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What to Do If the Holidays Don’t Feel Merry and Bright

how do you get past the hardships and struggles during the holiday season?

Are the holidays hard for you? You’re not alone. As you’ll read in this mommy blogger post, just because it’s December 25th, that doesn’t mean all the hardships and struggles just disappear. They’re still there, looming, while you try to focus on making it a magical time for your family. So how do you get past that? Read on to see how Stephanie is doing just that this year.


It’s the most wonderful time of the year—unless you work in retail, or had a fallout with a family member, or are celebrating the first (or fifteenth) Christmas without a loved one.

Lately I’ve been thinking about everyone who feels a little hole in the holiday season, because that’s where I’m at this year. It’s been hard to find my Christmas spirit. I’ve done all the things—staff parties, preschool performances, cookie exchanges, candy cane cocktails. I’ve given and been gifted. But it all falls short. I’ll get a little glimpse and then, poof, gone.

I struggle with the big built-up days. I’m no Grinch, I just believe that sometimes when you put lofty expectations out there (like saying it’s the most wonderful time of the year), it makes people feel that much worse when it isn’t. The holiday season is indeed magical, but with things looming like marital problems, mental health issues, children breaking down, bankruptcy, miscarriage, family discord, they don’t just disappear because it’s December 25th.

I always pictured myself as part of a Family Stone-type unit. You know, card games and sing-a-longs? Joke telling and children running rampant? In other words, controlled chaos. (Which is funny, because in my ordinary life I really crave calm, cool and collected.)

But that’s the vision of Christmas I want, and yet my cards have fallen differently, so it’s probably never what I’ll get.

Last Christmas Eve we took the children to see a spectacular display of lights and left early with my daughter in tears from a sensory breakdown. On Christmas Day, my son (who has autism) opened one present then refused any more. His stack sat in the living room as he ran around doing his rituals and then retreated to the TV. My husband and I—who have become more co-parents than partners—barely spoke as he assembled batteries and I made an elaborate meal that my children never ate.

Christmas, “the greatest day of the year,” fell incredibly flat. And as I scrolled through social media, comparing my hardships to everyone else’s highlight reel, I learned it’s possible to feel unhappy even on the holiest of days.

So this year, I’m determined to do a few things differently. Instead of searching for my joy in a store, or trying to control my circumstances, I’m going to change my perspective.

The true gift of the holiday season is that we get to go a little easier on ourselves, as well as on those around us. There’s a little more forgiveness and a little more grace, patience (maybe—I’m still practicing that one), and appreciation. People are brought together who may normally be divided. We get time off work to sit down and settle into a less hurried life.

Sometimes the hustle of the holidays can diminish the holiness. It’s easy to get lost in the chaos (or checkout lines), so if doing it all didn’t work for you and you’re still searching for your joy too, maybe we should just try getting quiet. Looking smaller. Sitting still. After all, they found Christ in a manger of hay, not on center stage.

Maybe the small, unsuspecting moments—like my daughter learning to read Santa’s letter, or my son making eye contact with me on Christmas morning—are where the true miracles lie.

I’m taking the next two weeks to zero in on the ones in front of me—to the life I’ve been given and the life I’ve managed to create. It’s not always packaged with a pretty little bow, but it’s mine and I’m proud of it.

December 25th is an important date, but it’s only one day out of the whole year. Rest assured that if it feels different than expected—if your hardships seem to outweigh your highlights—we get many more opportunities to get it right. Any day can have whatever meaning we assign to it. We get to control how we feel about our people and the places we invest our energy all year long.

I’m not sure it was ever supposed to be about bigger, bolder, brighter or better. Small and unsuspecting? Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s where our Christmas spirit hides.


Stephanie Hanrahan was just your seemingly average housewife until she grew tired of pretending and took an axe to her white picket fence (also known as making her private journal public). Learn how she traded her pretending for a panty liner on Instagram, Facebook, and her blog Tinkles Her Pants, where she chronicles her journey as wife to a husband with chronic illness, mother to special needs kiddos, and a woman who often unravels then finds her footing again.

Images courtesy of Stephanie Hanrahan.