Why is Christmas so difficult?

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What makes Christmas so difficult?

There are many reasons why Christmas can be a tough time of year. This page shares some common reasons that can make us dread December – and these ideas come from others who have faced similar struggles.

These pages are a collaboration by people who have lived with mental health problems, social exclusion and poverty. And they belong to you – so if you want something added, please let me know.


Financial pressures

  • Not being able to afford gifts, decorations, a nice meal or the latest gadgets
  • Not being able to afford the basics, let alone all the ‘extras’ of Christmas
  • Being homeless, or at fear of homelessness, at Christmas
grafitti_xmas_mediumWe live in an increasingly materialistic world, and this is probably never more obvious than at Christmas. Whether or not you have religious beliefs, it can feel like the original intent of this day has been lost. For those who have very little money, Christmas can feel totally excluding… and that’s because, for many of us, society DOES exclude us.

Read more about financial pressures at Christmas:
‘Gift giving when you’re broke’

Not feeling like you belong

  • Social gatherings where we feel excluded, out of place, pressured or uncomfortable
  • Not getting invitations to social or family gatherings
  • Not having friends or family

I struggle with Christmas because I do not have family and I have just a couple of friends. I have faced Christmas day alone through many tears and headaches. I know I am not the only one, and thoughts of others worse off from me help me get through.
I think it can help to tell people in advance that you struggle at this time. Tell anyone and everyone you know. Be mentally prepared for the Christmas struggle, and never hesitate to call a crisis line.
Do not struggle in silence.

From Christie Brown, Melbourne

If we do get to join others in Christmas gatherings, it can be far from fun. We may not be able to afford the same level of fancy clothes as everyone else. We may not be able to bring a decent ‘plate’ or gifts.

Social interactions themselves can be overwhelming at Christmas. Awkward questions can abound at these Christmas gatherings…

So are you working yet?
Have you put on weight dear?
What have you been doing this last year?

How do we answer these questions if we’ve been battling with our mental health, unemployed, or homeless?

Or, people just avoid us. Sometimes it’s hard to know if that’s better or worse. How do we get through these situations?

Often we can be totally alone at Christmas. ‘Christmas Orphans’. This can be by choice or by circumstance. But when it feels like the rest of the world is coming together, it can be a pretty awful feeling to not belong. What can we do to find our own place of belonging?

Read more about belonging at Christmas:
Getting through family gatherings
Finding an inclusive Christmas dinner or church service
The virtual Christmas card project (coming soon – still under construction)


Existential meaning

  • Being swamped by media shouting about joy and love – but what if your life is full of sadness and isolation?
  • The increasing materialism of Christmas is hard to bear when there is so much real suffering
  • Not having a faith or spiritual belief system … or feeling betrayed by religion
  • Wondering about your purpose
santa in globeHow do we make sense of a time of year that speaks about peace, love and joy when there is so much suffering? What if our spiritual beliefs have been shattered by the utter betrayal of abuse within religious institutions? How do we coexist with all the messages of Christmas that saturate our lives if our own life is filled with despair and distress and exclusion?

Read more about creating our own meaning at Christmas
Creating meaning at Christmas

Painful memories

  • For many people, Christmas brings back difficult memories of past hurts
  • Past Christmases can sometimes haunt us
  • All the images of family can be painful if we don’t have one, or we were hurt by family
For many people, Christmas brings back troubling memories. If we’ve had a difficult life, this is often the time when we most feel it. How do live with these memories? Is it possible to find ways to transform our experience of these memories? Or find ways to cope with them? Or make new, better memories?

Read more about painful memories at Christmas
Creating meaning at Christmas

Less support & services

Just when we need them the most, many mental health, community and support services shut down for holidays. This can make it feel even harder to cope with all the other challenges. What can we do to sustain ourselves and each other when traditional support services aren’t available? Where can we find dedicated support over Christmas?

Read more about finding support at Christmas
Finding support at Christmas-time


Sharing the struggle

Personally, I don’t think it’s good enough that most of our society celebrates at Christmas, while a huge group of people feel utterly excluded and despairing. I wish things were different.

This page may seem to be depressing, but sometimes, a misery shared really can be a misery halved. I wrote this page so that, at the very least, those who are struggling with Christmas can see how not alone they are.

I welcome your comments below about your own struggles at Christmas, but also about ways in which you may have found hope, or a new way of experiencing Christmas. This page can’t change much, but it can be a space where people can connect with each other, and where the ‘not so happy’ side of Christmas can be spoken about.

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