What to Do When Christmas Just Isn’t the Same

three photosWill you be far away from family this Christmas? Has life changed for you this year, and have those circumstances altered Christmas too?

I’ve lived most of my adult life far from my parents and siblings, and we’ve almost never been together at Christmas. When my daughters were 6 and 2 (quite some time ago!), I wrote an article for The Lookout magazine titled “What to Do When You Can’t Go Home for Christmas.”

Since I graduated from college and came to Cincinnati 12 years ago, I have spent only three Christmases with my parents and brother and sister. (I confess, one year I stayed in town to spend part of the holiday with the man I later married.) The cost for our family of four to fly to California every year is prohibitive,and my parents prefer not to visit the Midwest in winter. Not often being able to go “home for Christmas” remains a peculiar heartache. …

You are likely to find yourself in my situation at least once in your life. Death, divorce, illness, finances, work, weather, car that break down–any of these can keep the traditional American family Christmas from happening.

There have been lonely moments during my Christmases away from home, but none of those has been miserable. Maybe some of the coping skills I’ve discovered will help you this year, or any year, if you won’t be going home for Christmas.

Our little family made our own traditions and celebrated joyful Christmases. And Cincinnati, not California, has felt like home for years now. But I thought of that article recently as I reflected on what’s different about Christmas this year.

We’re waiting for grandson number 4 to appear, for one thing, and his parents and siblings are staying close to home until he does. We won’t have everyone under one roof on Christmas Eve. Our in-town grandson and his parents will come on Christmas Day, and then they’ll be out of town until the new year has begun.

It’s all fine, really—it’s just different!

The last heading in my Lookout article was “Try to Be Flexible.” I had realized that from year to year, not one of my adult Christmases had been the same. I’d spent Christmas with friends in Virginia, in my own apartment, as a newlywed (we were married on December 13), at Sea World in San Diego, and at home in Cincinnati with a new baby girl.

Four days before Christmas, Ed and I returned from our wedding trip to an apartment stacked with boxes. We bought the smallest tree we could find, chopped off the top half, and stuck it in a clay flower pot. It was Christmas. …

We have decorated the house and put up our tree right after Thanksgiving, in order to host a Sunday school class party, and we have put up a small live tree just before Christmas and moved it back into the garage immediately after. Last year, when Bethany was a toddler, the tree was in the playpen for safekeeping.

Some years we’ve sent Christmas cards, some years we haven’t. Some years there’s been a reasonable amount of money for gifts, some years we’ve made do with less. We’ve gone to late-night Christmas Eve services and to early family services. Last year Christmas came on a Sunday, in the midst of a stretch of below-freezing temperatures. We decided to spend Christmas Eve at home, to have a short family service, open our gifts, and tuck our girls into be at the usual time.

Flexibility is freeing. The years I haven’t gone home for Christmas have taught me this: Christmas is not primarily an observance of family warmth and togetherness, though every form of media–and many Christians–treat it that way.

No, Christmas is the heart’s celebration of the birth of the Savior King. Christmas is the moment when, like Mary, I listen to the shepherds report the angel’s good tidings of great joy, and I “ponder all these things” in my heart–wherever I am and whomever I am with.

And I remember that Mary and Joseph were a long way from home on that first Christmas Day.

And Jesus, my Redeemer, the King of kings wrapped in swaddling clothes—was a long way from his home too.


– Diane

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