Focus on the Family

Q: We usually do Christmas as "just" our immediate household. A friend suggested we invite some neighbors over. What do you think?

Jim: Christmas is a delightful time of year. The parties, the festive decorations, the music -- everyone seems so cheerful and happy. But not everyone is.

Studies indicate that Christmas is the most likely time of year for people to suffer depression. That's probably because this holiday, more than any other, is a time of joy, celebration and family. Yet, for many, all that positive emotion only highlights the depths of their loss. It could be the passing of a loved one that's left a home empty and cold. Or maybe it's unresolved conflict that's separated a family and kept them distant. Whatever the issue, it's a common time of year for people to struggle against isolation and loneliness.

I understand that feeling all too well. Christmas of my sophomore year of college was a desperate time for me. Having grown up as an orphan, I had no home to go to for the holiday. So while all of my friends were enjoying family dinners, I sat alone in a completely empty dorm with no heat, eating food from the vending machines. During that time, I longed for someone to reach out to me.

This Christmas season there may be hurting people around you. Reach out to them. Let them know you care and help them feel connected. Your simple gesture may be just the ray of hope they need during a lonely and difficult time. And you might well make a new friend or three in the process.

Q: We try to make Christmas a reflective time in our family, emphasizing "the reason for the season." But on Christmas morning, that seems to fly out the window in a flurry of discarded wrapping paper. What can we do to keep things in focus?

Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting and Youth: Christmas is certainly a time of excitement, especially for little ones who've been eagerly anticipating it. But it's also easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm and lose track of why the presents are under the tree and ready to open. Curbing our human impatience takes intentionality.

I would suggest that you slow down as a family, taking frequent breaks while opening presents to savor the moment before moving on. There's no rule saying you have to open all the gifts in one sitting. Many households pause first to read the Christmas story from the Bible. Some will read a classic Christmas poem or tale. Admittedly, it may be a bit challenging with anxious youngsters eyeing the packages under the tree.

Many families take turns opening gifts one by one, then let the kids enjoy one present for a while. Some stop after a round or two and sing Christmas carols before resuming the unwrapping.

It's always a great idea to incorporate gratitude into the process. For example, before each person opens gifts -- or even each present -- ask him or her to pause to express gratitude. It might be appreciation for a particular character quality of the person who gave the gift ("Grandma is always so patient with me"). Or, acknowledging things that person did or said this year for which you're especially grateful ("John, thanks for encouraging me when I was having a hard time in English class"). The point is to connect the gift with the giver, and the love that's expressed through giving.

It may take a Christmas or two to find a good rhythm as a family. But intentionally slowing things down will help everyone remind themselves of the meaning of Christmas -- and enjoy it even more.

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.

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