We think of the festive season as a time to spend with those that we love, having fun, relaxing, sharing gifts and catching up with people we may not have seen for a while.
The build up to Christmas can seem to get longer each year and for many, the anticipation and preparation is an integral part of Christmas itself.
There may be pressure and expectation to make sure everything is perfect. Or perhaps there is excitement building.
Thoughts of the gifts you’ll share, meals you’ll eat and parties you’ll attend can carry you through the dark and cold winter evenings.
A central anchor of the festive frenzy tends to be the Christmas traditions and they can create a sense of knowing, security and holding. It’s as if no matter what comings and goings and busyness is taking place, some things will stay the same, no matter what.
The joy of seeing your kids excitedly open their stockings from Santa on Christmas day morning.
You and your partner playing hop scotch between families, trying to be fair and share out your time with both sets of parents.
Squelching through the mud on a family walk, and amping up the gratitude and excitement upon opening the obligatory pairs of socks, candles or chocolates from one who is loving but clueless.
No matter what? That’s what you’d always thought, right?
That no matter what that person, event or special tradition would always be a part and parcel of the Christmas that you hold dear.
We all have our own unique ways of carrying out those special Christmas traditions and they are an integral and cherished part of the festivities.
But what happens to those Christmas traditions after loss?
Death of a loved one, a relationship break-up, betrayal that may be pulling your family apart or even loss of your health or that of someone close can leave you feeling lost and resentful that Christmas will never be the same.
Bereavement can leave you feeling like cancelling Christmas all together. It may feel wrong or inappropriate to be celebrating because actually, all you want to do is shut out the world and its festivities and be alone in your grief.
Divorce or the ending of a relationship can leave you missing them (or not!) and their family (or again, maybe not). You may feel like the odd one out, as if everyone around you is in a couple, sharing sweet Christmas moments.
Perhaps you and your ex are awkwardly trying to share time with your kids leaving you feeling sad, resentful and angry.
Everyone else seems to be enjoying the perfect Christmas except for you, intensifying your feelings of loneliness and isolation.
And how about those mud squelching Christmas time walks with family and friends? Loss of your health, or that of a loved one can mean that those the activities and outings that you’d shared may no longer possible. You may feel envious, excluded and isolated.
Those festive traditions carried out each year, have created many wonderful memories for you and the thought of them no longer continuing can be deeply painful and upsetting.
Seeing other families, couples and groups and the representation of perfection in the media can really amplify your feelings of loneliness, sadness, frustration, bitterness and resentment.
Bridging the Old with the New
You may feel stuck, and wondering how can Christmas ever be the same again. And the truth is it won’t. It won’t ever be the same again. And that can be a painful and upsetting thing to acknowledge.
So what do you do?
Avoid Christmas altogether, waiting for it all to be over so you can get on with your life. This can leave you feeling lonely, isolated and in the pain of your grief.
Or do you try and do all the normal things you would have done even though they just don’t feel right and are a difficult reminder of your loss.
Or what about an alternative?
This is where the hope lies.
What new traditions can you create? Could new be combined with old to create the perfect hybrid, acknowledging the past while enabling you to move forward?
Why not try and incorporate a few of the following Christmas traditions:
Make a Christmas playlist. Get everyone involved and create the soundtrack to Christmas 2019 that you can carry into future years.
Ditch the presents and hand out homemade favour tokens. For example, giving your sister or friend a token for an afternoon with you going to your favourite café. This will help you both find connection as you continue to move through your grief in the new year.
Secret Santa! This is a really fun one and great for big groups.
Decorate a ginger bread house. This is a wonderfully creative process and brilliant for children and for the child within you!
Create a Christmas bucket list. What are the top things you and your loved ones would like to do? Ice-skating, baking, driving round town to view the Christmas lights?
An evening out. How about a bit of culture? A trip to the cinema or theatre to see a play or the panto or perhaps comedy is more your scene? Bring some light-hearted fun and brightness into your Christmas with this new tradition.
Have a Christmas film night. Choosing the film could be tricky but feeling cosy with a glass of mulled wine (or hot chocolate for a warming but non-alcoholic tipple) while watching a Christmas classic will be a relaxing activity that’ll bring you closer together. And if you’re after a few laughs, try Elf (my personal favourite!)
Organise a game night. The world is your oyster with this one! Everyone can bring their favourite game whether it be a board game, team games or a good old paper and pen game like consequences.
Write your own cracker jokes and get ready for the fake laughs (or not if they’re good’ns) and groans that’ll probably end up with people having a bit of a laugh at you. It’s all in good jest!
Midnight Mass. Loss can leave you seeking solace in religion. Whether you’re religious or secular, a church service can create some time for reflection and peace and bring the warmth of community to you at this difficult time.
Creating new Christmas traditions or updating old ones can be challenging but it can also bring you closer to your loved ones and help you find some lightness, joy and festive cheer.
It can be a step toward feeling better able to cope with your loss and moving toward your future, whatever that may look like.
So this festive season, go easy on yourself. Give yourself kindness and compassion and have a go at creating some new festive traditions as a way of bridging the old with the new, the past with the future.
If you’ve been reading this blog and thinking that as wonderful as these ideas sound, it feels impossible and overwhelming trying to make these changes, then perhaps it’s time to reach out for the help and support that I can offer you through counselling.
Through warmth and acceptance, you too can feel brighter, better able to cope with your loss, have more harmonious relationships and feel able to look ahead to your future.
Nervous? Not sure what to expect? Call me now for your free 15-minute phone consultation and found out how I can help you.