What are the 3 S’s that can trigger unexpected emotions and memories at Christmas?


Sad Xmas with hat


Just thinking about walking into my mom’s kitchen brings back fond memories. The aroma of homemade candies and pies flood my mind. The sight of her Christmas tree with the tiny little red bell that had been in my family since before I was born comes to my mind.  Any time I smell cinnamon, it takes me back to Christmases past of when my children were small. My children and I always drank spiced tea during the holidays.

When my daughter was deployed to Afghanistan over Christmas, guess what I sent in her Christmas package? I sent her a large container of spiced tea which she in turn shared with everyone around her. I’m thinking a lot of military were drawn just a little closer to family back in the states through the smell of our family’s Christmas tradition.

Memories reign during Christmas. But did you know there are 3 S’s of Christmas that can trigger unexpected emotions for kids of divorce?

These 3 S’s are

  • The sights of Christmas
  • The sounds of Christmas
  • The smells of Christmas

While many of us like one or all of the 3 S’s of Christmas, many children of divorce struggle with the sights, sounds and smells of the holiday season. For me the 3 S’s of Christmas help me reflect on happier times in my life when days were spent with family and loved ones, but this is not so for newly divorced families.


Children of divorce may miss the sights of Christmas they were used to before the separation of their parents. They may miss

Christmas lights displayed outside their home

Christmas lights strung throughout the inside of the home

Nativity scenes set up around the home

A Christmas tree lit up and decorated with tinsel and special ornaments


They miss the aromas and smells of past Christmas celebrations. They may really want to experience the smells at Grandma’s house but this year there will not be any trip to Grandma’s house because mom will not allow the child to go to “that” house.

Even if the parents and grandparents are on friendly terms, it is different when the child goes to grandmas with dad and mom stays home alone.

They may miss the smell of fresh baked goodies at their own home because their parent may still be processing the divorce or too stressed to attempt any baking or cooking.


The happy sounds of jingle bells at the mall and Christmas music being played everywhere only serves to make some children lonely and sad.

These children miss the past. The memories they have worked hard to push to the back of their minds, shine through the divorced-imposed fog. These kids don’t know what to expect this year. Many secretly hope the parents will reconcile over the holidays.

How you can encourage the single parents in your church this Christmas

  • Allow the children to decorate a small tree for their bedroom.
  • Let the children put nativity scenes in their room and add items like tinsel or decorations around it.
  • Have a family meeting and ask the children where they want to hang the lights this year. Or decide if they even want to hang the lights this year.
  • Play Christmas carols and sing along.
  • Try a new candy or cookie recipe. Use a simple recipe that won’t overwhelm you.
  • Share some fresh out of the oven treats with neighbors.
  • Read the Christmas story out of the Bible and do it every night for several nights before Christmas.

What you can do at church

At church when telling the story of Jesus in a manager, talk about the sights, sounds and smells that were around the baby.

  • The different animals that were in the stalls.
  • The smells of all those animals.
  • The feel of the straw/hay in the manger where Jesus lay.
  • The different sounds the animals made.
  • The bright star the shepherds followed to find the Christ child.
  • The color on the shepherd’s clothes.
  • The gifts that were brought to honor the birth of Christ.

During discussion allow the children to talk about the smells, sounds and sights they have during Christmas.

Help children to see and know that Christmas is about the birth of Christ. Instead of allowing the 3 S’s to trigger unwanted emotions and memories, help the children create new memories this year at church. Allow this Christmas to be a blessed time in the house of the Lord for children of divorce.

What will you do to help the child of divorce enjoy the 3 S’s of Christmas?


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on December 12, 2013.

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3 thoughts on “What are the 3 S’s that can trigger unexpected emotions and memories at Christmas?

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