At Christmas people are 100% happy all the time, right?

Wrong.

Despite the incessant jingle of bells and copious amounts of egg nog, Christmas is a tough time for a lot of people.

And for more reasons than you’d think.

Some articles focus on the unique challenges of grief, depression or financial strain at this time of year. But this post is about something else.

And it can impact people regardless of what kind of year they’ve had, how much money they have, or what they believe. Here it is.

For many people, Christmas has become about what they think life should ideally be like.

It’s when many people want to somehow ‘capture’ something. And that something usually has to do with their dreams and desires for their own life.

As a result, they make plans, put their best foot forward, and try to capture an experience or memory worthy of the life they would ideally like to have.

The problem is that it rarely happens.

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In this scenario, disappointment is inevitable. Why? Because life doesn’t always play out like we want it to. We orchestrate gatherings or family events—but then certain people either don’t show up (or don’t get along). We decorate and plan—but never quite recapture the nostalgia from the past (if there ever was any). We sing songs of peace—but still feel a deep disconnect within ourselves.

Or maybe we just look back at the wreckage of the past 365 days and know we can never make it up.

And then, just when we start to realize it ain’t gonna happen, we log on to social media to discover that everyone else is having the perfectly-decorated time of their lives. Yes, you’re right; we know that people don’t tend to put their bad moments online. Generally speaking, things like arguments, mood swings, and tantrums have been cropped out of Instagram or Facebook posts. (But deep down, we still wonder if other people are having a better time than we are.)

By making Christmas subconsciously about what we think life should ideally be like, we create an emotional pressure cooker that is nearly impossible to survive.

So, what’s to be done?

First, it’s good to acknowledge what is going on. When you identify and name something negative in your life, you take away some of its power.

Second, focus on something better.

I’m a Christian, so that ‘something better’ is obviously the birth and significance of Christ. That said, I’m still personally tempted to put the wrong things at the centre of my celebrations.

But when we shift the focus to something better—whatever your beliefs happen to be—we are less inclined to compare ourselves to other people, and we will probably be less disappointed when things go off the rails.

In short, the best defense against a disappointing Christmas is a meaningful Christmas.

The people I know who have the best Christmases are the ones who go out of their way to clothe and feed people who are struggling and hungry; they’re the ones who spend time with and visit those who are ill or lonely; they’re the ones who focus on their devotional lives and worship; they’re the ones who know the gold is in the giving, not the getting.

Do those things make Christmas a perpetual smile-fest for you and yours? Not necessarily. But they do make it more meaningful.

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When I think back to Bethlehem, I don’t see selfie-sticks and candy canes. I see a frightened, young mother-to-be; I see Joseph feverishly pounding on inhospitable doors looking for a place to stay; I see smelly animals and a crude manger; I hear a baby cry and a world forever changed.

To Mary and Joseph, was it how they thought life should ideally be like? I’m guessing not. But that’s okay. It wasn’t about that.

It was about God coming to us personally in a baby, drawing us back to his heart, in and through the most unsuspecting of circumstances, for the renovation and healing of the world.

At the time, I’m sure it left everyone in Bethlehem scratching their heads. But wouldn’t that be an amazing Christmas for us too? It can be about God coming to us personally in a baby, drawing us back to his heart, in and through the most unsuspecting of circumstances, for the renovation and healing of the world.

For a lot of people, Christmas is a difficult time, especially if it has become about what we think life should ideally be like.

But maybe we just need different ideals.

The best defense against a disappointing Christmas is a meaningful one.

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