas with our eldest son, now grown.  He vividly remembers this Christmas even though he had been only three years old.  My husband and I were surprised – actually stunned – when my son said it was one of the best Christmases of his life.

We are not sure how that happened, but we are grateful that he has a good memory of that dismal season in our lives.  I was thankful that we had been given strength, when we had none, to value our children and the season in spite of our dire circumstances.  Perhaps we had done a better job than we thought of finding joy in each other and in that old house, which at least had a working wood stove to give it some coziness.

Many others are in similar situations this year.

One of our friends, Sarah Stewart, posted a picture of their Christmas tree.   It is drawn on a big sheet of white paper, and Sarah and her kids coloured the tree green.  Sarah writes:

A family is grateful

We may have coloured out of the lines a bit. But not everything can be a hallmark card. And this is as real as it gets. This past year has been a real hard one. This Christmas may not have looked how we thought. We have a lot to be thankful for. So I had the kids say what we could be thankful for and put it on red hearts. Thankfulness brings perspective. If you are having a tough time this season just think of a couple things you can be thankful for. FaithHopeandLove❤️ Merry Christmas ?

These children are being given an opportunity to view this Christmas in a positive light because of their parents’ efforts to find the good in frustrating circumstances.

How can we do Christmas when we don’t feel like it?

Here are some suggestions I sent to my writing colleague with the injured husband.  Another writing colleague suggested that I share them with you.  Some of the options apply to anyone, including those will be alone, while others apply to a family.  Make your own list, and perhaps you and/or your family will remember this year as the best Christmas ever!

* Find the bottom line of your strength.  Stay there.  Don’t try to give or do more.

* If your bottom line is nothing, eat grilled cheese sandwiches by candlelight.

* If you are with family, ask everyone to wrap a favourite thing.  Then have each person unwrap his/her treasure and share why it is special.

* No gifts?  Have everyone find something they love.  Wrap it and give it to another family member as a gift.

* Act out the Christmas story – with costumes.  Towels, bathrobes, dress-up clothes – you get the idea.  Superman costumes will be great for the wisemen.  Take selfies.

* Pop popcorn.  String it if you can handle the mess.  Or maybe just eat it.

* Watch videos and sleep.

* Remind yourself that the reality of the first Christmas story was a curious mixture of the bizarre, the difficult and the miraculous.

Nativity Scene

This season will pass.  The day will pass.

Ask God for the miracles you need strength, peace, a smile –

and then trust that He will give them to you.

You will be able to give your family the greatest gift ever:

the memory of a Christmas when life smelled like a stable but the angels kept singing.

Merry Christmas

Photo Credits

Featured Image:  pixabay Monicore

Christmas Tree:  Sarah Stewart

Nativity Scene:  pixabay Ambroz

Starry Sky:  pixabay Geralt

Merry Christmas:  pixabay Uki_71


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  1. Katherine Fitz Katherine Fitz

    Hey Marilyn,
    I just re-read this post. I love it! Great tips too. Right now, I’m thinking grilled cheese sandwiches sounds like a perfect Christmas meal! But it’s only American Thanksgiving. We’ll probably start decorating this weekend. Your post has helped bring in the Christmas spirit for me.

    • Marilyn Newbury Marilyn Newbury

      Sorry for the delayed response! Hope Christmas went well! I paired down my decorating this year, since we had just put our house together after the water leak.

  2. Ruth Hahn Ruth Hahn

    Thank you for the encouragement, Marilyn. Beautiful!!y written and so true. I am very fortunate to have all my children and grandchildren with me on the 24th. Today on the 23rd we celebrate in the hospital with Joe and on the 25th it will be a quite time at the hospital with just Joe and myself.

    • Marilyn Newbury Marilyn Newbury

      I feel your lives have been hit by a curve-ball; yet, you are remaining calm. I wonder if they would let you eat hospital food with a candle!

  3. Beautiful! Christmas is not a time to be stressful. We so often loose our focus, don’t we? It should be about Our Lord and our family. Gifts and decorations are just extras.

    • Marilyn Newbury Marilyn Newbury

      True – I need to keep reminding myself of this, though, when I have less to give and cannot get the decorations up as I like. I especially enjoyed your article on mummering, as my husband introduced me to the tradition in his home province of Newfoundland. Merry Christmsas!

  4. Marilyn, I’m sorry I misspelled your name in my earlier comment. I checked, but obviously did a poor job of that.

    • Marilyn Newbury Marilyn Newbury

      Hey – I absolutely did not notice. Some proof-reader I am!

  5. No gifts? Have everyone find something they love. Wrap it and give it to another family member as a gift.”
    Exactly. Given with love will be enough.
    Thanks, Marilyn!

    • Marilyn Newbury Marilyn Newbury

      Thanks! Hope you have a great Christmas!

  6. Thanks for sharing, Marilynne! Thankfulness for whatever we have is such a blessing! 🙂

    • Marilyn Newbury Marilyn Newbury

      THANK YOU! You were the encouragememnt I needed to put my initial comments into a post – and it got me writing again! Blessings!

  7. Yvonne Yvonne

    Thanks for this Marilyn. For the past few years our family has decided to discontinue the gift giving except for the children. This is a blessing,. We can relax and enjoy the simple joys of a Christmas program on television , enjoy the Christmas plays/theatre etc. It works for us. Have a great Christmas.

    • Marilyn Newbury Marilyn Newbury

      I agree with you. As families get larger, gift giving sometimes needs to be adjusted. We are going through this process gradually and for the first time, did not draw names.

  8. Paula Paula

    Thank you for sharing. This Christmas will be the first time we’ve been alone. The 2 kids that live in AB has to work so we’ll be celebrating on Dec 28. But oh so thankful that we can do that as I reminisce on past Christmases when the house was alive with the sounds of excited children. Merry Christmas to you, Cliff and your family.

    • Marilyn Newbury Marilyn Newbury

      I suspect that Christmases alone will become more normal for us as well. You have great attitude about it – hope I do as well! Maybe we will have to start a retreat for all of the parents who are alone! We are getting together with all of the children on the 22nd and 23rd, and then, fortunately, we will still have one or two children around on the 24th and 25th. Merry Christmas, Paula & Mike!

  9. Thanks for this post Marilyn, I can’t think of a difficult Christmas, but yesterday I was with a grandma whose little 4 year old grandson just passed away from complications from the flu. They are in survival mode during this Christmas season.

    • Marilyn Newbury Marilyn Newbury

      I can’t imagine what that family is going through! Thank you for taking time in the busy season to spend time with this grandmother. When I was writing the article, I had the thought that many will have greater difficulties and suffering than I ever experienced, and this family is a case-in-point. Hopefully, readers will be able to see that the joy of the season is a gift for everyone, regardless of the circumstances, although it may not be felt by this grandmother this year. My husband says that pain cannot be compared: he does not find it comforting, for example, for someone to tell him that at least he has legs, and some have none. What is more helpful is others understanding that every person’s pain hurts, and all need healing and compassion.

      In the meantime, some of the writers in my group are grieving after a grandchild’s death and writing deep reflections. When and if the time is ever right to send some of the material to this grandmother, I would be happy to share the links.

  10. Katherine Fitz Katherine Fitz

    Beautiful Marilyn. It’s so true. Thankfulness changes much.
    I remember getting to know you in that season of life and admiring your courage and enjoying time spent with your young family. I wasn’t aware of what a dark time it was for you. Probably bc I didn’t yet have any notion of suffering and therefore little capacity to empathize

    • Marilyn Newbury Marilyn Newbury

      Although our needs seemed unending, like a bottomless pit, the support of the extended family was crucial to our survival. It is comforting to know that we were able to maintain a sense of normalcy during this time! I always thought you were compassionate, but I suspect your own suffering in the the interim years has added another dimension to your caring spirit. Love you sister-in-law!

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