How Merry Do I Need to be This Christmas?

A table of friends gathered around the Christmas dinner table. Even surrounded by friends, holiday blues can be difficult to navigate during the holiday season.

The holidays tend to be glorified as a time of year when all is well. The kids are home, the house is full, and the kitchen smells of baked ham and fresh cookies. Everyone spends their nights visiting together in the living room, glasses of wine and mugs of hot chocolate in hand. Smiles and laughter abound.

What this image doesn’t show is all the work it takes to get to that point.

Everyone’s Christmas experience is different, catered to their own family’s characteristics and traditions. What is a common thread among many, however, is the effort each family member puts in to reach that celebratory mood. The truth is, St. Nick makes jolly look easier than it is for most of us in reality.

Home is a big part of what makes Christmas “the most wonderful time of the year.” So when home doesn’t feel like home because of a move or because you’ve moved from it, that can add another level of stress to the holidays.

Spending Christmas in a new home

Consider the work it takes to get into a merry mood when you’re approaching your first Christmas living in a new city, across the country from where you grew up.

This is the situation Moriah, 22, found herself in last year when her dad accepted a career opportunity in Oregon, leading half the family to move from their longtime home in Michigan. Along with two younger siblings, Moriah made the move too, because she didn’t love her job and was interested in the opportunity that a new environment had to offer. Her older siblings, however, did not make the same choice, due to their careers, and one younger sister stayed back because of college.

So not only was Moriah living in a new region, but, for the first time in a while, her big family of eight was separated for the holidays because her older siblings had to stay back for work and her younger sister stayed due to basketball.

“Christmas was always a huge family celebration for us, and it was so weird that we weren’t together for it anymore. It felt completely different, and it honestly didn’t feel like Christmas.”

Christmas doesn’t always live up to the hype

Moriah’s sentiment is shared by many during the holidays. A single change to a day bursting with tradition can completely alter its meaning.

Moriah worried the day would not live up to her expectations. But she was able to find, if not merriment, a calm joy on Christmas day.

In the midst of change and the stress that comes with it, Moriah focused on what hadn’t changed 一 her reason for celebrating.

“There is something that is so calming to me about that specific day,” she said. “I was eventually able to just enjoy the holiday with the family that I had with me and celebrate the birth of Jesus.”

The good news is that with a new year comes new opportunity. This year, Moriah’s family will be all together for Christmas for the first time since the move. No doubt, the holiday will be appreciated even more because of the time they spent apart.

Sometimes home doesn’t feel like home

I’ve had my own struggles with merriment during the Christmas season.

Last year was my third year away at college, and I couldn’t have been more excited to get home for winter break. After drowning in papers and final exams, there was nothing I wanted more than to get away from school and all the work I had left behind there.

Instead of finding the relief I had been anticipating, I encountered unsettling disappointment. I come from a big family so the house was busy, like always, but for the first time since leaving for school, I couldn’t find my place in the craziness.

I felt disconnected from my family and the lives they had continued to live without me. This realization stole from me the very joy I had been anticipating since turning in my final paper. It shut me down. I turned in early that first night — falling asleep before eight o’clock. At the beginning of break, I spent most of the day in bed.

As I settled in for my month-long break at home, I began to realize the root of my unhappiness: I felt displaced because home had become more than one place for me. It stretched beyond my brown house in the country to my college campus. While my family continued with their lives, I had to, too.

It wasn’t exactly a Christmas epiphany, but it soothed the anxiety that had taken hold of me and allowed me to enjoy the weeks I had with my family. The irony is that it was in my sadness that I found a reason to celebrate.

The secret to finding joy at Christmas

Merriment and joy don’t come simultaneously with the falling of the first snow. The ability to possess a constant state of joy is a misconception that can actually hurt one’s potential to attain that joy in the first place.

Maybe the focus should be less on how merry you need to be this Christmas and more on what will bring you that joy? Try to remove the stress of how much and what and when, and just focus on the why.

If you find the source of your joy, you will find your reason to hang on through the stress. Before you know it, you’ll be on the other side — joyfully celebrating with a gingerbread cookie and steaming mug in hand.

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