Feeling ambivalent about the holidays is pretty normal. You’re “supposed” to enjoy this season of lights, music, giving, and family. But you also know it won’t live up to what’s been promised. Part of you wants to hope your soul will be filled up, and yet you don’t want to hope because that often leads to disappointment. And in addition to opportunities for joy, the holidays are just plain hard.

For Christmas 2020 the world was in the middle of Covid19. But it’s not over. The acute stress of the first several months of the pandemic has worn thin. While we’re all grateful for those ways in which the pandemic may be less crazy, the controversy and fear and long-term trauma for many leaves us feeling very worn out this year. And the long tail of this virus is only exacerbated by the multiple social tensions that may well impact even your own family.

I have a friend who lost her husband shortly before Christmas last year. While she was somewhat in shock last holiday season, this year the holidays without him seem even harder. Another friend’s estranged son’s absence is only more painful at Christmas.

So yes, the holidays are hard.

And that’s precisely why we need the holidays so much.

Celebrating Christmas can be an act of defiant joy. Just as Jesus was born right into the middle of an evil mess, we can celebrate right now in the middle of our evil mess. And doing so helps us gather strength for another year.

Here are five ways you can do just that during this holiday season.

  1. Slow Down

A friend wrote to me this week, “I’ve kept myself so busy that I haven’t had any time to feel any emotions.” It’s easier than ever to be that busy during the holidays, but it’s not helpful.

You don’t have to attend every holiday gathering, put up every decoration, buy every gift. Be thoughtful about where you invest your time, energy, and money.

Slowing down means you may have to contend with sadness, frustration, grief, or unfulfilled longings as well as what we usually consider positive emotions. That’s not a bad thing; it’s a priceless invitation. Your heart can only find solace and healing when you slow down.

  1. Nourish Your Soul with Good Things

There is much good to take in. Some of the Christmas sights, sounds, tastes, etc. may be bittersweet; they may evoke very mixed feelings. But they can seriously nourish your soul.

Find ways to take in those good things. Take a drive to enjoy the Christmas lights. Light the candles. Attend the Christmas concert. Play the music. Enjoy your favorite Christmas movies. Taking in what is good does not ignore what’s wrong in your world or your life; it nourishes you in order to keep going.

  1. Be Generous

There’s little that will lift your own spirits more than taking your eyes off yourself and giving to someone else. And I’m not talking about gifts under the tree, though that may be one aspect.

Find a way to give of yourself this year. Invite a lonely friend to your home for an evening, or out for coffee. Volunteer at a place where people are needing help. Call up a friend or relative you haven’t connected with in a while. Take the time to sit and listen to someone who’s hurting. Make some special memories with your spouse if you’re married.

  1. Acknowledge Pain, and Choose Joy

Your mind has a much greater ability to choose what you pay attention to than you may realize. If your brain naturally runs along negative, lonely, or painful pathways, you can choose something different. You can acknowledge where you hurt, but then choose joy anyway.

There will be a moment where your brain is offered the choice for joy. It might be a beautiful winter landscape, a starry sky, or a crackling fire. It might be a savory warm drink, or a favorite carol. It might be in the kind eyes of a friend, or a memory of a past lovely holiday moment. You can choose to pause and savor that moment of goodness. All the negative in the world will still be there when you get done enjoying that moment, but you’ll be stronger.

  1. Look Forward

A baby changes everything. A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on. And the birth of the Christ-child anew in you this year is God’s opinion that your world should go on.

The very reason for Christmas to exist is that things are so bad everywhere else. Christmas would not be necessary if it wasn’t for all the badness in the world. Jesus coming as a Baby means this is not the end of the story. The future outcome of this mess is as certain as your presence reading this sentence.

While today we only see that future outcome in incomplete reflections, Christmas reminds us that God will not stop until everything, everything, is made right.

And that’s the reason I’m celebrating this year, even if the holidays are hard.

I share more about this in this short video.

Your Turn: How are the holidays hard for you? How are you going to celebrate and choose joy in the middle of that? Leave your comment below.

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  • The holidays are hard. Acknowledging how hard they may be does not have to keep us from celebrating and experiencing joy; it may be the very door to finding that joy. Tweet that.

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