Christmas, they tell us, is “the most wonderful time of the year.” What they don’t tell us is what we’re supposed to do when it isn’t.

As the cards and carols like to remind us, Christmas is a time for families and togetherness, peace and well being for all. If only our problems in life paid more attention to the songs on the radio.

If you find yourself facing Christmas alone, December can be the longest month of all. If someone is missing from the celebrations this year, if a family member has been sick, or money worries are keeping you up at night, it’s easy to want to echo the Grinch’s sentiment — “I must find a way to keep Christmas from coming!” There are some years when Christmas is more than we can handle. But usually, going into hibernation for a month isn’t a realistic plan. Christmas is coming, with or without our permission. So how do we face the season when it doesn’t look the way it used to?

If your circumstances have changed, remember that your plans, and even your traditions, can change too. This can be hard to explain to other family members, but stick to your guns. If there is an event, even a family dinner that you’re already dreading, politely decline. The best part of being an adult is being self-determinant. There are some things that are mandatory — like paying taxes and making sure your kids eat — but there are fewer than you might think. This is supposed to be your season, too. Take back some control if you need to.

Rearranging Christmas can take many forms. Find the one that’s right for you. It could mean having a quiet Christmas at your house this year. It might mean buying a new set of ornaments for the tree if you’re not up to opening up the memory-packed boxes from last year. It could mean going to a restaurant for Christmas dinner, skipping the whole thing and heading somewhere warm. It really is up to you.

If Christmas is looking unfamiliar this year, if the house is unnaturally quiet, there are things you can do to enjoy the season, even if you find yourself alone.

Try one of these four ideas:

Decorate the house

Even if you’re the only one who’s going to see it, take the time to decorate your home. You don’t have to put everything up, or drag all the boxes out of the basement. It doesn’t have to look just last like year. Put up a Christmas tree or hang some lights. Bring some Christmas into your line of sight, even if it’s just something small. One of the hardest things about spending Christmas alone is the feeling that everyone else is having a great time and you’ve been excluded. Make sure you’re not excluding yourself.

Plan something special

There’s nothing worse than hearing everyone else’s excitement over the upcoming holidays and having nothing to look forward to yourself. Plan a treat for yourself, something really special. It doesn’t have to be Christmas-y at all, just make sure you’ve got something to look forward to. Not only will it add to your holiday, but it’ll give you a great answer to that dreaded question: “So what are you doing for Christmas?”

Be around other people

Sitting around the house by yourself on Christmas Day is incredibly hard. Find people to be with. If you have friends that are alone this Christmas, host a dinner at your house. If you’d like to help out somewhere there are always soup kitchens and charities that need people on Christmas Day. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you have someone to say “Merry Christmas” to.

Give yourself some quiet time

Sometimes the reason we’re alone at Christmas is a sad one. If this is you this season, give yourself the time and the permission to feel sad. Scale back on your activities. If there are some traditions you cannot face this year, remember that you can politely excuse yourself. Christmas has a way of turning the world into fantasy where everyone is supposed to be happy and everything is wonderful. Resist the urge to fake a smile all through the month of December.

It can be tempting to skip the season altogether, to say “There will be no Christmas in this house this year.” I urge you not to do that. Christmas gets all glammed up, but at the heart of it all, it celebrates a very quiet moment. You can pass up on the extras of Christmas, but don’t miss the promise of the season.

Christmas began with a little baby in a stable. It started with two parents who were tired from a long journey and caught off guard that the baby would choose this particular moment to be born. It wasn’t glamorous, and it wasn’t shiny, but it did mark the moment that hope came to the world. (If you’re rusty on the details, you can read the Christmas story from the book of Luke.

Whatever your circumstances this December, remember that what we’re celebrating here is hope. If you’re not able to wrap your arms around the noise of the season, then just wrap your fingers around that simple truth.

You don’t have to face Christmas alone. We’re here for you. Consider connecting with a mentor today. It’s a free and confidential service.

This article was written by: Claire Colvin

Photo Credit: Paola Chaaya