Let’s chat honestly about the holiday season

Is December really the most WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR? Some years most definitely yes, other years maybe not. This year might be an “off-year” for you or someone special on your holiday card and gift list who may be experiencing a challenge in their personal life due to a death, illness, travel constraint, deployment or financial issue.

As a society, we tend to avoid people who are suffering during the perceived “joyful time” of the year. Every December when the Folgers commercial airs showing the joy of the family when their deployed loved one sneaks into the house to surprise the family on Christmas Eve, I cry. Not because I have a sibling or child who is deployed but happy tears for what the commercial represents – hope, love, togetherness and safety for the families that are fortunate enough to be together during the holidays.

This suffering population has a tendency to wake up each morning hoping the season will pass quickly not because they are the Grinch but because the pain outweighs the joy. The feeling is real and we are smart enough to know the sadness will pass soon; however, watching the joy of others who are listening to holiday music, attending parties or family gatherings, purchasing presents and sending cards is physically and emotionally exhausting. Yet for some reason we feel that skipping a year of festivities is frowned upon or a sign of inner weakness rather than just an off year. I am here to say it’s neither – rather, it’s just a bump in the road that will not matter in the scheme of life, friendship and family. We just need to know it in our hearts.

For those who are experiencing a challenge this year, the holidays are what you perceive them to be, not necessarily what society showcases. Embrace the season with strength, understanding and warmth to fulfill your desires by creating a meaningful season for you and your family. Take this year for you and worry about what the future holds next year.

The key to surviving the season is to find the appropriate balance and structure that works for you. Finding the steadiness between the familiarity of family traditions and the introduction of new ideas is overwhelming. The new norm can be exhilarating and scary at the same time; but why not embrace the fears and feel empowered by creating a season that fulfills your personal needs?

Take it slow as you incorporate new ideas, and be sure not to swing the pendulum to the other side too quickly. Make a list of old traditions, chose which ones you will engage in this season, and modify them with new and fresh ideas.

Here are a few ideas to ponder while you create your personal plan for the season:

  • If you have a traditional meal you prepare, shake it up a bit. Create a menu blending old favorites while introducing new items to the spread.
  • If your family cannot travel to be together, reach out to special friends and invite yourself, as they may not know you are alone and would love to have you join them.
  • If you are invited to several holiday gatherings, chose which event is best for you to attend – not because of who invited you but rather which ones you feel most comfortable attending. You can choose whether to gracefully decline with a little “white lie” or just the honest truth. If you chose to be honest, be aware you will receive a bit of pressure from the host, and be prepared to stick with your decision. Smaller gatherings may feel more comfortable for some people as they tend to be quieter; however, for others getting lost in crowds is less stressful.
  • If you are not in the mood to be with others, create a plan for the day to avoid being lonely. Plan to binge watch a TV show, prepare your favorite meal, read a book, create a pile of easy reading magazines, take a bubble bath, connect with others electronically or on the telephone, explore an art project (e.g., painting, knitting, craft) or just spend the season reflecting on what you do have.
  • If your tradition has always been to be home for the season and you feel alone this year, maybe this is the year to travel to visit others or plan an adventure that is exhilarating and provides you with something to be excited about.

As you plan your version of the holiday season, be sure to create your “elevator speech” for those around you that care about your well-being. Maybe they don’t understand that being alone is okay and that it actually feels good. Communicate your plans so you can prevent questions. Purchase gifts because you want to and not because you are expected to. Have dinner with a special friend when you feel lonely and most importantly take time for you. Only then will you actually be well on your way to redefining the holiday season as the most WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR.

Rachel Kodanaz is an author, speaker and consultant who provides encouragement to individuals or workgroups who are suffering a loss or setback. She is the author of Living with Loss, One Day at a Time and Grief in the Workplace: A Comprehensive Guide for Being Prepared and Living with Loss, One Day at a Time. Both are available on www.rachelkodanaz.com or www.amazon.com.

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