When Christmas Makes You Sad

Christmas is something I really look forward to these days, but it wasn’t always that way. For many years I felt a sense of dread and despair whenever I even thought about family occasions like Christmas Day.

If Christmas is a joyful time for you, that’s wonderful! I’m sharing the poem, below, to give you a glimpse into the mind of a grieving person. After reading the poem, perhaps you’ll be more aware of the intense, confusing sort of pain that Christmas can bring. At the end of the post I’ve included a few tips on how to reach out to a grieving friend (look for points 3 and 4).

If you and/or your family are struggling with despair this Christmas, my heart goes out to you. It’s my hope that you’ll feel less alone as you read my poem and story:

Christmas Poem

I’m already dreading the day
And it’s only July!
I hate the way
Christmas makes me cry.

The family day
Of love and belonging,
When I am reminded
Of my heart’s longing
For siblings who love me,
Who know me and care,
For two parents
Who are always there
No matter what.

But the only assurance I can see
Is that this day will be confusing for me:
Which house will it be this year?
With Mum or Dad?
She’ll be strained, he’ll be sad.
It’s the tension I can’t bear.

Everyone tries to make the best of it –
For this I am truly glad,
But the silent grief and sorrow
Linger loudly in the air.
In an atmosphere tense and stale,
Each of us wrestles
With grief overwhelming,
Trying to make a day worth remembering.

Not this day. Not for me.
This day signals regret,
It brazenly broadcasts loss and estrangement
From “family”. Oh, God, help me!

© Kristy Johnston, July 2003


Looking back, I’m amazed at the attractive tinsel-thread of redemption that God has weaved through all the branches of my family tree. He truly has bestowed a crown of beauty in place of the ashes of our family’s collective grief (Isaiah 61:3). It’s taken decades — it didn’t happen overnight, unfortunately! — but it has happened.

Both my parents have remarried and we’ve now got a blended extended family that’s pleasantly functional. We all get along OK when we meet at family gatherings, and we’ve even begun to enjoy our Christmas celebrations together, with all the partners and kids. Quite an entourage we’ve got these days! (We’re in our thirties and forties now, my generation of the family.)

But at the time I wrote this poem, in 2003, family life was far from pleasant. I had a strained relationship with every single member of my family, which was terribly painful for me as we’d been such a close-knit bunch in my childhood. How times had changed for us all…

During my teenage years, our family went through a period of major crisis. No-one escaped unharmed. Each person’s brokenness led them towards certain actions, and these actions cut the rest of us like shards of shrapnel — it’s amazing how one person’s distress can cause such harm to those around them. And then the lot of us toppled like dominoes. My way of coping was to become hyper-responsible: I didn’t want to cause my mother any more grief than she’d already endured.

In my early twenties I struggled with major depression and anxiety. I didn’t reach out for help at the time because I didn’t even have a name for what I was experiencing! Thankfully, a few years later, I started treatment with a trained clinical counsellor. She skillfully worked through my past traumas and guided me towards emotional healing — that didn’t happen overnight either, but it did happened, slowly, over the years!


Lord Jesus, I want to thank you for being my Good Shepherd. You never gave up on me through those gut-wrenching years. You listened to every hoarse sob — you even heard the unspoken prayers that were too profoundly muddled for words. Your heart broke with mine. You have always been strong, and faithful, and trustworthy. You have never failed me.

Lord, please bring comfort to those readers who are mourning today. Fill them with an assurance of your never-ending love for them. Fill them with hope for the future, as they come to you weary and heavy-burdened. Lead them to people who are able to help them heal, emotionally, and grow, spiritually. I ask these things for your glory. Amen

How can I help you grow?

1. Comfort from God’s Word

A bunch of Bible passages were a lifeboat to me through those difficult years. Here are some of them:

  • Isaiah 41:9-10, NIV.
  • Psalm 34:18.
  • Matt 11:28-30
  • Romans 5:3-5
  • Romans 8:18-38
  • Hebrews 4:14-16
  • Hebrews 12:1-3
  • Rev 21:1-4

Joseph’s story from Genesis, Chapters 37-50 has also been a great source of comfort to me. This Bible story has been made into a Dreamworks animated movie called “Joseph, King of Dreams”, which is quite an accurate and compelling rendition of the Bible story. You can watch a song from the film here — terribly soppy, but it still makes me weep happy-sad tears almost every time I listen. If you’re due for a therapeutic cry, have a listen!

2. Song playlists

Here’s a playlist of songs that are like prayers, for those times when you just don’t know how to pray:

Click image to see playlist in Resource Library.

And the Hope & Courage playlist has some of my favourite worship songs, for those times when you need some spiritual fuel to help you persevere:

Click image to see playlist in Resource Library.

3. Ideas for reaching out to a grieving friend

After reading this post, perhaps you’ll be prompted to reach out to someone you know this week, in a small and personal way: Sending a text message. Sending a card. Picking up the phone.

Here are a couple of tips, for those of you who want to help but are not feeling particularly confident or equipped to do so.

You don’t need to try and delve into their problems.

Some situations are so tangled up that attempting to fix them can end up making things worse — it can pull the knot even tighter, like when my kids try to undo their own shoelaces! Reaching out is much less daunting than you might imagine: you just need to show that you care. Often, profound words of comfort aren’t even needed at all.

Consider inviting them for a family meal.

I remember one birthday, when my parents and siblings were still in crisis, a friend of mine invited me over to her place. We hung out, ate a meal together with her parents and siblings, and they had a birthday cake prepared for me. (Gah! Still makes me tear up, all these years later!)

They didn’t engage me in deep conversation about my struggles. They didn’t try to take my family situation on and fix things. They didn’t even quote any Bible verses at me, even though they were a devout Christian family.

They just invited me for a simple meal. And sang happy birthday to me. And got me to blow out the candles and cut the cake. So simple, but a subtle gesture of empathy that I’ll never forget.

It’s not as hard as you might think! I hope this has inspired you with a sense that you are in fact able to bring comfort to others.

Of course, if you are struggling to keep your own head above water, this year might not be the time for you to try helping others. But if you’re in a relatively calm place in your life, I encourage you to reach out to someone in your church community (or neighborhood) who could do with a taste of that precious family-type love in the upcoming Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations.

4. Links

Want to learn how to be a more empathetic friend? Here are four excellent Christian articles about how (not!) to help a grieving friend.

Need help in taking your own grief to Jesus?

Would you like more support?

You’re welcome to join my friends and me in the 15:5 Tribe. More info about the Tribe can be found here.

I’d like to join the 15:5 Tribe


  1. Anonymous Blog Reader says:

    In response to the mention of the Joseph, King of Dreams movie:

    **Dreamworks animated film

    That film was actually made by Dreamworks, it was NOT done by Disney at all. It is frustrating to hear that this has been thought to be a Disney film, because Disney doesn’t do those kind of films unless they can maybe profit off the story and add their own weird adaptation to it as well… They also have not had the courage or thoughts to produce any films based off the Christian faith-at least not since the earlier years of the company-and even any of those films from the earlier Disney days that have any Christian faith (if any) stories, are questionable. Disney did NOT make that film in any way. Dreamworks, on the other hand, DID make it.

    I post this comment not to start an argument or cause strife but to bring knowledge and truth as to who really made the film so that the wrong information in the blog can be edited and changed to the correct information for the blog.

    Proof that it was made by Dreamworks and not Disney:

    Thank you for the rest of the blog though, I appreciate your writing as a whole. It was just that one sentence that “struck a nerve” (again because Disney is trying to buy out all their competition and hold all the power in the entertainment industry. Disney bought Star Wars and Marvel even, along with many other companies in the entertainment business. The most recent CEO of Disney even admitted to their goal of wanting to buy more entertainment companies because it gives “more power to shape the next generations”. Which there’s evidence of that claim being true all over with what they currently own as a company).

    So again, the film is of Dreamworks, definitely not Disney…
    (Sorry about the tangent, I’m tired of Disney claiming or thinking they own everything so I want to make known what is NOT owned by Disney that is still out there today, I.e. the Dreamworks film Joseph, King of Dreams)

    On a positive note, I appreciate this blog being used to let others (myself included) know that we are not alone in our suffering and loneliness at the Holiday Seasonal times.

    Thank you and sincerely,
    A concerned reader

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge