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What to do when Christmas is not feeling very merry

Christmas can be a difficult time of year for some people. Rather than trying to cheer them up, here are some ideas to help, as well as things not to say to someone who is struggling with this time of year.

Is it really December already? Maybe it’s a function of being as old as I am (not that old, but, say, older than my kids), but it seems like the advent of Advent is a bit quicker than in past years. And while this is my favourite time of the year, I’m also well aware that for any number of reasons, Christmastime can be a bummer for a lot of people.

Maybe they’re separated from family, either by choice or not; maybe they’re out of work, homeless, remembering happier times that are no more: Christmas is many things, but for some, “merry” isn’t one of them.

So for those of us who are deliriously happy at this time of year and want to bring everybody into The Christmas Mood, how do you talk to them?

For starters, here’s what NOT to say:

  • “Come on, man! You’re spoiling it for the rest of us!”
  • “Oh, now … I think I hear a little bit of Christmas Spirit in there, Mr Scrooge — ha-ha!”
  • “You gotta remember what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown!”

(It’s worth noting that the famous TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas was nearly deep-sixed because some network executives were aghast at the premise of a child being depressed during “the most wonderful time of the year”; and that the antidote was to quote from the Bible. Bravo to Charles Schulz, the producer, and the Coca-Cola company for not backing down.)  

The fact is, I’ve been there: not because I didn’t know what Christmas was all about but for some of those reasons above: I couldn’t buy nice presents for my children, or I was separated from them; or I was alone; or I realized that the next day it would be over (thanks to ads for promoting THE BOXING WEEK BLOWOUT that started December 21), or the fruitless search for even the vaguest reference to Jesus in department stores and malls.

Now, understanding what Christmas is all about took some of the edge off my own sadness, but I’m also tremendously grateful to people for how they acted around me. To my co-worker, for example, who invited me for Christmas dinner with his family on my first Christmas “away”; and my old college friend who had me over to her and her husband’s place in following years. I don’t think I wore my feelings on my sleeve … but they knew and did not treat me like a “charity case” — the poor outcast they had to Do Something Nice For In This Festive Season.

Neither is the “merriness” of Christmas tied to income or worldly situation. I’ve seen people on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side in a festive mood, while someone living in Uplands can be in a royal blue funk.

How to decide the best course of action? Start by being circumspect: doing too much can be just as counterproductive as doing nothing at all. Maybe invite them for dinner some other day than December 25, so they know they’re always on your mind. Or just say call them up to say “hi – how’re you goin’?”

Or maybe go quiet, and ask The Big Sir for wisdom on helping someone whose hurting is exacerbated at this time of year. You may get a solution that’s perfect, and totally different from anything you could have thought of yourself; and it will be heartfelt and loving, which is what Christmas is all about, right?

Drew Snider is a pastor at the Mustard Seed Church in Downtown Victoria , He is also a writer, and author of an e-book, "A Very Convenient Truth - or Jesus Told Us There's Be Days Like These, So Stop Worrying About the Planet and Get With His Program!"

You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, at

* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, December 2nd 2023