Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Coming to terms with Christmas grief



When I was a child, Christmas felt like the most magical time of the year. Perfectly spaced between my birthday and Easter, it was just long enough between holidays to build up a true sense of anticipation. We celebrated every year with family and friends and there was always something for me under the tree.

Woman crying (Credit: Arman Zhenikeyev / Getty)Now that I'm grown I've realised that while Christmas felt that way for me, it isn't so magical for a lot of people. When I was first faced with this reality I felt unnerved: how could Christmas not be something to look forward to? After doing some personal reflection and listening to the stories of those people who do not love Christmas, I have realised that I have a certain privilege in that the holiday season is one of happiness for me.

For many people Christmas is a hollow reminder that there is someone missing from the table, and no matter whether it's the first year or the 50th — that chair will always remain empty.

Others may be estranged from their loved ones, unable to come together due to differences in location or perhaps in opinion.

Others still may want to give their families all the gifts and wonderfully festive food in the world, but aren't able to afford these things. There is a pressure from society to celebrate the holidays in the 'right way', and that way is very often expensive.

We are supposed to be happy during the holiday season, we are meant to sing along to Michael Bublé, spend an exorbitant amount of money on gifts and think of nothing other than sugar plums and reindeer.

The reality is though, that Christmas is just like any other time of year and there are people who are suffering. Suffering from grief, heartbreak, poverty — the magic of December won't change that for people, and to assume that it might is to take away from the importance of those issues.


"December does not exist in some magical space where our struggles cannot find us."


No matter how uncomfortable it might make us, it is an important truth to remember, not only for those around us but for ourselves. Coming to the realisation that Christmas is hard for many people has not only helped me to empathise with those around me, but it's also allowed me to better understand myself. December does not exist in some magical space where our struggles cannot find us.

You do not owe it to the world to be happy during Christmas time, to celebrate it, or even to acknowledge it. It is okay to decide that you need to protect yourself and that you are better off spending it alone, or going about your business as usual.

It is also okay to participate in whatever manner you are able. As a society we are obsessed with consumerism; Christmas isn't Christmas without toys and stockings and crackers. I have been guilty of this mindset too. But Christmas, just like every other day, can simply be a celebration of being here and having people who love you.

For those who don't love Christmas or who feel like outliers to the festive spirit, I am sorry for ever uttering the sentence 'How could you hate Christmas?' You will not hear it pass my lips again, that is a promise.



Katherine RichardsonKatherine Richardson is a freelance writer and illustrator. Her greatest loves are creating art and her cat Marmalade. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for more.

Crying woman image credit: Arman Zhenikeyev / Getty

Topic tags: Katherine Richardson, Christmas, grief



submit a comment

Existing comments

Thanks for this article Kat. It rang very true for me. Christmas used to be a time of joy and laughter, with lots of friends and celebrations. As the years have passed, I've lost important people in my life and, for those who are still around, life has proven more challenging to be together. December is now a month I no longer look forward to. It's easier to fill it with routine and writing.

Tara | 16 December 2019  

Many of my ancestors, being professional soldiers, would have spent Christmas at the Sharp End of the Old Empire in forts on the North West Frontier or similar, without their families. A bullet could have put paid to any Christmas cheer. 'We' are buried all over India and further afield in the huge British military cemeteries. This is a specific 'we', long, long before we came to Australia. So many of this specific 'us' became famous: Kipling; Guy Gibson and the Durrells to mention a few. Like Tara, many I remember are dead, and, like Gillian Bouras in another article, my early Christmas memories are far, far away. What to do? Make the best of things and carry on. The message of the Christ child is to carry on, but in Joy. How the Christian missionaries must've broken the dark vision which existed before them. May we remember that!

Edward Fido | 16 December 2019  

Thank you for your honesty here. Christmas can be a time of grief and the hugeness of loss and it is also a time of joy and above all HOPE. Whatever your faith or spiritual position, it is the celebration of a birth - a birth that can meaning for all of us - the birth of the ideal that we can become wholly and holy. And yes we suffer loss and despair and we also find beauty in this new beginning.

Jorie Ryan | 17 December 2019  

I thank you too for this piece. It is a reminder that so many work at the sharp edge of Christmas.......nurses in old age facilities, doctors in emergency wards and ambulance officers let alone fire men and women and those who help the homeless at this time. For the elderly there are dreams of Christmases past as they engage in Christmas experiences more reminiscent of the frenetic activity of arrivals/departure lounges of bus stations and airports. How do you find joy when you "feel" that you have lost it? How do you start again, and again and again, when those around you shout "futility!" I tell myself that it is by taking the first step. (Of very many. As one who has lived in China I remember the Chairman (Mao) saying that a journey of a thousand miles started with the first step. Thanks, Kat and Barry for your reflective pieces.

Ken Bridge | 17 December 2019  

Like Edward, I share an Anglo-Indian past, but it is one of distinctly different memories: a past of a people fixated on a vision of identity defined by race and, more often than not, by colour. Moreover, while like many here the dominant narrative was one of gifting and an expectation of perfect child-like happiness, my growing up as a gay person excluded me from the start through submission to all the pressures of bullying and forced identity-badging in a world of neo-colonial domination and imposition. Consequently it has taken me a lifetime to shed the childlike naivetes in which Christmas is falsely encased and to understand it as an invitation to grow into an adult understanding of the challenges that Christ issues to an often blind and hopelessly culturally-atrophied world. The India which I left as a young man has, in the meantime, grown into a more mature and self-accepting culture, which, for all the gaps in its discourse, is at least relatively courageously facing its postcolonial identity, free of the sentimentality that encumbers Eurocentric portrayals of Christmas and able to see through its fug. "Christian missionaries must've broken the dark vision which existed before them"? I think not!

Michael Furtado | 17 December 2019  

Thank you Katherine for an honest and refreshing look at Christmas and forced commercial happiness. Another thing that has brought a new meaning to this season is climate change. Summer, and with it for us in the southern hemisphere, Christmas now takes on a more sinister meaning as we await the almost certain fires that will surround the gifts and Christmas trees at this time. To see snow images only adds to the false and tired images we are confronted with if we visit shopping centres. Even the air-conditioning only add to the unreality.

Tom Kingston | 17 December 2019  

I agree with you Katherine. I have fond memories of Christmas in the 1950's and 60's as a child, living in a hot and dusty Western N.S.W. town, home from boarding school . We did not have TV, so radio was our only entertainment source. Midnight Mass was often celebrated in a hot church- we had no fans then. Church was packed to the rafters! Oddly we still had a roast for Christmas Dinner ! Being a single parent family, money was short, so presents were simple and useful. These days Christmas has lost its identity for the younger generations as well as my grandchildren ; that is so sad. Way too commercialized.

Gavin O'Brien | 18 December 2019  

Come on Kat and correspondents, cheer up! Yes, grief is part of the weave of all our lives. Yes, Christmas can bring that grief into sharper focus for many people. But that doesn’t mean we see grief as the main melody line in the symphony of life. To do so ignores the “reason for the season”. God the Son has pitched his tent amongst us! The world is changed completely. His Easter victory means life has conquered death, goodness has defeated evil, joy has overcome grief. Yesterday’s birthday boy, Pope Francis, reminds us that even when sorrow seems to overwhelm us, all the baptised know that a flame of joy, perhaps tiny, continues to flicker in our hearts (Evangelii Gaudium, 2013). So come on Kat, come on everyone else, come on me; lift up your hearts!

Gerard Hore | 18 December 2019  

Edward, Dark vision eh! It was deemed dark by the missionaries ;blinded by their idea of light with little genuine enquiry into how well their primal beliefs had sustained them spiritually. The rest is history and there is significant doubt that white supremacy has been a benefit.

Denis Bartrum | 19 December 2019  

Thank you for this timely article, reminding us to think beyond the glitz of Christmas. I can identify, having lost two family members this year. A couple of suggestions for everyone: place your trust and hope in Jesus and the Christmas story; do something practical to acknowledge and alleviate the suffering of others - donate time or money to a local charity; reach out in friendship and love to the lonely, sick or bereaved in your family and community; greet the local Big Issue vendor with a smile and an extra donation or small gift. In these ways we can bring God's gentle touch to those who most need it. God bless!

Mary | 20 December 2019  

Similar Articles

Notre Dame de Paris

  • Marlene Marburg, Grant Fraser
  • 16 December 2019

It rose in its tall verticals from the grace and welcome of the earth, / That swooned far, far below, / As canny masons hefted the limestone / Into vast beatitudes of grace; / Shipwrights inverted their minds to groom the oak, / So that it would soar, / As if a celtic monk had charmed a serpent into a holy phrase.


A Himalayan miracle to carry into the New Year

  • Catherine Marshall
  • 17 December 2019

Stopping along a ridge, we beheld the Garhwal Himalaya range as it came into view: a tumble of mountains crowned on the horizon by an irregular, saw-toothed range ... In that brief moment between sunrise and daylight, when a once-secretive world would be illuminated, our wonder at the world was multiplied many times over.