In my world Christmas is bookended by loss.
In November, just as I'm starting to think about what to get who and when to start getting decorations down from the loft, I hit the grief of my mum's death to aggressive lung cancer.
Then, once the festivities are over and the tree lies naked and abandoned in the gutter, and the bell strikes midnight on New Year's Eve, I remember my sister who died from the same ravaging disease.
Then, just six weeks later, I'm reminded of my own diagnosis and battle with cancer even though I'm still here to tell the tale and raise a toast to those who aren't.
Layer on top of that the normal holiday craziness, stresses and pressures and Christmas can be ...well, just plain hard.
Whether it's grief, the stress of the inevitable January credit card bill, the loneliness of being single or far from family, too many demands and not enough time and energy, or a faith that's battle-weary and faint, Christmas is often more messy and broken than merry and bright.
So, what are we meant to do? How are we meant to not lose our minds or our faith?
Here are a few tips to handle anything Christmas throws at you that I've learned along the way.
1. Set clear expectations â€“ about everything. Getting everyone's expectations out in the open and talking about any differences can avoid future arguments and disappointments. How are you hoping to spend your time and money? How are you doing gifts this year? How much help do you need or want to give, and even when do you want to rest? These are all great things to talk about up front.
2. Invite someone along. Inviting someone new to the festivities can break up any tension, encourage people (especially sulky teenagers) to be on best behavior, and add some new conversation into the mix.
3. Say no â€“ no one will die (if they will, then say yes, immediately). Often, we're afraid our 'no's' will offend or leave people in the lurch. Or we're worried what people will think if we don't come to something or contribute to their charity event. A polite no to protect yourself from Christmas burnout is not only totally acceptable, but your Christmas and 2019 self will thank you.
4. Run away if you have to. Sometimes life is just so darn tangled, complicated or grief stricken that the only way to survive is to up sticks and leave town. Changing the scenery and climate won't solve the root of our pain but it will allow you avoid the added challenge of Christmas at home. Running away is fine on two conditions; firstly, that you come back and secondly, when you do, you allow yourself time to grieve or work on the issues you left town to avoid.
5. Take some you and God time, alone. If we're going to remember what the season is all about and be able to love others well, we need Jesus to be at the center of not just our Christmas but our hearts. If we're running on spiritual fumes, and the fruit of his Spirit hasn't been seen since the summer, we're left snappy and self-centred and God never gets glorified.
Whether what makes your Christmas hard is practical, financial, emotional, physical or geographical, the best way to handle it will always be to return to the person and place where it all began.
Light came into the world at Christmas and when our Christmas feels dark and painful the only true way to handle it is by turning back to the source of the light, God. It's in him we find our ultimate peace and joy, which means, ironically, the only we can handle anything Christmas throws at us is because of Christmas â€“ Jesus himself!
Niki Hardy is a British writer and speaker who now lives in the USA. Download her new audio How to Handle anything Christmas Throws at You (enjoying the holidays without losing your mind, killing your people, and going into debt).
Courtesy of Christian Today