Christmas Eve is a big deal in my house. (Not this year, obviously.) But typically, my big family with hundreds of cousins and even more cousins’ cousins crowd into my front hall for a visit from Santa and some hearty caroling.
For years, my aunts - the boisterous sisters on my dad’s side - would get up after a couple glasses of red wine, put their arms around each others’ shoulders and belt out “O, Holy Night” in the lowest key humanly possible with loud abandon, literally falling to their knees for the big finish. Growing up, that was my favorite moment of the whole year.
It was a perfect tradition — the kind that sums up in 60 seconds or less every little thing you love about your family.
Traditions & Grief
The first time we lost one of the aunts, the tradition took on a new weight. When the time came for “O, Holy Night,” the other sisters gathered together and the younger generation started to get up and join in. They held on to us and we sang out with vigor and fell to our knees and squeezed some hands and wiped a couple tears. And now, it is a memorial moment that lives on.
The holidays are an extremely emotional time. Traditions when loaded with grief become potholes for emotional response. There’s so much pressure for the holidays to be everything for everybody, but if you’re trying to figure out how to honor your someone on Christmas, it has to be what feels right for you.
Forget about what you “have” to do. You don’t.
The grief will be there no matter what. What you can control, is how you acknowledge it. Memorial Moments come in all kinds and they can meet you where you are.
If it will be cathartic for you to carry on the traditions and weave your someone’s presence actively into the day, you should go for it with no apologies.
- Sing their favorite holiday tunes. My dad was a big Christmas music guy. From December 1st on, old Christmas albums blasted through the house all day and night. Since he passed, I turn up those same albums on my speakers and sing along for him.
- Watch home videos. Home videos of Christmas mornings when your someone was with you can help you remember the wonderful times you had and keep their memory with you on this important day.
- Wrap up a special heirloom. Passing on keepsakes or important pieces that belonged to your someone can keep them present around the Christmas tree and mean a lot to those who are grieving with you.
- Give a sentimental gift. Framed favorite photos and customized memorial ornaments make wonderful commemorative gifts for your loved ones to cherish.
- Share your words. When you’re all gathered and you’re reckoning with an empty seat at the table, you can honor your someone’s memory with a toast or a prayer. Speaking openly about your someone and inviting others to share their favorite Christmas memories can brighten up the holiday blues.
If you want to do a couple of quiet gestures to acknowledge the loss, there is a way to do that without feeling the spotlight on your grief.
- Hang up their stocking. Just because they’re gone, doesn’t mean you have to throw out those precious Christmas items. You can still hang up the pieces that you love.
- Create a memorial wreath. Pick up a basic wreath and decorate it using old photos and hand-written notes. You can even open it up for different family members to write messages to your someone or add their own photos.
- Donate in their honor. If there is a cause that was important to your someone, make a gift in their name during this giving season.
- Whip up your someone’s favorite holiday treats. In my family, Christmas morning has always been synonymous with my dad’s favorite coffee cake. Fourteen Christmas mornings later, all of my siblings still love to indulge in a slice in honor of Dad.
- Make up a new silly tradition. Remember that you are allowed to laugh! Starting a new holiday tradition that shakes up the sadness is a great way to release the tension of grieving during the holidays. Do a super goofy gift exchange and vote on who brought the most ridiculous gift of the day.
But, if you don’t want to do anything you ever did before because the memories are too tough right now? That’s perfectly okay. Create space for alone time and self-care. Then, say yes to invitations to keep yourself surrounded by people who love you. Or totally switch it up and go do something entirely different for the holiday.
Remember, Christmas gets a lot of hype, but the day will come and go. Make it special in the way that is meaningful to you. I hope you have a peaceful and healthy holiday season.