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GERRY SHUDDERED at the thought. She was facing her first Christmas without her husband. How could she find the energy and the will to join the cheery celebrations?

Peter and Amanda dreaded Christmas. They were in serious financial trouble as well as not getting along on almost everything else. Contemplating divorce, they wanted to wait until after the holiday so the children’s Christmas wouldn’t be spoiled. But how could they meet the rest of the family? And how could they even think about gifts?

Bill and Eileen were facing their first Christmas as newlyweds. How could they divide their time between their families without hurting feelings? Could they start their own Christmas traditions?

Christmas highlights both strengths and brokenness in families. Our culture has glorified the picture of happy generations of people singing carols around the tree or sitting around a dinner table overloaded with all the traditional foods. December has become a month-long orgy of buying, partying, eating, and drinking. By the time the holiday comes many people are exhausted and simply wish it were over.

Praise God, many families have navigated the changes that life inevitably brings. Getting together to celebrate the birth of the Savior and their love for each other is a joy-filled occasion. They have grieved the loss of members, welcomed new spouses and children. They have made good alterations over the years to their observance of the holiday and have emerged stronger.

But for too many people Christmas is a time of tension. Old arguments resurface. Their celebration includes obligatory elements that no longer serve everyone’s needs but which nobody dares to challenge or change. Spending on each other may get out of control.

If you find yourself depressed about Christmas, ask yourself the reason. Perhaps it’s time to speak with other family members about the situation. Maybe it’s time to change or eliminate some elements of “the way it’s always been.” More creative ways of dealing with gifts can be found than simply exchanging items with people who already have more than they need. Children can get excited about choosing a gift for a Third World country (see Some families pool their gift money and use it for a few days at a cottage or camp over Christmas, giving each other the gift of time.

Whatever the sources of stress, face them head-on. Much busyness can be eliminated. Deaths and divorces need to be mourned. Changes in life circumstances should be acknowledged openly. As someone once said, “Reality stinks, but it’s better than unreality.”

Love should be celebrated, love within the family and love extending beyond its borders. That is, after all, the meaning of Jesus’ birth. Open your home at some point during the season to a single parent and her or his children, to a newly widowed person, to an immigrant unfamiliar with Western ways or with the story of Jesus’ birth. Give generously to causes and people who need your money and your time. If you find yourself alone at Christmas, volunteer at a shelter or a city mission.

Make meaningful worship a priority for yourself and within your family. Take time to go to the manger, to stand in awe before God in human infant form.

In the end, your Christmas may not be perfectly happy, but it can still be blessed.

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