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Does Christmas Feel Different This Year?

Photo of Joanne KraftJoanne Kraft | Bio

Joanne Kraft

Joanne Kraft is a nonfiction author and national speaker. Her passion is for women to catch the Titus 2 vision of discipleship. Author of The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids and Just too Busy — Taking Your Family on a Radical Sabbatical, she’s a frequent guest on Focus on the Family, Family Life Today and CBN. Her articles have appeared in ParentLife, Today’s Christian Woman, In Touch, P31 Woman and more. Her newest venture is her podcast Grace & Truth Living, helping women to trust and follow Jesus in their everyday life. Joanne and her husband, Paul, once lifelong Californians, moved their family to Tennessee in 2012. They’ve happily traded soy milk and arugula for sweet tea and biscuits. Check out for more from Joanne.

Is Christmas painful this year?

Instead of driving around and looking at Christmas lights, you’d much rather stay home and curl up in a blanket and just sleep until January 1st.

Or, are you trying with all your might–by golly–and refusing to succumb to the feelings?

Come hell or high water, you’re going to hang that wreath in the same place, put up the tree in the same corner of the family room, send out the same annual Christmas letter if it kills you!?

One of the things that makes Christmas, well…Christmas, are the traditions we’ve collected over the years. These family routines are hard to pass by when the calendar says it’s time.

Christmas caroling with the church. Grandma makes her jello salad for Christmas brunch. Mom brings the clam dip on Christmas day. We watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” at precisely 5pm on Christmas Eve.

But, then life happens.

Someone we love passes away. We can barely breathe through this time because living this holiday without them is too hard. Everything we used to do to celebrate together is a painful reminder of their absence.

“Everything we used to do to celebrate together is a painful reminder of their absence.”

But it’s not just losing loved ones that makes this time of year hard. Have you lost your job or your home, or maybe divorce has split your “normal” Christmas in two?

I can relate on so many of those levels. I understand how the joy of Christmas music can be replaced with a deep, dark melancholy.

Christmas can be painful when we experience the unexpected.

When I was going through my divorce twenty-five years ago, I moved from an adorable home at the back of an adorable court—into a tiny apartment with no furniture.

That Christmas was so hard.

Money was scarce and so were decorations for our tree. With two little ones under the age of four, I wanted to make our tiny place look as festive as possible for them. My big idea? Make homemade cookie ornaments.

“Money was scarce and so were decorations for our tree.”

I got busy making gingerbread cookies and hung them all over our tree. When my son toddled over to the tree and began eating them, I wanted to cry.

So much for the perfect decorations on the perfect Christmas tree. It seemed our whole Christmas was a hot mess.

As a single mom, my whole life was different, yet I dug my heels in and refused to allow Christmas to look different. It was going to look exactly the same as it had every year before my divorce if it killed me…and it almost did!

Because I wasn’t willing to bend, my heart broke instead.

Living out the unplanned, unexpected, and unimaginable.

Two thousand years ago, a very young woman felt a lot of what many of us are feeling this time of year. Her life wasn’t going as she’d planned. Whereas Mary was chosen for God’s divine plan, my heartache included a heavy handful of sinful choices I’d made. But, whether you’re suffering because of your mistakes or a victim of someone else’s, we can learn a lot from a young Jewish girl who was given news she never expected.

“We can learn a lot from a young Jewish girl who was given news she never expected.”

News so big that her world stopped for a moment. News that evaporated dreams of her future like a mist and revealed a plan she’d never imagined.

Reality for Mary was a pregnancy unlike anything her mind could wrap around, a reputation that now seemed beyond repair. Today, instead of planning her wedding, she was in a stable with the scents and snorts of the animals mixing with her own, as she brought this child into the world.

Mary would have a baby she’d never planned in a place she’d never expected. She would have to live her life one unfamiliar step at a time.

How did she do it?

How did she get through it? She did it the only way we all can: by trusting and leaning on the Lord.

“She did it the only way we all can: by trusting and leaning on the Lord.”

When I sat my children in front of our imperfect Charlie Brown Christmas tree, David Joseph, my 18-month-old, reached up and grabbed one of the few remaining gingerbread ornaments. As I snapped pictures, he bit off a leg here and an arm there. I whimpered to my mom later on the phone, “I’m so frustrated. My tree is decorated with a bunch of gingerbread amputees. “

Twenty-four years later, that imperfect Christmas photo with a legless gingerbread man stuffed in his mouth? Yeah, you guessed it. It’s one of my favorites.

I learned a lot that Christmas.

Christmas is not a perfect destination created with perfect Pinterest DIY projects. And here’s another thing I’ve learned: you can’t create or duplicate Christmas like the year before, so stop trying. Let yourself off the hook and stop white-knuckling the ghost of Christmas past.

“You can’t create or duplicate Christmas like the year before, so stop trying.”

Christmas season is about loving one another in the messes, salvaging sweet memories alongside hardships and heartaches–even when things don’t look the same. The true spirit of Christmas is the one and only Holy Spirit. And He is pointing every last one of us to the knowledge of Immanuel. He is God with us through it all.

Why not surrender what once was and allow Christmas to be what now is? Embrace this different Christmas. Rejoice in the unexpected with an open hand. Then allow Immanuel to guide the way. When you learn to live with joy through the unexpected or unimaginable, you may just discover the Lord had something better for you all along.

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) 

“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

“God with us.”

For more from Joanne, check out Used with permission.