when christmas is hard.

Broken Christmas decoration hanging on a treei like christmas.  i am not crazy about the commercialism and try to avoid stores at all costs starting from thanksgiving on, but i do love the season.  i love the story of Jesus because of its upside-downness & the wild and wacky ways he entered into the world as God-in-the-flesh.  i love the intentional focus and celebrating each week of advent.

at the same time, i deeply respect that it is a time of year where things start to go haywire for a lot of people i know.  in fact, thanksgiving begins one of our darkest seasons at the refuge.  while other churches are getting geared up for the awesome christmas service ahead, ours is feeling the reality of depression-and-loneliness-for-many to start setting in.  it’s an interesting phenomenon and in talking to others who intersect with the margins, many say the same thing.  while the rest of the world is spinning toward the holidays singing christmas carols & going to fun parties, there are a whole bunch of people hanging on by a thread.

at the same time, regardless of life-struggles-in-general, throw in spiritual shifts and “i don’t even know what to make of Jesus anymore” and it’s even more complicated.  and lonely.  and a reminder sometimes of how much we’ve changed.  when i wrote when easter is hard earlier this year i had no idea it would stir up so many feelings far & wide.  my guess is that christmas isn’t quite as hard as a holiday as easter for a lot of people in the midst of changing faith, but it still can be tricky.  at christmas we sing more songs about peace on earth and good will to men and less songs about blood and the lamb so that might make it a little easier for some.

no matter what our circumstances are–practical or faith-based– i want to honor that these times in the year can be extra hard, extra weird, extra lonely.

the christmas season can remind us that:

we aren’t where we wish we were.  we don’t have money, partners, kids, health, security, friends, community, healing, sobriety, you-name-its that we thought we would at this point and that can feel so discouraging.

we feel alone.  some of us feel lonely in the relationships we are in, while others feel lonely because we don’t have them at all.

our families are tricky (or i am guessing you might have other words for it, ha ha!) or nonexistent.   no matter how we slice it, holidays are a time where we intersect with family.  for some, it is a happy time and you are happy to see each other while for others, families bring up feelings of dread and anxiety.  for many, there’s no home to go to and we are painfully reminded of our orphanness or the harsh realities of divorce and single parent-ness.

life is flying by.  another year has come and gone and here we are, one year older and one less year left to pursue some of our dreams. and then sometimes we wonder about our dreams.

we want more connection with God but we aren’t sure how to get it anymore.  we might not have a church or community that feeds us like before or feels safe enough to even walk into.  often, we can’t seem to muster it up on our own so our connection with God just feels…empty.

we are scared of hope.  this season is a time of hope & anticipation and for a lot of us, hope feels dangerous.

i am sure there are many others, but these are some of the top of my head today.  i promise no trite answers or simple advice but i do have a hope for those who struggle with christmas–that some how, some way, more light can seep in.  i have hope that all of us experience more slivers of joy & peace & love & hope & grace over the next month.  slivers of light are sometimes small miracles in and of themselves, God’s little revelations and reminders that we’re not alone, that he is with us.

sometimes making christmas less hard will mean intention and trying things that we might not feel comfortable trying.  i was talking to a friend today who really struggles with the holidays and feels extra-lonely;  he was telling me he had a clear plan to hang out as much as possible with safe, energizing people and stay really busy to fight against depression’s pull.  it looks different for each of us and could mean making plans with others, finding any way to laugh, trying to find some sacred space in a church or outside in nature or somewhere special & life-giving, making an extra appointment with our therapist, or finding ways to serve others that helps turn our ingrown eyeballs out.  i  think the best question to consider “what little steps can we possibly take that lift our heads and hearts and bring some relief.”

and for those who love christmas, don’t feel guilty about it. (that can sometimes happen and you might even be feeling that as you are reading!).  but maybe what we can do is take time out of our month to notice the hurting, the hungry, the lonely, the disconnected and bring some laughter, food, beauty, joy, fun, love, or hope, in some small way. i have a feeling that’s the real meaning of christmas.

have a good weekend.  i’ll be thinking of you, praying for light.   love, kathy

* * * * *

for the next three fridays to guide this when-christmas-is-hard-series for formation friday,  i am going to use the 3 prayers from anne lamott’s most recent book–help, thanks, wow: the three essentials prayers.  oh, that book been good for my soul lately & i hope it can bring some light here, too.






Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Great post as usual, Kathy. I will be in my hometown for Christmas for the first time in many years. I am not looking forward to it for many reasons, some of which you share in this post. I think we all need to be aware of those who are hurting and lonely. After all, Jesus and his parents must have felt lonely. Of course, it turned out to be a great party with the shepherds and the choir in the sky. But still, it wasn’t a Hallmark Christmas special to have a baby by yourself and your fiance in a barn.

    • thanks, laurie, i’ll be thinking of you. yeah, i think that’s why i love the christmas story so much, it was such a mess! so dirty & noisy & weird & hard & beautiful & sweet & simple & good.

  • Wow, um, you said a lot of things in this post that told me stuff about you that I didn’t realize previously. I don’t even know WHEN I started reading your blog, and I really have no idea what drew me to it. It’s just a blog that I’ve been subscribed to for a long time, sometimes read, sometimes don’t, depending on how the emails catch my eye. (Just to be honest, the non-use of capitals really makes your blog emails disappear in my inbox. I understand it’s a personal trademark, probably, but I’m not a huge fan of the style, even tho k.d. lang was kinda cool.) 🙂

    All that said, your statements about spiritual shifting intrigue me, even when not applied to Christmas. I wish I had the time to “write through” my issues there, and I wish that I could do it in a way to make in un-boring to folks who might care in some small way. To say the least, I feel very screwed up spiritually, and there seems to be no way out. So, I play drums, because it seems to ignite some small passion in me, when very little else does. I really wish that highly emotional Christians could understand that there are people in the world in whom emotion is dead, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. It just means that the chemicals don’t act in a certain way.

    So, here I am, with a set of effed up nerves, a dead passion, and a heart that really wants to pursue Jesus but simultaneously doesn’t care because every previous effort has ended up feeling like an abject failure.

    I’m not particularly bothered by Christmas, but a lot of those issues apply to me virtually every Sunday, when I sort of question whether I’m a heathen, a hypocrite, a wannabe, or just a Christian loser.

    • In response to Bernard … I believe Our faith is not based upon on our emotions but upon the promises of God… Therefore you cannot fail or be a Christian loser… I believe all you (and I )need is faith the size of a mustard seed ( which is tiny) … Deuteronomy 31 verse 6 says ‘it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not fail you or forsake you.’ I ve got this verse on my fridge and it sustains me everyday.

      • yeah, i hold on to that promise as one of the few core things i can always cling to–he’ll never leave me, never forsake me. i don’t think God makes people feel like losers but a lot of the systems do by perpetuating teachings to lead us to believe some of these things…

    • thanks for taking time to share, it means a lot to me to hear different stories. yeah, sorry about the caps, it bugs some people but it’s just…me. the loser christian feeling is so pervasive, especially when things start to go dead. i really appreciate everything you shared and you are in good company here. this is an amazing line: “here i am with a set of effed up nerves, a dead passion, and a heart that really wants to pursue Jesus but simultaneously doesn’t care because every previous effort has ended up feeling like an abject failure.” i wish all those who felt this same feeling would chime in here but a lot of people don’t go back and read the comments. thanks for your honesty.

  • I don’t like Christmas, and would be perfectly happy living in a country that ignored it. We realized several years ago that we were allowing other people to determine how not only Christmas, but also other holidays and family events would play out for us.

    Now we decide for ourselves how these events will turn out. We buy a few inexpensive things we want (a plate of Costco cookies, a certain kind of candy I like, etc.). We plan to spend the morning of the 23rd with our homeless friends. We’ll invite friends over for Christmas eve and do our own thing Christmas day. This year we’re going to a restaurant and then see a movie.

    We expect nothing from anyone. There’s no drama, and no one is in a position to make Christmas or any other day miserable for us. Sure, there are times someone sneaks in some nasty behavior, but we do our best to never allow them an opportunity to do it again.

    • thanks sam for sharing. we do the same simple things every year and it makes us really happy. nothing exciting, not a lot of presents, just a lot of good people and some fun.

  • So so good. Yeah, Christmas has been hard for me for a long time, and lots of stuff gets stirred up in my old soul in this season. However, *this* year, I am practicing focusing on the work that I have done since last year. I feel much more connected, deep in my soul, than I did last year. And, the reality is that my circumstances haven’t changed much, but my perception of reality has. I recognize that there is likely to be dark moments in this month, yet I am less afraid of the pull. Yay for family. 🙂

  • Thanks so much Kathy. Christmas is tough no doubt. I remember one year being invited
    to Christmas appetizers but was told if I came I had to leave before dinner. I didn’t go…it was the hosts right to decide but somehow I felt less than.

    Thank you soooo much for your open heart and welcoming love for sooo many of us. You are beautiful! I hope more people can visit the Refuge especially during this season. It is like a beautiful manger scene set in the quaint grange hall…especially during this time of year. It is really special.

    • oh irene, that is so painful, that story. i absolutely love that thought of the manger. i will be thinking about that one all month. glad you are part.

  • Wow, Kathy. Hmm….this years looks like it may be one of the harder ones I’ve faced. When you have walked away from church family and biological family, it can get difficult. The voice in my head tells me that I am in this position because of my own choices, so I have no right to complain. Sigh. But for several years, I have gotten to spend Christmas with a friend’s family, who have kind of adopted me. But this year, circumstances have changed. My friend got married (finally 🙂 – they long distanced dated for 5 years!) and now has no room in her car for me. And the kids are all teenagers now and so there is less room for me to sleep. I ended up driving up for the day for Thanksgiving – and her mom insisted on getting me a motel room. She didn’t want me driving back after dark (150 miles). That touched me, but also made me realize that Christmas is probably out this year. So…..

    It’s funny, even though a greatly appreciate gifts given to me, especially this week at works, one of the things that is hard to articulate is that even the giving of a gift can cause emotions to overwhelm because it brings what is missing into focus. That doesn’t mean that gifts should not be given. They actually help more than you know, but if you give a gift to someone and they get emotional and it feels uncomfortable, it is not about you giving them a gift….well, actually, it is. They are probably very grateful while also thinking of who isn’t giving them gifts….

    Anyway, I feel like I am rambling, so…..again, as often happens, I wish you were closer to where I am. 🙂

    • i am sorry i am just now responding to this, didn’t realize i had missed responding. thank you for sharing. oh, i agree, i wish you were closer, too. maybe someday? i appreciate your honesty and it addresses all the little things tied to this time of year that can make it tricky. there are so many friends here expressing some of what you shared. the refuge needs to start throwing a big party on january 1st that is “the holidays are over, hooray, we made it through!” peace and hope to you, my friend.


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