When Christmas Doesn’t Feel Merry

It’s the most wonderful time of the year With the kids jingle belling And everyone telling you be of good cheer It’s the most wonderful time of the year

It’s the hap-happiest season of all With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings When friends come to call It’s the hap-happiest season of all {1}

or it doesn’t feel that way.

I glance up from the kitchen table and spy the Christmas tree across the room. It’s been a ROUGH day. I’m discouraged by how my sinful tendencies and the frailty of life impact my family at this time of year.

I’ve never heard anyone say it, but have felt it profoundly: “I (sometimes) just don’t feel Christmas-y.” This feeling can mean so many things: I’m not feeling the emotions that are supposed to go along with this holiday. I don’t feel worthy to participate in the celebrations and gifts. I hurt, but Christmas doesn’t have room for my pain with the bright lights and happy songs.

There’ll be parties for hosting Marshmallows for toasting And caroling out in the snow

It’s the most wonderful time of the year There’ll be much mistltoeing And hearts will be glowing When loved ones are near It’s the most wonderful time of the year {1}

Maybe your heart aches, too. We miss loved ones. We struggle under the weight of sin, carrying the guilt around like a blanket. Maybe the engagement ring we’ve been hoping for (and the young man to go with it) still hasn’t shown up. Our arms are still empty and our heart cries out for a baby. Maybe our marriage is struggling; there isn’t “peace on earth” in our home.

Maybe we or someone we love has been given a disability or debilitating illness. This could be our first year without a parent, spouse, or child because of death or relational collapse. Maybe a history of abuse, injury, or trauma colors over the bright lights of mirth. MAYBE it’s “just” hormones leaving you feeling grumpy and not in the mood for lights, tinsel, and Christmas cookies.

My dear Sister, I have no idea the trials or struggles that you face this year as we put up decorations, consume copious amounts of sugar, and choose the perfect present. But I want you to know you are not alone, and you are not outcast because you don’t feel “Merry and Bright.”

Christmas is especially for the heart that doesn’t feel joyful. 

Our ache dims the glitter and glamor allowing the light of the Savior to shine through. Suffering allows us to feel our need for the Savior in fresh ways. When I don’t feel worthy of the specialness and gifts that come in the holiday season, the truth of the Gospel becomes more real.

I desperately need my Savior.

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel

that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. {2}

The celebration of Jesus’ birth is beautiful, because He is beautiful. My weakness, frailty, and woundedness cannot harm the message of the season. Instead it allows me to feel again the wonder of Emmanuel, God with us. I am not worthy of His gift. Nothing in me brought about Christmas, and nothing in me gives the holiday its splendor.

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer Our spirits by Thine advent here;

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight. {3}

In those moments where I don’t feel Christmas-y, God has given me hope. My joy and affection for Him can grow stronger in this time of year, even if I feel ostracized from the merriment that is “supposed” to be the daily experience.

I want to share a few practical thoughts with you:

Accept the reality of brokenness.

Our ache in this season stems from the brokenness. We feel the weight of fractured relationships, abuse, trauma, death, loss, uncertainty, illness, caregiver overload and exhaustion. We live in a sin-scarred world.

A natural tendency is to gloss over suffering and sin, hoping a coating of royal-icing and glitter will distract us from the pain underneath. We think that if we distract ourselves with Hallmark movies and caroling, maybe we won’t feel the ache deep in our hearts. Maybe we’ll be able to enjoy the festivities without having to look beneath the surface.

My Sister, stop – at least for a moment. Look at your pain and your suffering (no matter how “trivial”) directly. Call it what it is. Recognize that we were created for paradise. Our souls know this. We long for it intensely, especially when refrains of “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” drift through the air.

Remember: The Gospel starts at the beginning, in the Fall (Genesis 2-3), when everything unraveled in an instant, tearing away true life from the souls of Adam and Eve (and thereby all of us). Yet, in that moment, God answered, promising a Messiah, a Savior would come to reorder the world, and to create everything anew (Gen 3:15).

To bask in the richness of the Gospel this Christmas, allow yourself to acknowledge the sin-scared-ness of the world and your own soul – don’t gloss over the pain throwing tinsel and glitter till it shines.

Allow yourself grieve.

We are created for beautiful perfection and harmony. Our bodies long for an Eden we cannot create. Grieve with me the groaning of creation as it waits (Rom 8:22). Give yourself permission to let yourself feel the pain.

Take time away from the hustle and bustle to let yourself grieve the things you’ve lost (whether expectations, dreams, hopes, or persons). You don’t have to live there all season, but let yourself feel it. Mourn the effects of sin throughout all of life and the sin in your life.

Embrace repentance.

I already feel so weighed down at times with “mom guilt” (“wife guilt,” “good Christian girl guilt,” “the I-should guilt”) being told I’m doing anything more wrong seems like a crushing blow. I don’t want to look my idolatry and sin in the face and speak its name aloud. So, I struggle with repentance and being reminded of my sin.

Yet, our experience of joy depends upon our humble, willing repentance of the tiny (and large) idols plaguing our every-moment. Our hearts need to repent, because the woman who is forgiven much, can then love Jesus much (Luke 7:47). If we keep our sin in secret and do not expose it to the light (Eph 5:8-14), our heart’s desire for the Lord will grow stagnant and stale. God absolutely delights in saving and sanctifying sinners – fortunately, that is exactly what we are! (1 Timothy 1:15; 2:4)


Lastly, rejoice! The words for joy/rejoicing, in the Psalms, signify a shout and a delight focused on God’s works or attributes {4}. The process of rejoicing means we choose to fix our affections on the truth of Gospel riches, not our fallible feelings. Therefore, your lack of feeling Christmas-y will not itself dampen the depth of the Gospel experience in Your life. The Holy Spirit will meet you where you are. Ask the Spirit to remind you of a Scripture you can grasp onto. Memorize it, meditate upon His richness so you can rejoice in Him.

God is working in us the hope of Glory, increased by our recognition of the brokenness surrounding our earthly home. As we wait in the already-not-yet of the Gospel promises, while mourning the effects of sin, we can find honest gladness in the Jesus. Thereby, rejoice! Even when tears stream down our faces, and our hearts long for all things to be made new! {5}

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel. {2}



Endnotes:{1} “The Most Wonderful TIme of the Year.” Songwriters: Eddie Pola and George Wyle, © Demi Music Corp. D/B/A Lichelle Music Company (1963)

{2} “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” (Representative Text) Latin Title: “Veni, veni Emmanuel.” Translator: John Mason Neale (1851). © Public Domain. ( https://hymnary.org/text/o_come_o_come_emmanuel_and_ransom )

{3} “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” (Baptist Hymnal 1991 #76)

{4} Examples of the Hebrew words for joy/rejoicing from Psalms (not exhaustive): Samach : “joy, happiness”Renanah: “shout(ofjoy)” Sason : “Jubilation”

Roa’ : “Raise a war-cry, shout out” Siys: “Gladness, delight”(Source: Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000).)

{5} Being able to feel multiple feelings at once is a sign of significant emotional maturity, not insincerity (Dan B. Allender, The Wounded Heart. NavPress (1990), p.133). Jesus was both the most joyful man (Psalm 16:8-11; Prov 8:30-31; John 16:20-22; Heb 12:2) while “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3, ESV).


One thought on “When Christmas Doesn’t Feel Merry”

  1. Anna says:

    There a much bitterness in my soul this last 4 years..this year our 18th years old younger son is involved in a sentimental relationship with a wrong person, a non beliver, who has all that he wants, popularity, money, travel and more money.. his heart is far beyond of the manger..it is our second prodigy…and I am far away from home, my husband shrink my heart with his hammered words..and I am tired..and reading your article, remains the only word that I can attach closely to my soul and mind REDEPTION.