Over the years, Christmas has taken on different meanings for me. When I was a young child, it meant a special family holiday, the Christmas story at Sunday school, walking home in the snow, a brown paper bag with a big Jaffa orange, whole walnuts to crack, and a new book to read.

After receiving Jesus as my Savior, Christmas took on the meaning of sharing the message of His birth and “good will to men” with others.

Still later, after I got married and had children, it meant making new family traditions, which included decorating, gift buying and giving, and preparing and consuming elaborate Christmas dinners together in a bustling and cozy home atmosphere.

All of these past Christmases evoke warm memories, and as Norman Vincent Peale so aptly said, thinking about them waves a magic wand over my world and makes everything seem softer and more beautiful.

However, when my family dynamic changed with divorce and children leaving home, I came to experience what it means to be an empty nester—and alone at Christmas. It wasn’t an easy adjustment.

That first Christmas morning alone in a small apartment, I woke to a decorated but silent home. I was heading to my son’s in-laws later that day, and got up to prepare a side dish for the dinner they were hosting. The presents under my tree would also be taken to their home for distribution. It was the first time for me to not host an event at Christmas and to not be surrounded by kids and grandkids, and I had to fight against the forlorn and lonely feelings that started to overwhelm me.

The time spent together later that day was lovely, and I enjoyed the time I had with my son, grandson, and his wife’s family very much—until it was time to go back to my empty flat. Driving home alone was miserable, and once back home, I shed some lonely tears.

Sitting in my silent living room, I picked up a Christmas-themed gift book on my coffee table, and leafing through the pages, I reflected on how Jesus left His home in heaven to bring love and hope to the world. I realized that I undoubtedly wasn’t the only lonely person that Christmas, and after drying my tears, I picked up the phone and dialed the number of an elderly woman I had befriended some time ago. Talking with her, I learned that she also had been home alone, and she was so grateful for our chat. I also called my children whom I hadn’t spoken with yet that day, and some relatives abroad, and found that some of them hadn’t had the “perfect” Christmas either. I felt better after reaching out to others, and I determined there and then to remember this for next Christmas, and all the ones after that.

Each of my Christmases since has been different. One Christmas I volunteered and spent time helping a few elderly people decorate their trees or homes, as it can be hard for them to get it done on their own. I’ve also baked cookies with my grandchildren and taken them around to neighbors who don’t get many visitors. And a phone or FaceTime call never failed to make a difference and bring smiles to my face and the faces of those who lived too far away to go see.

Life happens, and you, too, may find yourself alone at Christmas because of children moving out, divorce, or bereavement. It’s not an easy adjustment to make, and lonely tears may flow at times. Still, although circumstances may be different, being alone at Christmas doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Even when we’re alone, we’re never completely alone, because Jesus is always with us, and when we reach out and give of ourselves to others, fulfillment and joy come back to us.