Mental Aspect of Holidays Sometimes Harder Than the Physical

Photo from Mother Earth News


Every holiday at Our Little House since 2007 has been about trying to establish new holiday traditions.

Some years have been easier than others, for some reason.

Thursday, I would say, was one of the hardest Thanksgivings since we’ve been here. During past years, we have either been to my aunt’s house to celebrate or gone down to our neighbors, but this year, they both left town.

As I wrote several months ago, we just haven’t made many friends in our new small town and the ones we have made have never mentioned getting together on a holiday. (Several did ask me what we were doing, but we didn’t receive an invite!)

Dale and I did plan a special dinner for Thursday. Neither one of us has ever cared for the traditional turkey and both of us have family stuffing recipes that we can’t seem to duplicate, so we planned on grilling a prime rib I bought Dale for Father’s Day (he takes a while studying the grilling methods and working his way up to the actual cook).

However, when we got up on Thursday morning, something – I don’t even remember what now – reminded me so vividly of my mother – that grief and sadness set in.

I told Dale I just didn’t feel like celebrating. “Isn’t it a celebration with just me?” he asked.

“Well, yes,” I said. “It’s just different.”

He shook his head, I’m sure recalling, as I was, the hectic holidays of our past, going to two, sometimes three dinners in one day to make his grandmother and both sets of parents happy, while also spending some time with my family.

“It’s different alright.”

I did my best of following my own blog post advice from Thursday.  I wrote out my gratitude list in my vision journal, I listened to music; we took a couple of naps.

By dinner, we still weren’t feeling it, so I instead prepared a taco pizza, a dinner we traditionally have on the Saturday following Thanksgiving while watching our favorite holiday movie, “Christmas Vacation.”

It wasn’t as though we were still used to those huge holidays by the time we moved here. His grandmother was long gone, his father had retired out of town and his sisters were grown with families of their own, as are my nephews. The last two holidays my mother was still with us was spent with just the three of us, something I was by then, grateful for.

But I think losing that one last person who tied our memories together into that neat little package somehow has a long-term effect that is hard to overcome.

A friend recently posted on Facebook that the “magic” had returned to her holidays this year. “Afterall, she wrote, I guess it’s about time, my mother has only been gone for 9 years now.”

I posted that I was still going through the motions, but that spark had yet to return. I found hope in her post though, and reminded myself the first rule of grief – that there is no set time limit, that all of us mark the milestones at different times.

By Friday, my attitude of gratitude had returned, allowing me to live more in the present than mourn for the past. After shaking up our own taco pizza tradition, we strung the outdoor lights and grilled the prime rib. I made my mother’s whipped sweet potatoes and we watched “Christmas Vacation” on a different night with our Thanksgiving meal.

I was able to be thankful without being sad. It just took me a day or so. Maybe next year that full on magic will return again. .

Have you established new holiday traditions? If you spend the holidays now alone or just with your spouse or S.O., how did you establish new traditions?  

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30 Responses

  1. Jane Boursaw says:

    Oh I’m sorry you’ve had the blues… I so understand, and yet when it hits me, it’s always like it’s brand new grief. Thinking of you…

  2. Steph Auteri says:

    My grandfather died the other year and, when Christmas came around, my mother was so shaken by the thought of celebrating Christmas without him that she didn’t even put up a tree. It made me worry, seeing her let go of the traditions that she’d kept going for so many years.

    The five varieties Christmas cookies we always made together… I made them on my own. My husband and I hosted a small Christmas dinner in our one-bedroom condo. Everything felt muted.

    The small holiday traditions we create within our families — the cookies, decorating the tree as a family, watching A Muppet Family Christmas, using the same wrapping paper on gifts from Santa (despite the fact that my brother and I are now 28 and 31) — they mean a lot to me, especially now. Though my last name is different, these traditions keep me close to the family I grew up with.

    Someday, we’ll create traditions of our own but, for now, it’s so important to my husband and I to continue following the traditions our parents raised us with. It just feels right. And it keeps those who are gone close.

    • Kerri says:

      The year my father died was like that for our family, Steph. Thanksgiving was just, well, very strange. I think even after 4 months, we were still just in a state of shock. My mother did put up a Christmas tree, but the holidays, of course, were really just never the same, even with the continuing of the traditions.

  3. I think it is very healthy to give yourself permission to switch your holidays to the time that right for you (or never). I’m still the one who insists on tradition, and rather than miss family that is no longer with us, I feel like I’m celebrating their memories by keeping the linen-napkin, favorite dishes routine going.
    But that’s me–and nobody should feel required to be somebody else’s idea of perfect!

    • Kerri says:

      I think you’ve hit the nail square on the head, Vera, that we should all do our own things in our own time. If we had children here to share in the celebrations, I would be more about keeping tradition alive, I think.

  4. The holidays can be so hard. I’m sorry about your mother and I can understand how the holidays would just bring up feelings of missing her.

  5. Merr says:

    I wonder if the malls and stores are crowded because they are kind of an escape hatch for many who feel ill equipped to deal with certain people in their lives, especially around the holidays.

  6. Frugal Kiwi says:

    I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving now that I live in NZ. Some expats do, but I see no need to go to all the fuss.

    • Kerri says:

      As for the thankful part, Frugal, we try to practice that everyday. For the food part, we do it up pretty big for Sunday dinners around here. I think it is more of a nostalgic thing. It may be easier to be in a country where everyone else isn’t celebrating on the same day.

  7. kurlrykue says:

    My neighbors that border our property out there near you have no family and they all get together for Thanksgiving. Next year I am sure they would invite you guys. They are the nicest people you would want to know. Needless to say because of the economy we have not sold here & moved there. Things have changed here in East TN. Lots of outsiders have moved in and everyone is so distant.

    We just spent the past 2 thanksgiving with our kids they have announced they are moving back to California in March. I am okay with it. Will miss my grandsons alot. We will see them for christmas then in March on their way. We did the same when we were younger. they want us to move back.

    I can’t do it unless it is deep in the woods. Taxes would eat my lunch too probably.

    • Kerri says:

      Sorry you have not been able to move where you would like. It is expensive to live here, but much more so in California! Have your neighbors get in touch, we’re always open to new friends! 🙂

  8. Linda says:

    Since losing my mom, holiday traditions have changed a lot. It was if she was the glue that brought us all together. I am now fighting an illness that takes a lot away from me physically and emotionally. But I truly am thankful for the blessings I do have in my life and I am trying to make my own holiday memories…

  9. Alexandra says:

    Sorry to hear how hard it was for you this year! Yes, a new tradition. I went to Los Angeles to celebrate with my son’s family. I cooked the turkey and cranberry sauce. I think it was the first time I have celebrated Thanksgiving with my son in about 15 years. I hope to be able to do it again.

  10. Sheryl says:

    I think we build up such expectations of the holidays that they’re actually hard to live up to them. I’m so sorry you were feeling so blue; but I’m glad your enthusiasm returned for you the next day. Sometimes you can’t force a feeling; you just have to wait it out.

  11. Thanksgiving hasn’t been the same for us since my dad died in 2006, and both daughters moved to L.A. It’s just too expensive for them to fly back for both Christmas and Thanksgiving, so they usually choose to come only for Christmas. I have a large, loud, boisterous Irish clan that has only grown larger over the years. It’s harder and harder for everybody to fit into one house at the holidays. In fact, there have been a few times we rented a community center just to have enough space.

    But somehow, a linoleum tiled floor with metal folding chairs just never felt as comfortable or festive as having a celebration in someone’s home. We bought our current house about a year ago and it’s big enough for most of the clan, so David and I decided to invite everyone here. We think there were about thirty plus people if you include babies and toddlers. It was crazy and chaotic but everybody contributed food and brought their own drinks, so not terribly expensive or taxing for us.

    Of course I will always miss my dad and daughters at Thanksgiving, but it helped to open up our house to the whole family and just allow ourselves to get caught up in the madness!

    • Kerri says:

      You’re very lucky to have such a large and close family in which to celebrate with, Kathleen! I’m sure it was fun to host the entire family, madness included!

  12. Sandy says:

    This year marked the first time all our children were not home at the same time for Thanksgiving. Our daughter now living in Minnesota planned to skip Thanksgiving and instead come at Christmas and stay a week. Our oldest son came the weekend before leaving 2 days before the holiday. Luckily our youngest son was here, but it was different, strange and just didn’t feel right with just the 3 of us eating at the table. Christmas will be the same with our older son coming again coming and leaving before the holiday. We will however have the weekend before where we will all be together. I fear from here on out as the kids settle into their careers that we will be celebrating at odd times. I hope as time goes on I will adjust to the fact our little family nucleus will probably never be the same…and I don’t like it one little bit!…lol

    • Kerri says:

      I think the hardest part of life is dealing with change, but I guess change IS life, isn’t it. Hugs to you, Sandy, and best wishes for your holidays!

  13. Olivia says:

    I, too, have had to switch traditions several times, most recently when we moved back to my PEI home. The past three Thanksgivings, Christmases and two Easters have been spent there and both our sons live there as well: my daughter and SIL live in Ontario so I missed them. Last spring I was up in Ontario for Easter and will be for Christmas this year with daughter, SIL and brand new (2 day old) grandson and DH. I shall miss my sons . . .we shall have to have another “Christmas” sometime in January or February since I return to PEI mid January just as one son and his gf fly south! It gets complicated but as long as I can see all my kids as much as possible I am happy. Being more religious, Christmas has always been more about that aspect than the commercial aspect for me.

    I have a couple of “fantasy Christmases” that I still dream about but don’t know if they will ever happen – in one it is just DH and I in Switzerland and in the other it is just myself in a convent throughout the entire Advent season – so, you see, I am no longer overly attached to any traditions, although maybe a little weird!

    • Kerri says:

      Your fantasies made me smile, Olivia. Nothing is weird if its yours. 🙂 My fantasy Christmas involves me and Dale in Hawaii with our German and Australian daughters, their husbands and our two lovely granddaughters. My longing to win the lottery involves me figuring out more how to spend it on other people and animal charities, but I have yet to attract it! 😉

  14. mat says:

    The world has changed for everyone, I think. People are more connected digitally and less emotionally. It’s perhaps less special to reach out to that person that you see once a year, but all the time online.

    I’m not sure that time heals all wounds…more like lessens them most of the time. And sometimes, they just come screaming back, raw as ever. A lot of the time, we can look back on our past relationships with a positive outlook and relish the good times. Sometimes…all we can do is reflect on how there will be no more good times with that person. And I am reminded of my grandfather as I type this, gone more than 12 years now. On the good days, I remember him making me simple wooden toys in his woodshop. On bad days, I realize he will never make his great-grandson those wooden toys…all of which are long gone by now.

    The most important tradition I can think of is to live as he would–honest and kind, with a thirst for knowledge.

    • Kerri says:

      You and Cal brought tears to my eyes this morning, Mat. You’re right about the digital connection. While I received many Facebook wishes on Thanksgiving, we didn’t get any calls. Although my sister in law sent us a text! 😉 Your grandfather sounds like one special man. I guess all we can ever hope for is to be missed as we all missed our dear loved ones. That’s quite the legacy, I think.

  15. Kerri says:

    Cal, I’m so glad you’re doing better! Yes, you do definitely get it. All of our holidays have been different every year, now that I think about it, all of them good, but never the same. If we had the money, I would definitely create a new tradition that involves beaches and warm weather for the holidays. We couldn’t get much different from our past traditions than that! 🙂 Thanks for your thoughtful comments and wishes. I return all of the wishes. To a new and prosperous year of adventure and traditions!

  16. Cal Olson says:

    I so relate to this… My mom was the heart of Christmas for us, tho we didn’t seem to realize it until later. So things haven’t really settled since 2003, and an emptiness seems to hover over the holidays. Some new traditions have come in, thanks to two dear friends who make us a part of their celebrations whenever possible, but getting there is a hard journey. We’re childless, and I’m from a small (and getting smaller) family, so all the family connections of the holidays elude us.

    Last year, I was into the first year post-surgery, dropping weight like a stone, and barely knew what planet I was on, let alone what time of year it was. Advent was insanity last year.

    Wow, Cal. Way to bring a ray of sunshine into the mix. 😀

    I guess the point is that things will never be “back,” they will never be as wonderful as they were (or at least as wonderful as we remember they were), but with time, a grateful heart and hope, they will become something new. New traditions arise from the unexpected places, or (in our case) “traditions” become something that changes every year, re-casting our vision of what celebrations look like. We learn to celebrate the significance of the seasons, through our lens of fath and our personal walk, and find a place for the traditions that should stay, while making a place for the new, the here, the now.

    And that’s not a bad place to be. Joyous Advent, blessed Christmastide, much Thanksgiving, and new adventures for the New Year. Blessings, friend – and thanks.