Changing Holiday Traditions

senior care, Raleigh-Durham, N.C.This time of year we may find ourselves among folks who are experiencing pain or are in transition, perhaps due to the death of a loved one. We know those who are grieving, avoiding grief work, or the grief is finding them (and demanding the floor now). On more than one occasion and within my own family there is talk of longing for the holiday traditions. Those too must be mourned, it seems. I found myself going online to seek solutions, words, resources, anything to be able to help those I love and with whom I work.

I landed on an article from a fitness site having typed “new traditions after death of a loved one” in a search box. While the article certainly hit home I became captivated when my eyes drifted down to read the comments section below.

Here is what I discovered, there and in other readings about tradition, loss, acceptance and hope. Links to the articles will appear at the end of Part Two of this piece (peace). See if you find yourself among these comments and stories:

More and more articles nowadays finally address this time of year as not being “happy sappy” for everyone.” 

“Christmas still brings us emotional baggage and a desire to look for healing in chocolate and sweets.”

“Because holiday celebrations and traditions can be such a sore spot in families…”

Found this in a forum online: “The first year was hard, the second and third years were actually worse. I guess it’s because the shock had worn off and the hard reality of “they are NOT coming back” really set in.”

In his book A Simple Christmas, Mike Huckabee writes:

Why do we do the same things the same way at the same time with the same people? From the food we eat…to the way we exchange gifts…traditions are as much a part of what makes Christmas special as the meaning behind it. Traditions give us comfort, familiarity and a sense of well-being. We keep them because they reassure us that, no matter how crazy our lives become and how many things change, there are some things that anchor us to who we are…We establish traditions to give us connections to our past and a sense of security about the uncertainties of our future.

“The deaths of both my parents and my best friend threw me into a club that I didn’t want to join. I didn’t want to be a griever. I was fortunate, however, because my mother loved Christmas. She did everything possible to make the season special for my sister and me despite the fact her own mother had died on December 22. When I was little, I would see Mom quietly cry in late December and I did not understand the reason why. Now I know.” 

“(The holidays were)…such a difficult subject with us. We used to celebrate large, amazing holiday parties with extended families. I remember as a teen being puzzled when I was yelling HAPPY New Year as Auld Lang Syne would play to see that my cousin’s nana was crying. I asked her why she would cry on such an exciting and happy occasion. She said I would understand one day and my own grandmother would nod knowingly.” 

“When my Dad died my sense of connection and family went with him. He wasn’t the greatest Dad but he witnessed my life. We talked about the mundane things of life on almost a daily basis. His point of view told me where I came from and where I am now.”

And offering perhaps a male perspective: “Men generally struggle more than women with the concept of establishing “new traditions,” probably because the great majority of traditions are all about family gatherings, usually involving large meals with extensive preparation at which women have historically been more skilled in the home. Men become overwhelmed with their inability to solve the problem of preparing an acceptable meal for the family to enjoy; then they become depressed about their inadequacy. This depression is compounded when a soul mate is no longer there to share a cherished tradition and the “special day” often becomes a painful reminder of the loss rather than a time of joy.”

“…we would usually celebrate with a house full of people, way too much food, and lots of laughter. Mom made sure we made everyone’s favorite dishes, had plenty of coffee and pie, and invited anyone who needed a place to call home for the holidays.  She was the glue that held our family together, and we admittedly struggled to keep close after she died in 2007. The first Thanksgiving after she left, we all descended on my father’s house, made lots of food, laughed a little too much and a little too loudly, trying to pretend everything was still going to be the same. It wasn’t, and we all knew it.… we didn’t have the big Thanksgiving feast at my Dad’s house the next year, which left me with yet another feeling of loss. So, that second year without Mom, my husband and I went to a friend’s house to eat with them and their young daughters. It was nice of them to welcome us into their home, but it didn’t feel “right” to me. We were invited to a number of people’s homes the following year, but I just couldn’t get into the idea of having someone else’s holiday again. So, last year, we had Thanksgiving at our house.

We had friends over, and made way too much food, and laughed real laughter and shared a sense of togetherness that can only come when it isn’t being forced. I made the spinach stuffed mushrooms that my mom taught me to make, and wore her teeny little diamond ear rings proudly in my ears. It all felt as good as a Thanksgiving without Mom could feel, and helped me to realize that I am in charge of my own traditions now. I can create new ones while still honoring the memory of my mom. I don’t have to feel obligated to participate in other people’s family traditions, or go to certain gatherings because other people think that I should.  It was a powerful and freeing lesson to learn.” 

And the change continues

A comment on accuracy of memory: “…have never written on a blog but feel so strongly identifying with it, I have to commend you, (article’s writer) Beth for writing so many of my feelings. I dread Christmas so often, for most of the very reasons you gave. I guess because so many of our memories are tied up at holiday times, we mourn those past holidays and as we remember, maybe inaccurately, those good ole’ days.”

Then there are stories like The Christmas Ham that permit us to question and even laugh at our entrenchment with tradition:

John’s wife sent him to the store for a ham. After he bought it, she asked him why he didn’t have the butcher cut off the end of the ham. John asked his wife why she wanted the end cut off. She replied that her mother had always done it that way and that was reason enough for her. Since the wife’s mother was visiting, they asked her why she always cut off the end of the ham. The mother replied that this was the way that her mother did it. John, his wife, and his wife’s mother then decided to call the grandmother and solve this three-generation mystery. The grandmother promptly replied that she cut the end of the ham because her roaster was too small to cook the ham in one large piece.

Kim Kenney writing for in the article shares “If you try to keep your holiday season exactly the way it was before, it probably will intensify your feelings of loss. Try something different to help you and your family move on. “The first Christmas after my dad died we created a new tradition,” says Cheryl Beach, who lost her father in 2003 after a long struggle with emphysema. “We now gather at my brother’s home on Christmas Eve, which we could never do while my dad was alive because he was too ill to leave the house.”

From an online forum- “I have had Christmases where i felt lonely. The first one was when i was l7 and all my friends were dating or married, i felt so left out. Then the first year my husband and I were stationed in Germany and didn’t know anyone there. I learned to found something different to do, the first year in Germany i got my husband to invite someone from his unit who was away from his wife and kids. That was the beginning of not felling sorry for myself and finding something to brighten my Christmas.”

One writer sums it up as I feel terrible this year, and to me that’s OK. I have an entire year to fashion a different holiday season for 2015.”

It was in these frank comments that I found validation, solutions and new ideas, all from complete strangers. I’d found hope.

And so we can be affirmed in our weird feelings, our losses of loved ones and a seeming instability of traditions. In the last two comments we saw a willingness to begin to contemplate change. We now invite you to consider your traditions.

Honor them for then, assign value for now, and maybe even give yourself permission to incorporate the hope and innovation from others on a same path. Part Two of this post will focus on that hope, the combination of old-and-new, and ideas for fashioning new ways to honor and express the love and meaning behind the traditions we (will) hold dear.


Our clients and their families are talking, sharing, planning, and changing right now. NAVIGATE NC is listening and coaching. This post has nothing to do with services or solutions but it has everything to do with caring. Connect With Us or call us at (919) 628-4428 today to talk about how we help Seniors and the people who love them. We care.



The impetus for both Parts One and Two: and the comments section. Associated site . Links to all the articles for this piece (peace) will be provided at the conclusion of Part Two.

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