This post was originally published on MothersofDaughters.com in 2013.

It’s not Christmas until…

…we put up the tree.
…Bobby comes home.
…I hear O Holy Night.
…we light the Advent candles.
…it snows.
…we watch White Christmas.
…I bake cookies.
…we volunteer at the shelter.
…we get our family photos back.
…we read Luke 2.

Sometimes the holidays are hard. Coming at the end of a hard year – one where we’ve lost loved ones or jobs or even a bit of our faith – the days and weeks when we’re expected to wear shiny smiles and holler jolly greetings at everyone we see can feel overwhelming and even depressing.

We think back to Christmases past, recalling warm fires and hot cocoa, meaningful gifts and inspiring Scripture readings, cheerful and thankful children, family members cooking and crafting and playing Scrabble together. We remember how good the holidays can be (conveniently forgetting the hard parts that happen Every. Single. Year.) and the regret buries deep in our hearts.

We feel pre-emptively sad, because It just won’t feel like Christmas this year. Whatever loss or challenge we’re facing or remembering when things aren’t exactly as they were before becomes a catalyst to resent this year’s calendar full of activities and events and expectations.

“This year just won’t be the same,” we say.

And some years aren’t. Truly, no two holidays can be exactly the same – no matter how dedicated we are to tradition and favorite foods and white elephant gag gifts that reappear every year. Circumstances change, lives change, PEOPLE CHANGE.

It can be hard. I would never claim that celebrating Christmas in light of a loss is easy or simply a matter of Get over it or Fake it ’til you make it.

Sometimes the holiday season can make us sad
– and I think that’s okay and normal and a part of living life.

But Christmas itself? The day we celebrate the birth of our Savior? Could it be possible to reclaim that day, that remembrance, that epic birthday party no matter what our circumstances are this year?

Can we separate the holiday chaos from our holy celebration? Can we turn our focus from our Advent to-do lists to our Mighty God and Wonderful Counselor, our Emmanuel?

After all, that first Christmas didn’t have Advent candles or a decked-out tree. Joseph and Mary didn’t snap a family photo in matching robes or sit Baby Jesus and the Wise Men down for hot cocoa and the Peanuts special.

And yet they celebrated Christmas.

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others
—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
Luke 2:13-14

It’s not wrong to grieve, to miss those who aren’t with us, to reminisce about sweet experiences and special days gone by. But let’s not get so bogged down in our feelings this year that we miss out on the JOY. Because when God promised to be with the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit, He wasn’t simply giving our feelings and needs lip service.

No, He was telling us that He would send His Son, the Jesus who was born into this world, the One we celebrate each year, no matter what kind of year it’s been. He was telling us that we aren’t alone, on our happiest days or our hardest ones. He was promising His “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love” (as the Jesus Storybook Bible puts it) in the person of Jesus Christ.

And if that’s not a reason to celebrate – snow or not, with or without cookies, no matter how deeply we grieve – I don’t know what is.

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