Latter-day Saint Life

You can let go of a ‘perfect’ Christmas: The reminder from a psychologist we all need this season


One of my favorite characters from Christmas lore is Ebeneezer Scrooge. Prior to his transformation, he has no love for Christmas. Perhaps some of us can relate to his grumpy demeanor when we feel overwhelmed by Christmas celebrations. And, like Scrooge we are likely surrounded by people who are enthralled with Christmas traditions. Each year, Scrooge’s mirthful nephew Fred makes a futile but persistent attempt to encourage Uncle Scrooge to join them for a Christmas celebration.

In the Charles Dickens classic, we read how Scrooge rebuffs Fred’s annual invitation: “‘If I could work my will,’ said Scrooge indignantly, ‘every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding. … ‘Keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.’”

While Scrooge didn’t have intentions of “keeping Christmas” at all, his reaction to being invited to join in all the fun and celebrations may be somewhat relatable.

At a time when billions worldwide decorate trees, give gifts, and engage in deeply rooted traditions, some struggle to live up to what we might call “Christmas expectations.” Some feel the burden of having to create the “perfect” Christmas, keeping up with friends and family. Others feel stressed at having to buy gifts, either due to limited resources or hoping to get the “right” one. Even others just don’t like Christmas at all, perhaps due to traumatic events or otherwise negative experiences.

This results in a subset of people who don’t seem to have the “Christmas spirit,” leading to innocent but ill-conceived inquiries from others such as “Are you feeling okay? Don’t you like Christmas? How come you don’t get with the spirit of the season?” Such experiences can exacerbate an already difficult experience.

What if you are similar to those described above? What if, like Scrooge, you just wish that people would let you “keep Christmas” in your own way? If this explains your Christmas experience, please know two things. First, you’re not alone. Second, you’re not strange.

As a licensed psychologist, I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to help people learn about themselves and achieve greater peace and happiness. I believe there are some principles that, if correctly understood and applied, can yield comfort during an otherwise miserable time. My intent is not to get to the heart of your Christmas funk or tell you you’re doing Christmas wrong. My intent is to share some insight that might help.

Keeping Christmas in Your Own Way

In large measure, it doesn’t matter why you feel down at the holidays. What matters is how you feel, whether you like the way you feel, and what you can do to improve your circumstances. Understanding the true purpose of Christmas, along with permission to celebrate (or not) in your own way, can bring relief.

Let’s look at one more iconic Christmas curmudgeon: the Grinch. Many are familiar with his quest to cancel Christmas for the Whos down in Whoville. As he made off with all their tinsel, gifts, and feasts, he expected to hear a Christmas morning lamentation like never before. But the opposite happened. The Whos gathered in song, grateful for the day.

A repentant and reflective Grinch surmised, “Maybe Christmas … doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.” We learn that even though Christmas has taken on many meanings, some more commercial than others, there is an essence that transcends traditions. And what Latter-day Saints and other Christians understand better than most is that, at its heart, Christmas is simply a time to remember and cherish our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Just because you “keep Christmas” differently than others doesn’t mean you are wrong. Christmas can be a wonderful time to engage in deep reflection regarding the Savior. Just because your home isn’t lighted and festooned doesn’t mean you aren’t deepening your connection with Jesus. I think it’s lovely that we devote almost an entire month to celebrate the Lord’s birth.


At the same time, we are encouraged to have Him ever present in our thoughts. The weekly sacrament prayers invite to “always remember Him” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:77). We are commanded to “look unto [Him] in every thought” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:36).

And Helaman taught his children that inasmuch as they would build their lives upon the foundational rock of Jesus Christ, they would be able to withstand challenges and temptations of all kinds (see Helaman 5:12).

While the Christmas season may be a natural time to reflect more deeply on the Lord, the invitation is that we consider His life, teachings, and perfect example on an ongoing basis.

If for whatever reason your Christmas doesn’t look like everyone else’s, don’t worry. Quit stressing about it. Own it. You are unique, which means you can “keep Christmas” in your own way. Perhaps it can be a time of spiritual renewal where you improve your relationship with the Savior. Or maybe it will be a season that you just need to endure. It’s okay.

I’m not going to provide a list of prescriptions or other ideas to help you; you can chart your own way forward. Providing additional expectations, even from a psychologist, would not be helpful in this case. Letting go of societal expectations can be freeing. Giving yourself permission to do things differently is a blessing.

If you find yourself distressed at Christmastime, my one generic recommendation is to not lose sight of the true purpose of Christmas. Strive to remember Jesus Christ and better follow His example. Whatever way you choose to do that is up to you.

There is tremendous peace and happiness for those who follow Jesus Christ and keep His commandments, even and especially at Christmas. May God bless you to do the things to have such an experience.

▶ You may also like: 12 days of Christ: A Christmas advent to help you connect with the Savior

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