Even with all its merriment, the holiday season can be an emotional rollercoaster for those of us who have experienced a recent life change. Some of us may face uncertainty about where, how and with whom to celebrate due to divorce, illness or a death in the family.
It’s pretty easy to conjure up a mental vision of the perfect holiday, complete with loving, smiling faces, big family gatherings and joyful hearts. And for many of us, that is just not the way it goes. Often it is the image of what we believe we can’t have that causes us to suffer. We feel deprived, and we get stuck there.
So what to do?
Start by realizing that there is no such thing as a perfect holiday! Drop the “shoulds” in your vocabulary. Abandon the “it should be like this, or like that.” Your holiday will be whatever it is, depending on your circumstances.
Next, try getting really clear about what you are feeling, what you value and what you want from the days you do have.
Here are a few questions to help you focus:
What are you longing for this holiday?
If you are struggling with this question because you can’t get the picture of how it used to be (or how it should be) out of your head, then start looking at it with a magnifying glass. What was so great about the “olden days?” Be specific.
For example, if a loved one has died (or left), there’s no way to replace him or her, but what did that person bring you? Was it laughter, comfort, ease? What is the underlying need that was provided to you in that situation? Appreciate that, mourn it and allow the longing for it to live in your heart.
And then, (perhaps after a good cry) since the lost loved one(s) can’t be there in real time, get creative. How else might you access comfort, laughter and ease for yourself (and maybe others) on this new holiday?
Your day may not look the way it used to, but if you can cook up some things that you feel good about, why does it matter? Avoiding “compare despair “may just let you focus on what you do have, and allow you to access your gratitude.
What do the holidays mean to you?
When your situation changes, figuring out what’s important to you about the holidays can be very instructive. My son and I faced this challenge last year. We spent a sweet Christmas together hiking and cooking.
He admitted being a bit disappointed at first with the prospect of our day. To him, holidays had always seemed to be about large family gatherings. And, since we were far away from our relatives, (and I recently divorced), we weren’t able to replicate the old days, so we had to rethink it.
I shared with him, that to me, the end of year holidays are a time to slow down and appreciate all the love and friendship in my life and to reconnect with friends. It is also an opportunity to take stock of what I have accomplished and what I still long to do. And, while I often enjoyed the large gatherings, that was never the focal point for me. That being said, now knowing his perspective, perhaps we could plan a larger celebration next year.
That’s not to say that what I value in my holiday is what anyone else should value. I just want to point out that if you know what makes your holiday meaningful, you have a better opportunity to take charge and create a holiday that comes closer to what you want it to be.
Here are a few ideas along those lines: If you enjoy giving, I am imagining there a million ways to donate time, energy and kindness to those less fortunate than you. That could make a beautiful holiday. Or, maybe holidays are a great time for you to travel. Since little is happening at work, so why not see the places you keep meaning to visit? Holiday weeks can also be a great time to catch up on all the projects you never seem to have time to complete during the year. Or, maybe it’s simply a great time to rest.
In short, the holidays take on the meaning that you give to them. What ever you choose, my hope is that it will be just right for you.
If you might enjoy some companionship strategizing about your how to improve your holidays, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s chat!