Cranberries and lemons: prayers in the bittersweet flavors of Christmas

Red berries in a silver sieve Sprinkle raw cranberries on your oatmeal and hold in prayer those who face the bitter reality of war. — Anna Lisa Gross

Hear it in Andy Williams’ croon or Garth Brooks’ drawl: It’s the most wonderful time of the year! 

And I pray that it will  be, for you and your loved ones. Yet the pressure to treasure the holiday season means it can be the loneliest, bleakest time of the year.

We’re praying for the joy, peace, love and hope of Advent to be realized in this aching world, and we light candles, wrap gifts, and set fancy tables with favorite dishes. At least, that’s what Christmastime is supposed to look like, right?

  • This is the first Christmas season for people you know, and people I know, whose spouse, sibling, child, parent, or best friend died.
  • This is the first Christmas season for people you know, and people I know, with a new diagnosis.
  • This is the first Christmas season for people you know, and people I know, after a job loss.

Introduce bitter flavors into your menu this holiday season — whether you share them with a large gathering of family and friends, one special person, or settle into a reflective feast for one.


Sprinkle raw cranberries on a salad or your morning oatmeal. (You could also cook or juice them without sweetening them.) With their shockingly bold, bright, tart reality in your mouth, hold those whose holiday season is impacted by a natural disaster, war, or other crisis in your heart. God of waterfalls, thunderclaps and shooting stars, burst into the hearts of those who are suffering today with a rush of peace and calm.

Hot chocolate

Sprinkle cinnamon and chili powder to hot chocolate and consider those who face despair this Christmas season.

Have hot chocolate the original way — plain unsweetened chocolate (or cocoa powder) melted and mixed into hot water. A pinch of cinnamon and chili powder would be at home in your mug. As you sip this subdued treat, consider those whose holiday season is dulled by grief, depression, fatigue, poverty or despair. God of the still small voice and slow rise of bread, kindle a flame of hope for all who feel far from joy today.


The tears you might experience after a bite of lemon are also God’s tears. — Anna Lisa Gross

With a lemon quarter in hand, bring to your heart and mind those who are crying out in pain today. Take a bite — a tear will almost certainly come to your own eye. God who cries for us, and cries out in pain with your creation, dwell among us in spirit and in flesh, in joy and in sorrow, in comfort and in challenge.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, but make room for bitter this Christmas, too. Pull up a chair for your own struggles, rather than tucking them away under the tree.

O come, Immanuel, God with us, in the heartache, heartbreak and heart-swell of this life. Amen.


Anna Lisa Gross

Anna Lisa Gross grew up on a mini-commune of Christian hippies, who prefer to call themselves the Grosses and the Read More

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