‘Tis the season to be jolly – except, sometimes, the holidays aren’t so jolly. How do we deal with holiday grief without being a Scrooge? Creating new traditions to help holiday grief can provide moments of healing and joy during the holidays.
A tradition, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior.” Anything can be a tradition if it is passed on to others. You have the freedom to create traditions that work with your grief and healing rather than looking a specific way.
Traditions provide us with a sense of security and stability. Studies show doing the same activities year after year with friends or family can be beneficial to our emotional and mental health. However, it can be hard to carry on with traditions after the death of a loved one. In these moments, we have three options.
1. We can choose to cancel the holidays and let the season carry a cloud of heavy darkness around. While it may come easiest to us, we can all agree it is likely not the best for our emotional and mental health. There are times to be gentle with your time and space to manage grief during the holidays. Taking a sabbatical from much of the holiday hubbub might make sense, but we should be cautious not to avoid things we loved because the emotions are overwhelming.
2. We can continue with the same traditions as in previous years not wanting anything to change, even though their absence is fiercely palpable. We refuse new decorations and insist that the Christmas meal has the same casseroles and side dishes as Mom always had. We may feel like changing the tradition erases some, or all, of their memory during the holidays. Continuing some of the traditions is excellent! However, refusing to change at all may be us denying the reality of the grief.
3. We can create new traditions that honor the memory of the loved one who has died. This option is what I’ve found is best for me; perhaps it is for you as well. This option allows room for healing and new things while still incorporating the memory of our loved ones in a way that reflects and includes their legacy.
Below are eight suggestions for new traditions that may help you honor your loved one this holiday season.
8 New Traditions to Help Holiday Grief
1. Use their recipe
Every year I make my grandmother’s corn casserole. My Mimsey wasn’t the best cook. There were only three things I remember her making that consistently turned out edible. Her strawberry-rhubarb pie was a hot item at the church bake sale as was her peanut brittle. Corn casserole was her third dish that turned out yummy each time. Now, to incorporate her legacy, I make it every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
2. Set the table with their dishes
We are fortunate to have my husband’s great-grandmother’s fine china. Every major holiday we use her china, combining it with my dishes, to remember her and the way she loved well.
3. Visit a place they loved
Perhaps your loved one loved going to a cabin in the woods or to the beach. Maybe they served in a soup kitchen. Or perhaps, even more simply, they loved looking at neighborhood Christmas lights every year. Whether it was a vacation spot or a place they enjoyed during the holidays, maybe going to that place would be a good way to honor them and start a new tradition for yourself.
4. Decorate with their ornaments
My friend’s grandmother had gorgeous vintage glass-blown ornaments. When she passed, her mom got them and began decorating a tree with them. The tree became a sort of “remembrance tree” so that she still has a place during the holidays.
5. Create a playlist
Playing music can invoke memories. Create a playlist with your loved one’s favorite holiday songs or artists. Give yourself the space to listen to the songs and remember your friend or family member.
6. Share stories
Simply doing a tradition without talking about the “why” of the tradition defeats the purpose. We have to talk about and share stories of those we grieve over. Talk to your kids about your favorite memories and ask for theirs. Talk together to come up with the new traditions. Allow yourself to laugh and cry with your other family members.
7. Create a gratitude/memory box
Ask family members to write down a favorite memory from years past. If it’s an especially challenging year of grief, also write down something you’re grateful for this past year. After the meal, read them out loud.
8. Give to charity.
My brother was a combat medic who died in Afghanistan. I try to give to charities that support Gold Star Families or veterans each year to honor the sacrifice he made. Similarly, there may be a way you can honor your loved one through giving to others.
No tradition, established or brand-new, will bring back your loved one. The holidays will be tricky and grief-laced for a long while, if not forever. The good news is that new traditions during the holidays might help you find some of the “jolly” that’s been lost.
Rachel Schelb is a writer, speaker and podcaster of the Loving Well on Purpose podcast. She lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, and two children. Having experienced many “beauty from ashes” moments, she’s passionate about helping people love well on purpose, being intentional and offering hope and encouragement to those around them. rachelschelb.com IG @rachelschelb