How to Survive Christmas | A Six Step Guide

Six simple steps on how to keep your heart alive this Christmas. 

“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15 NIV)

"Love keeps no record of wrongs." Well, you might want to get love a notebook for Christmas, and tell it to keep track, because nothing brings up ancient feuds, hurts and lurking bitterness like the joy of Christmas.

I know, I know, this isn’t the official jolly line on the season of goodwill to all men. If it makes you feel any better you can sprinkle your screen with icing sugar. Personally, I’m not planning to sugar-coat it. So here’s my survival guide to navigating the emotionally choppy waters of Christmas.

In a Christmas nutshell: Ask Holy Spirit to help you track any triggering events that get you seeing red, down to your heart-level hurt. Feel the pain, forgive, repent and feel much freer on the inside.

Of course, there are many lovely parts to Christmas celebrations, but it can be a pretty rough time of year for our hearts. For a start, we’re tired—it’s been a long year. Secondly, we feel the pressure to spend lots of money we don’t have—that can trigger anxiety. Next we have to negotiate our way through a complex familial set-up that would make the UN go running crying to its mama. Where do you spend Christmas? Who do you invite? How do you avoid upsetting X or Y or Z. Or—worst case scenario—X, Y and Z?

Any which way you go, you risk upsetting people. And people—family especially—do not like feeling upset at Christmas. AT CHRISTMAS. The emotionally heightened intensity of it all makes you want to go and eat your way through 12 candy canes… including the cardboard box and the plastic tray.

"Forgiveness is more essential to a good Christmas than turkey."

Because to be alone or miserable AT CHRISTMAS is the worst thing ever. Because—according to the TV commercials anyway—you’re supposed to be laughing merrily and sharing gifts that express true love. Not laboring under a massive weight of obligation, exhaustion and hurt.

And AT CHRISTMAS it’s all too easy to find offence. It’s the time of year when we’re supposed to feel cherished and looked after. But let’s face it, someone has to do the cherishing and cooking and decorating and hosting. And that person will almost definitely need a spa break in January.

So let’s all find a paper bag and breathe into it slowly… it’s all going to be OK. It’s all going to be OK, because you’re not going to let old hurts dominate you or the day. Are you? No. Me neither. Good, let’s get started.

"A forgiving heart is the best gift you can give yourself at this time of year."

Forgiveness is more essential to a good Christmas than a fattened turkey with all the trimmings. You heard it here first. Also, you don’t have to pre-order forgiveness or worry about it going dry or giving everyone food poisoning.

A forgiving heart is the best gift you can give yourself at this time of year. So now’s the time to sit down with a pencil, paper and work through any lurking hurts. Otherwise the pain of ages might just rise up as everyone else sits down to Christmas lunch. And you really don’t want to be throwing hot potatoes and gravy at Great Aunty Bessie do you? Not again.

Luckily, your heart is already all over this situation. It’s been talking to you about this for the past few weeks. Your first clue to what’s going on in the depths, is what you’ve over-reacted to recently. If your brother announced he’s not buying the turkey this year, as he usually does, and you hit the roof as if he announced he was selling his first-born child on eBay. That’s a clue, right there… that you have unresolved issues. Over-reacting to small triggers like that… is a lovely big, goose-fatted clue that you’re harboring a grudge. If you feel angry and you start to rant, and if you bring up everything wrong that person has ever done in their whole lives… you know you’ve got some forgiving to do.

Yes, you may well be right. There was that year your brother forgot to get you a present. Then there was the time he said he couldn’t afford presents but mysteriously went on a Caribbean cruise the following week. Yes, he criticized your soggy sprouts three years in a row. Yes, he always turns up late. Yes, he drinks too much and starts to swear in front of the children. Yes, he smells funny. You’re right, you’re totally right. How does it feel to be right? Awful, right?

"You can change you."

You’re probably well within your rights to judge everyone who irritates you. But you’ll be miserable. And you being miserable is not actually their fault. Because you’re in charge of you. You can’t change their behavior. (Not unless you get that awesome fairy wand you asked Santa for which does real magic.) But you can change you. You are not a powerless victim of forces (or family) beyond your control. With a single swish of your forgiveness wand, you can be rid of all this lurking angst.

Well, maybe more than one swish. Because these things go deep. There’s a lifetime of hurt potentially unleashed by one mistimed comment about the turkey being burned. Again. Try to get beneath the crispy skin of the offence—or the present day trigger—and ask Holy Spirit to show you what’s really going on beneath.

Because while it’s safer to rant on about them getting you the most rubbish present you’ve ever seen in your life, the truth is, you feel hurt for valid reasons. You feel hurt because you don’t feel valued. Say your Uncle gave you a large bag of Beef Jerky for Christmas despite the fact you’ve been a vegetarian for 15 years. That’s ridiculous, but can also make you feel like your Uncle has no interest in you whatsoever. These little things are actually big things when they tap into the existing feelings of rejection in our hearts.

So you can rant. And you can get bitter. And you can make rash pronouncements like “I am never speaking to him again,” or “We are never going to your mother’s for Christmas ever again.” Or you can get better, forgive, let go and have a really good laugh about it. (Beef Jerky for a vegetarian?!)

My Six Step Guide to Surviving the Holidays

Step 1: Find a quiet place where you can be on your own for a while. Stop and think about the trigger events. The small things that have really got you riled recently.

Clue: if they made your head explode and triggered a 45 minute rant, that’s a good place to start.

Step 2: Ask Holy Spirit what’s going on. Why did you react like that? What is the pre-existing hurt that is being triggered here?

(Clue: Often it will be a lie you believe like, “I’m not important to them,” “Nobody cares how I feel.”)

Step 3: Stop and feel the real pain that is buried in your heart. Have a little cry if you like. An unfelt wound is an unhealed wound. It’s ok to get in touch with your feelings. Your feelings are important to God. This is all part of processing pain.

(Note: The only alternative to feeling pain is stuffing it down again, ready to spring up at an inopportune moment.)

Step 4: Forgive the person or people who’s hurt you. This might feel mechanical or like lip-service at first. But do it anyway by an act of your will.

Determine that you will live in forgiveness, not bitterness, no matter what anyone else does. Speak it out (but not directly to them), “Brother, I forgive you. Mum I forgive you, Uncle, I forgive you.” And add in the things you’re forgiving them for. “Brother I forgive you for hurting my feelings by not getting me a gift. It made me feel taken for granted, and unimportant. I forgive you for hurting me in this way."

(Note: Of course that may not be the truth at all, your brother might deeply value you but just be really rubbish at spending money on other people. But if you have taken offence, you need to release the offence by forgiving anyway. It’s like pulling a thorn out of your foot. The person may not have meant to cause you to step on a thorn, but if you have a thorn in your foot, it needs to come out.)

Step 5: Repent for judging the person who’s hurt you. Unfortunately, when someone hurts us we tend to make the situation worse by judging them. It’s a self-defence mechanism that means to push them away. It devalues them so, in theory, you feel better.

What judgement looks like:
As in: “My brother hurt me, therefore I judge my brother as a no-good, useless twerp with Spaghettios for brains, therefore what my brother thinks about me doesn’t matter two hoots.” Sounds like a good theory, except it only makes you feel worse.

Remember this thorny little verse:
“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15 NIV)

We only have two options at Christmas:
1) To live in grace (freely forgiving as we have been forgiven freely) or 2) to live in judgement of others, which leads to bitterness, which defiles many. And that just ruins the turkey and everything else.

Clue: Pray something like this, “I repent for judging you, bro, for being selfish, uncaring and a total jerk. I repent for living in judgement of you. Father, forgive me. I forgive myself for making judgements and harming my own heart. I choose grace. I want grace for me and grace for him.”

Step 6: Feel a whole heap better. Once all that baggage is off your chest, you’ll feel a lot lighter. How’s that for pre-Christmas weight loss? Take a few minutes to ask God how He feels about you. Bask in the truth of how loved and valued you are by the Creator of the Universe. Let the truth fill all those places where rejection and hurt have lived.

Final Note: Forgiving others is not always a one-time event. You might need to keep forgiving over and over again. But one day, it will sink down to heart level. And when you truly forgive from the heart, you are free. Wahoo. It’s time to pull a cracker and have a cup of eggnog.

Happy Christmas, everyone!


P.S. No relatives were harmed in the making of this article.
For the record, my brother always buys me nice presents and I do not have an Uncle who gives me Beef Jerky. Nor am I a vegetarian. These examples were made-up and bear no resemblance to any person in my family living or dead.


This archived article was written by Adele Richards for release in Dec, 2013. Circumstances and situations may have changed regarding the author, locations and ministries. This content may therefore be outdated or misinformed.