This Christmas is hitting me especially hard. With Christmas just one week away and the number of COVID cases continuing to rise, I feel bereft of family and friends and beloved traditions of seasons past. Participating in church services online are a wonderful grace in this season, but it is not the same as coming together as a church family for corporate worship—particularly this time of year.
I’m grieving and, to some degree, lonely. And so are many individuals in my circle.
- A dear pastor friend died of COVID
- A friend was cruelly forced into retirement after decades of faithful service
- Elderly family members in nursing homes and assisted living are languishing, unable to see or hold family members face to face.
The list goes on and on.
Making the most of Christmas
How do we make the most of this Christmas when we and so many people around us are suffering? Here are three things I’ve learned.
Name and experience your emotions.
Because stuffed emotions will come out one way or another. Pain that is not dealt with can show up to sabotage relationships and lead to addictions and other unhealthy coping mechanisms like overspending or indulging in too much food or alcohol.
Instead, acknowledge your feelings but don’t dwell there. Ask God to speak into your situation and remain attentive to what He might show you or do in your specific situation.
For example, after canceling a holiday visit with my son and his wife due to COVID concerns, I felt physically ill. As it is, I’m only able to see them once a year; but to go two years without spending time with them, particularly while still in the early stages of a divorce, seemed particularly cruel. As silly as it seems, I missed making my son’s favorite pumpkin bread for Christmas.
Even though he won’t be here to enjoy it, I continued the tradition of baking my son’s favorite treat. As I was putting two loaves in the oven, my handyman, a young man in his 20’s, walked through the kitchen and casually said, “If there’s any left over, I’d love a piece.”
Last night I baked him his own loaf. When he showed up for work this morning, and I told him I had baked him a loaf of pumpkin bread, he grinned from ear to ear.
That maternal instinct made to nurture was satisfied. Although it may sound silly and insignificant, this experience shifted my interior landscape and negative emotions, and I was no longer overcome with feelings of sadness.
Create meaningful experiences.
During this Christmas season, I’ve heard one of my friends say frequently, “I don’t want gifts, I want experiences.”
After hearing this a few times, my focus shifted from finishing my gift list to creating more meaningful experiences this Christmas season. Here’s what it looked like this year.
I had major hand surgery in mid-November that involved a partial reconstruction of my hand, which meant I wouldn’t be able to help my friend and housemate put up the Christmas tree or decorations this year.
So, I arranged for a tree-decorating party. Two friends who have been extremely cautious about keeping CDC guidelines related to COVID, came over to help decorate for the holidays. One friend cooked a gourmet meal for us all, and the remainder of the night was spent decorating the tree and recounting memories associated with different ornaments.
Some of those memories involved family memories who had passed. But the honoring of those memories was cathartic although the memories were tinged with sadness.
Lighthearted laughter filled the room, until exhausted and content, we called it a night.
Release traditions that no longer serve you.
We are experiencing the collective psychic pain of loss this year due to COVID. Although we may have a healthy habit of name and experiencing our emotions in healthy ways, the reality remains that there is an undertow of sadness in most of our lives this holiday season. The loss has been too great this year for it to be any other way.
While we can all take practical steps to manage the emotional pain and trauma created by the pandemic, we must also recognize that it can and will undoubtedly take a toll and impact our physical body and emotional and mental health, no matter what self-care practices we implement.
Expect to feel a bit sluggish. Recognize you might not have enough energy to implement all of the Christmas traditions from the past.
It’s ok. You get to decide what to keep and what to let go. There is freedom in releasing traditions that no longer serve you in this season.
Show yourself grace. Embrace the fullness of the gift of Jesus Christ this season. linger in His presence and dwell in His Word. That’s where you will find the peace that sustains you in times like these.
In the meantime, save me a piece of that pumpkin bread, would you?