Most of us look forward to the upcoming holidays – some with glee, but some with trepidation. There’s such opportunity for both joy and frustration in the return of well-known traditions and people. Christmas might bring up happy memories, sad memories, or bitter-sweet feelings, depending on your past experiences.
Engaging in rituals, whether you’re religious or not, is a way to mark the passing of time, and to keep a sense of continuity, belonging and culture in your life.
If you’re not able to celebrate the way you normally would, it can be hard to get into the festive spirit. If you’re without access to the people or rituals which normally mark this season for you, there might be a sense of loss or loneliness to the holidays. Try to take the pressure off yourself to have a great time, and see if any of the following strategies might be helpful.
If your kids are all grown up and prioritising Christmas with their own newly set-up families instead of returning to you like they used to, try to see the achievement in it. You raised them in a way that they have been able to create lasting connections with others, and begin rituals of their own. Well done!
See if you can spend time with them on a different day, or in a different way than usual. Maybe they’d like to drop your grandchildren off to you for a few hours of games and treats while they have some alone-time as a couple? Or maybe you can meet and exchange presents on an alternative day instead of the 25th?
If you have lost someone close to you and the void they’ve left behind is palpable in every routine, allow yourself to grieve for what’s not there. Set aside time to share memories and the things you miss about the person who passed away with others who share your loss – whether as part of a religious ritual or not. And respect whether you yourself or others may need space to themselves to process this loss, or if they’re less enthusiastic than usual about the festivities.
While accepting that this year may not be similar to previous ones or be what you had hoped for, try not to over-generalise by assuming that every year from now on will be the same. You might even think about how you could make it different next year, perhaps by setting up a new way of celebrating Christmas.
Test out different ways if you feel up to it:
If you’re missing Christmas dinner with your family, what about arranging Christmas brunch or afternoon cake with your friends or colleagues?
If you’re worried your home might feel empty, consider celebrating elsewhere – book a short holiday somewhere sunny, go to a hotel in another part of the country, or visit relatives further afield.
Try to experiment and find something that works for you – or take part in the traditions of others around you and learn from their way of doing things.
Managing expectations is an important part of being able to enjoy yourself. Knowing that there will be frustrating, as well as enjoyable, aspects of spending time with your family, will help you navigate the sometimes tricky relationships with the people close to you.
If you know you’ll be around challenging individuals, go in with a plan and a potential exit strategy. You don’t have to like everyone and not everyone has to like you, but it’s helpful to try to accept your differences.
Try to let go of past offenses to give both the other person and you a chance for a fresh start. You don’t have to allow anyone to violate your boundaries, but starting from a defensive or suspicious position is rarely helpful. Try to remind yourself that while family members might get on your nerves, it’s mostly with the best of intentions. Finding the funny side of awkward situations can help lighten the mood.
And planning time to yourself to recover after intense events, whether through a gym session, a solo trip to the cinema or a walk in the hills, is essential.