Christmas is a wonderful time filled with family, friends, merriment and cheer. It is the season best known for the joy it embodies and the love and warmth it exudes.

Or at least, that’s what we’re led to believe. A number of sociological studies would seriously undermine this claim, however. Not only is the holiday season associated with increased depression and anxiety among many individuals, it is also known for a notorious rise in suicide rates. Sometimes, our “happy holidays” just aren’t that happy.

This issue is compounded by the view that we are supposed to be happy, that we are supposed to exude the mirth and cheer proclaimed in all the Christmas specials. This often leads individuals to hide their struggle feel guilt on top of everything else. To those who are struggling this holiday season, I write this article for you.

We Have A Right To Grieve

The reality is that the Christmas season is often tailor-made to bring to mind the causes of our unhappiness. Recently lost a loved one? There is nothing like the gathering of family to emphasize the empty place at the table, and with that comes grief. Struggling financially? There is nothing like the expectation of giving to create a cycle of ever-deepening debt along with guilt or shame at your inability to give generously. There are legitimate reasons for why people struggle emotionally at this supposedly joyous time of the year.

Several years ago, I was part of a church that decided to acknowledge this. In the midst of December, winter hits its peak and the longest night of the year comes to pass. To honor those who feel the darkness during this season, we held a Longest Night service.

The service had two goals: to provide a place to openly and honestly acknowledge the very real struggles people faced this time of year, and to respond to that struggle with hope. After all, I believe that hope is the real message of the season.

Even Jesus’ Mom Had A Rough Holiday!

In pursuit of a “Merry Christmas,” we often downplay the very real challenge that Mary faced. Her story was not a happy one. It ended that way, but the journey to motherhood bore its share of challenges.

Consider Mary’s tale. Here we find a 13-year-old girl, betrothed to be married, discovering that she is to be the mother of the son of God. Ironically, the angel that informed her of this didn’t bother mentioning it to her husband-to-be until the last minute, just in time to stop the impending divorce. She carried to term near her own family, surely expecting to give birth surrounded by those she loved, only to be thwarted at the last moment by a census decree from Tiberius.

Nine months pregnant and nearing the end of her term, she was required to travel several days over extremely rugged terrain. When she arrived, the best lodging they could acquire was to be settled in amidst the domesticated animals. She was not surrounded by the pristine barn we often see in nativity sets, but stalls and straw intermingled with excrement and a feeding trough laden with the grime of animal saliva.

It was in that barn that she would give birth, and in that trough that she would lay her son.

But Mary Gives Us Hope

Mary’s Christmas season bore little resemblance to the “happy holidays” we see on Hallmark cards. In Mary’s struggle, however, we discover the mysteries of God at work. It was precisely the lowly birth of Jesus that initiated the Kingdom of God and marked it as a Kingdom that inverts the earthly understanding of power. God understands our struggle; His very birth tells the tale of it, His life lived the reality of it and His crucifixion punctuated the depth of it.

Mary’s struggle would come to be a central piece in that story. In time, she would then come to find her name in history, and she would come to discover hope in that tiny face wrapped in discarded rags.

Her story reminds us of our own hope. For those who grieve, this season offers the promise of resurrection and reunion. For those with guilt, this season offers the promise of reconciliation. For those burdened under the anxiety of uncertainty, this season offers the promise of peace.

That is the Christmas message. It’s not presents under the tree, sparkling lights or eggnog. It is hope, and despite the struggle of the season, that hope belongs to you.

T. E. Hanna is the author of Raising Ephesus: Christian Hope for a Post-Christian Age and he blogs on issues of faith and culture at

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *