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Mourning Holiday Traditions

Many of us may have started thinking about traditions a few weeks ago when being bombarded with Halloween decorations in mid-September. It could be overwhelming to realize that in a matter of weeks (which seemed to be going by more quickly than usual), we would be in the midst of “holiday” season.

But when our holiday traditions change or a loved one is no longer with us, it can be hard to enjoy our celebrations. For many, the holidays are a time when traditions help us connect to ourselves and others and bring us back to the memories that are part of our upbringing. Often these traditions guide us through the end of the calendar year. However, changes in our schedules, families, or lives can make all of this more difficult. 

Traditions are important.

We all know that our traditions are important to us on a personal level, but they really do matter – even the small or silly ones. They are a piece of our culture and are part of the foundation of our families, communities, and broader society. Traditions remind us of our values and provide consistency in our constantly evolving lives. They are things we do repeatedly, but they aren’t routine or automatic – they are deliberate actions that connect us to our loved ones and provide a sense of identity and comfort. In times like these, we need these the most. But the fact of the matter is some of our most consistent and loved traditions may not always be possible.

It’s okay to be sad when traditions change.

Most holiday traditions are things we genuinely enjoy. When holiday events must be adapted, can’t happen, or when a loved one is missing from the group, it’s normal to feel a sense of loss. Change is hard, especially when it’s sentimental. It’s okay to be a little sad. Allow yourself time to grieve the loss of your typical holiday season.

To move forward, try to focus on looking deeper into the meaning behind these traditions and what they represent for you. Holidays don’t need to look a certain way. Beyond the traveling, coordinating schedules, and planning that may have happened in the past, the true meaning centers on the connections and memories that we make during these times of the year. These connections help sustain and ground us.

A meaningful holiday season is still possible.

New things can be uncomfortable, but they aren’t always bad – after all, your longest-lasting and most loved traditions were new at one point. There are ways to get through the holiday season without losing the magic that your traditions typically bring:    

Reinvent the tradition.

People are resilient and good at adapting – what can you keep? Just because the first night of Hanukkah won’t be celebrated at Grandma’s house this year doesn’t mean the holiday is canceled or “off to a bad start.” Get everyone on a Zoom call, light your first candles together, or gather at a different relative's house. It’s not exactly the same, but it will still help you feel connected to your loved ones.

Make new traditions.

There are plenty of opportunities to create new traditions that will bring meaning and joy into the holiday season. Is there anything missing from your existing holiday celebrations? If Thanksgiving is usually spent with the whole family, but everyone just hangs out and talks until dinner is ready, think of something you can all do together – like watching football on TV virtually, or joining a local Turkey Trot with friends to get out of the house for a bit – that you can continue at future Thanksgivings.

Small rituals are just as important as the big traditions.

Maybe you’ve always spent Christmas Eve at your aunt’s house with your whole extended family, but that now feels overwhelming. Think about what else goes into that larger tradition – does your immediate family play a game in the car or listen to music together on the drive there? Find a game that can be played after dinner or turn on that music while cooking. Maybe your cousin always brings the best chocolate chip cookies – get the recipe and have them at home this year.

Use old methods to show your love.

The point of most traditions is to connect us with our loved ones. But don’t discredit ways to connect that aren’t based in tradition. It can be a lot of pressure to feel like you have to do the same thing every year – try to let that go. Consider writing letters, sending cards, or even making gifts by hand for an extra personal touch. 

Losing things we love, even things that don’t feel like a big deal, is difficult. Expect some moments to be tougher than others – they may sneak up on you, so be gentle with yourself. If you find yourself having a lot of those hard moments or are struggling to find joy in the holidays, you may be dealing with a common mental health condition like depression. Take an online screen to determine if what you’re experiencing is more than a holiday funk.