Looking back, most of my Christmas memories are cheerful and happy. 1971 was an exception. At the time, my parents were serving as missionaries with Africa Evangelical Fellowship in Botswana, Africa. As a child I wasn't aware of the differences between living in a third world country and a first world country. After all, I had good food to eat, my education experiences were enjoyable, and we had freedom to travel to game reserves where we saw animals like lions, giraffes, and crocodiles in their natural habitats.
However, I was aware when my dad became sick. Generally he was healthy and strong. (The Africans gave him the nickname, "Big Bull Elephant.") Near the end of 1971, my dad was sick for weeks. He drank water, but my mom had to coax him to eat. We prayed, and waited, and prayed some more. He became so weak he could hardly make it to the bathroom. The doctors had no answers. We began to wonder if my dad would die. That year we went through the motions of celebrating Christmas, but it just wasn't the same. Christmas wasn't merry for us. I'm grateful that God spared my dad's life and we went on to celebrate many merry Christmases together.
That experience made me more sensitive to people going through difficult times at Christmas. There is something about celebration that seems to magnify the hurts people are experiencing.
Those who are having an "unmerry" Christmas may find help by:
- Helping others - this will take the focus off your difficulty. Spend time in a soup kitchen, donate to a charity. Do something that will lift others up.
- Instead of comparing your life with others, pray for those you know who are having a hard time.
- Limit time in large groups of people - leave events if/when you need to for your own health. Let people know that you are not up to celebrating.
- Set realistic expectations - for yourself and others. Schedule in time to read a book, take a nap, or do something else you find relaxing.
- Develop a new tradition - this may be particularly helpful for those who lose a loved one during the holiday season. Do something that honours the memory of your loved one.
- Count your blessings - make a list of all the things for which you can choose to be thankful.
- Ask a friend or family member to do something fun with you. Make a list of things you enjoy and see how many you can check off after you've done them.
- Asking how things are going and making time to listen
- Praying for those going through hard times
- Giving a small gift or card - anything that lets the person know you care
- Respecting the person's wish for privacy and time alone
- Planning something fun that the person enjoys doing
- Allowing the person to grieve