Health & wellbeing

“Bah, humbug”: Handling the festivities when you’re not in the Christmas spirit

13 Dec 2023 | Written by Sandra Falconer

The Joy Club member Sandra Falconer shares her tips on how you can get through the festive period when you’re not feeling so jolly…

If you have read any of my Christmas articles, you could be excused for wondering why The Joy Club agreed to my writing a ‘Humbug’ piece. I love Christmas – gaudy decorations, silly hats, too many chocolates – the lot.

Yet, for many people, it is one of the saddest of times and there are years when even a Christmas junkie like me dreads the onset of the festive season. All that sparkle seems tawdry if we are lonely, bereaved or simply out of money. Our misery stands in stark relief to the jollity surrounding us. Behind those painted smiles, there are tears.

How can we get through Christmas feeling like that? Just as the reasons are diverse, so are the solutions when they exist at all.

One size does not fit all.


Age UK identifies loneliness as a major problem for many senior citizens. Living alone, retirement, reduced mobility all contribute. Christmas merely highlights the issue but there are some strategies which may help.
Help out at a Christmas meal
Every town has at least one organisation which provides a Christmas day meal for those who otherwise would not have one. Could you help out? You will be making someone else’s Christmas special and spending time with kind people who choose to gift their own Christmas to others.

Take a holiday

Another option is to remove yourself from the situation. If you’re going to be miserable anyway you might as well be on a sunny foreign beach or chasing the Northern Lights on a Scandinavian cruise. Why compound the issue by trying to deal with it alone in a cold damp British December? You will be with others who couldn’t face a traditional Christmas either, so you can have at least one thing in common.

Have a pamper day

This is the one day you are unlikely to be disturbed so embrace your aloneness and pamper yourself. You don’t even have to get dressed – have a pyjama day. Eat what you like, read a book, watch a film, or give yourself a makeover. You have full control of the TV remote. You can sit back and feel smug that you have avoided the stress of having to provide the perfect day.

Get together with a friend in similar circumstances

Reach out. Maybe someone else is feeling the same way. Alternatively, there may be a family who would like to adopt a granny.

You hate what Christmas has become

Perhaps you are appalled by the commercialisation and over-indulgence of the season. Many people would agree. Christmas doesn’t have to cost a fortune (see my article, ‘Christmas on a shoestring‘). Be brave and step outside the conspicuous consumption box. I raised seven children with very little money. We made our own traditions – we stretched what we had. My eldest daughter was genuinely sorry for people who didn’t spend Christmas in our house.

I learned this lesson early. It was Christmas Eve. I had two small children, a failing marriage and no money. My mother had sent over vegetables, a tinned chicken and toys for the children. I had forgotten to buy gravy browning and so I pushed the pram around to the village shop. It was the front room of a small, terraced house, run by an elderly couple. It took ages to get served. As we trudged home, in the foggy early evening chill, I couldn’t have been more miserable.

I don’t know why I looked up, but I did. The fog had cleared enough to see a few twinkling stars. In that moment, the Spirit of Christmas fell upon me. 57 years on, I can still feel the elation. It was the day I realised that happiness does not depend on a perfect life. I didn’t need money to be content at Christmas (though it would have been the icing on the cake).


Bereavement and loss

This is the time of year when the loss of those close to us, through bereavement or the end of a relationship, is especially poignant. Different people cope in different ways. However you decide to manage the season is okay. Some people will benefit from a quieter, more reflective Christmas, whilst others will find solace in the company of trusted friends and relatives.

If the loss is recent, Christmas will be especially difficult. Accept your grief but remind yourself that as each year passes, the pain will be less raw. You will have learned to live without that special person. Gradually, Christmas will become a time for fond remembrance.

Often these situations are accompanied by little drops of hope.

Again, I speak from a place of experience. On 7th November 2010, my beautiful daughter, Heather, died suddenly. The following weeks went by in a blur but, for the sake of my 3-year-old granddaughter, we were determined to celebrate Christmas. We went through the motions; presents were opened, crackers were pulled, and we feigned a joyfulness we did not feel.

Then the phone rang. My daughter-in-law had given birth to a bouncing baby boy. Suddenly the day lost its bleakness as we welcomed this extra special gift.

Sometimes we can do something to mitigate seasonal gloom, sometimes we can’t and sometimes there are small blessings which point to the light at the end of the tunnel.

A strategy I have found helpful is to list ten things in my life for which I am grateful. Even on the darkest days, it’s easier than it seems. I have begun my list below:

  • Food on the table, a warm bed.
  • The purring of my cat.
  • By Christmas Day, daylight is already increasing by a few minutes each day.
  • The Joy Club – friends and activities even when I can’t go out.

I am sending greetings to all members and staff of The Joy Club. May you each find something that makes you smile during the Christmas season and encounter blessings on your path in 2024.

If you have any tips for those who may be struggling through the festive period – as opposed to enjoying it – please do share them in the comments section below…

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