Starting New Traditions for Happier Holidays

By , SparkPeople Blogger
By Beth Donovan (~INDYGIRL)

To my husband, Chuck, and my chosen sisters Lori and Tina This is a little something for the lonely, grieving, depressed, stressed, and dieting out there who might be having a hard time getting through the holiday season. It isn’t always a pretty season for everyone, and mental health wise, it’s a rough one for a lot of people. I am one of those people. My heart goes out to the rest of you out there.

I’m about to be very personal here because I want you to know that my advice I write is very heartfelt. When I was a young girl, my father died of a heart attack. I was an only child, so it became just my mother and me. We would get lonely, but we made our own traditions. Later in life, around the age of 30, I lost my mother. It was very hard for me. I leaned on my husband’s family and learned to share their traditions. Sadly, my husband’s mother, brother, and father all passed away within a year of each other recently, and we are still grieving those losses. We are trying to start new traditions for just the two of us. We aren’t quite sure what to do yet.

New traditions help sometimes with grief or setting forth on a new journey. They give you a new foundation to build upon. While the old traditions may still be cherished and celebrated, new ones help ring in the next chapter of hope. Where do you start though?

I started with the music. The old Christmas music we used to listen to brought back such poignant memories and I wanted to feel merry again. Instead of the traditional styles I grew up with, I bought contemporary rock versions, instrumentals, and even country. While I wasn’t merry, I wasn’t as depressed either. Year by year I got a little merrier and sang along with my new CDs and really enjoyed the new artists and music.

I packed up any decorations that made me sad in something to protect them and stored them away. Then I started collecting new decorations that were uniquely representative of me and life as I knew it at the moment. Each year I would buy one or two new pieces, so as not to focus too much on any one time frame. I also gave away treasured ornaments from my family to my closest friends, who had now become my family.

My family now is not what anyone would consider traditional. My closest friends are family, and I list my best friend as my next of kin beyond my husband. She is my sister for all the meaning of the word. We share a bond like family and have the luxury of being each others’ best friend and confidante as well. I honestly can’t imagine that sharing the same blood, although we do share the same rare blood type, could make us any closer. Sometimes in life, although we lose some, others are there. We must embrace those who are in our lives and never take them for granted. Family is however you define it.

I started cooking what I and my husband liked to eat, traditional or not. It got a little silly trying to make all of the Thanksgiving meal for two people, so we began eating at restaurants that had buffets. At Christmas, we’ve been known to have low-fat chili. Last year, I cooked a menu inspired by SparkRecipes and had fun being creative.

I stopped going to any place that stressed me out about dieting and my weight. Sometimes when we did have people invite us over to a large gathering, my weight would come up and everyone would have to give me the “It’s because we care about your health…” speech. Please. If people cared, they would care at a more discreet time and not bring it up in front of everyone at a holiday dinner. If I am friendly but firm, they will usually stop. If not, I usually make other plans the following year. If I’m asked why, I tell the host/hostess.

I’ve definitely been lonely and depressed during the holidays before. If you’ve ever been lonely and/or depressed at this time of year, you know it is a complete emptiness. Don’t be afraid to seek help from a counselor or call a crisis line. If that isn’t an option, consider talking to your religious leader for guidance. Spark People has a team called Dealing with Depression and other teams that deal with various mental health issues. While these teams are staffed by not mental health professionals, they do provide a place for you to talk things out on their online forums. My therapist once told me a very helpful thing, that doing for others would help my depression. Ever since then, when I become very depressed or lonely, I try to do something for someone else and I do feel better. There is a joy that comes from giving for both the person given to and the giver. Possibilities for relieving loneliness and giving include volunteering at a soup kitchen or other charity, visiting friends, going to nursing homes, or even organizing a dinner or party for other lonely people.

Sometimes we overbook ourselves and stress ourselves out too badly to even enjoy the holiday season. Make sure to keep those things that are really a priority and get rid of those things that aren’t. How do you tell the difference? Ask yourself “Would I be sorry next year if I didn’t do _____ this year?” If the answer is no, find a shortcut or cut it out of your schedule politely. Just explain that you are overbooked. Time with friends, family, or just for yourself is important.

If you are really struggling with eating this time of year, you aren’t alone. This time of year is a difficult one! There are goodies everywhere and most of them carry an emotional punch with them. They are sweet, decadent, and loaded with feel-good chemistry. It is really hard to stop eating something once you’ve started, but if you can, a taste or two might do. If you’re one of those that gets obsessed after the first bite, remember to fight it, don’t bite it. That first bite is what will set you off. That’s the one to avoid. Staying full at all times, having water handy, chewing gum, and getting on SparkPeople daily all help me. Staying full is as simple as eating every 3-4 hours and making sure to get plenty of protein and fiber (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains). Do not skip meals this time of year.

I wish you all the best this season.

Do you ever feel blue this time of year? What do you do to combat it?

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One way I make sure I get my exercise in though out the day is when I take a break I make sure I march in place for a 100 steps Report
Thanks for this blog Beth! Report
Thank you for sharing. Report
Thanks for the story I had been giving it a grreat deal of thought about starting a new tradition in my family. Report
Good Article!! I, too, have made new Traditions or non-Traditions since my family splintered when I was in my 20s. I made new Traditions with a new family of friends & then with a new husband. Most of them have died or vanished from my life in the last 10 years so I've developed my own Holiday Habits. I buy myself something special. I buy NEW pajamas! I get treats that I love, plan projects & pamper myself. I do remember others too. At Christmas, I pack goodie bags for homeless folks, I plan thank you gifts for the people at Starbucks who open on Christmas day & I make sure I know when all the old FUN movies are on so I can indulge! Do you know how great it is to munch finger food, lounge in new flannel pajamas & read an ENTIRE mystery for two days without having to entertain, go anywhere or do dishes??? yeah baby, bring on those Holidays!! Report
Beth, all I can say is a heartfelt thank you. Which in it's self is very sad that I can say I share and feel your pain! I too have lost both of my parents, burying my father December 23rd and two years later my mother also in December. I can honestly say that I physically had pains in my heart and a lump in my throat the size of a golf ball during their funerals, every year that feeling comes back when I put a wreath on their graves. Oh how I miss them so! Christmas just makes me feel very empty & alone. Report
Thank you for this inspiring blog!
I have been widowed for 9 years, but like you, I have a wonderful "chosen family".
Doing things for other people is the best way for me to ease my lonliness.
In 2007, I found myself alone on Christmas Day for the first time in my life. The day started out dismal, but I made myself keep busy. I made vegetable soup, baked a loaf of bread, washed the windows, and polished all the copper and silver things in the house. By evening I was singing along with the radio. Being surrounded by shiny objects brightened my day!
I hope your holidays are the brightest! Report
Dear Beth, Thank you so much for sharing 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. I know now why she cried for "the days of auld lang syne." Your blog, Beth, touched me so. I hope you don't mind, but I just want to throw my arms around you and give you a hug. Consider yourself cyber-hugged. I am so happy that you are surrounded by those who love you and I am sure that they realize how lucky they are to have one such as you in their lives. Report
I am very depressed this year. I have lost almost all my family and my two good friends in the last two years. The biggest loss is the loss of my boyfriend this year. Within 8 days I have to combat Christmas, New Years Eve, and my Birthday. I am just so alone. Thanks for this post, it's nice to know someone else knows the feeling. Report
Great job on the blog, Beth. You tell it like it is and make no apologies for it. As always, your blog is refreshing. Merry Christmas to you and yours! Report
I know where your coming from. 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. This year will be hard as my father-in-law just passed away, especially for his wife. We are going to celebrate christmas eve at my son's house instead of at our house. He has a pool table downstairs and we will play christmas music and take turned playing pool. Report
It takes tremendous courage to write what you did. Thank you for sharing it. These are wonderful ideas. I am going to focus on implementing them into my own life...Bless you.. Report
You truly do write from the heart. Thanks for sharing! Report
I am going through a similar process, but I am trying to simplify Christmas and de-stress it for me. I am saving what I like and leaving the rest.

Thank you for your blog. Report
Being the poster girl for dysfunctional families, I hav elearned to re-adapt my trraditions:Since dad died ten eyars ago, Mom has denounced every perosn in our family except my me and my daughter. that includes my two sosters, two nephews, four grandchildren,,, nobody allowed in her home, so Dd and I cahnged our Christmas from a big gathering, to just the two of us, enjoying whateve rfood we like, I go to church and relax,, I do not have to work that day, so we jus chill.
Thisis the second year of no decorating for Christmas due to major kitchen renovation and mom's needs and handling all of her financial, visiting her in rehab/nursing home,,
gone are the happy days with husband (divorced) and his family, now my family who lives away and chooses not to get together. Since Christmas is all about one Man, this makes me re-focus on the whole reason for celebrating.
A perk of this is less stress of baking, cleaning, decorating, hauling all to moms house( I did all of the baking, cooking,etc for gatherings of 20 people).
Thank you for giving us this to make us think of our own blessings. Report
I was depressed for years and I hated this time of year. But I started working on my faith. I got tired of feeling sad and sorry for myself and decided I wouldn't let the depression take over my life. I went through therapy and was on meds for a while. That helped me get to a place where I no longer take the meds. I still have episodes of depression, but I now have strategies to pull myself out of it. Being present and mindful of my thoughts helps. I have started new traditions also mainly because of my son. He's 12, but he's the one who suggested that we make a point to enjoy each other on Christmas. We spend the whole day as a family, playing games, singing karaoke, dancing, making crafts, eating every meal together, and sharing our feelings with one another. We have a blast. Actually we should do this more often. So I tell myself how blessed I am and thank God every day for my son, daughter, and mother. Report
Great blog! Have you ever helped serve dinner to homeless people or to needy, maybe at the Rescue Mission? Some churches serve dinner for the needy that day. I have friends who feel good about themselves when they do that. Report
Thanks for the thought provoking story. More and more articles nowadays finally address this time of year as not being "happy sappy" for everyone. We learn to make the best of it, without suffering guilt over what we eat, what we do or don't do, should do, alone or together, have to just get through it. Press on............ Report
After a very difficult year combined with a move that was not really what our family wanted, we changed our Christmas meal completely. My DW had always put together two great meals at Thanksgiving and Christmas. My sons and I came up with the idea that she should be able to enjoy, and not work, for at least one of those big Holidays.
Kansas City has a tradition for great BBQ, and one of the places has been consistently rated as 1, 2, or three in the entire nation and is the single largest purchaser of Blank Angus meat. That place is called Fiorella's Jack Stack Restaurant.
They are closed Christmas, but the day before they prepare at least a ton of BBQ and "fixin's". We order ahead and go pick up the dinner on Christmas Eve from the outside tents that have been set up (there is a tent for Hot pick-ups and another for Cold pick-ups) and take it home for the big day.
On the Big Day, we set everything out buffet style and everyone fixes their favorites and slides their meal into the microwave (I am the Senior Microwave Specialist and help the younger members of our family to not get anything too hot).
We use all recyclable items so there are no dishes to wash and all the plastic cutlery is recycled for summer or next year.
It might seem strange to some, but it has become "Our" tradition and we like it.

I know the pain of Depression and fought PTSD, Major and Chronic Depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Agoraphobia and fought off both Panic and Anxiety attacks for over eight years.
I was one of the six founding members of Dealing with Depression, leaving the leadership of the group in very competent hands after five years of helping and being helped.
I will occasionally get sidelined for a day or two, but nothing like the bone deep pain and depression I experienced before.

PS: The BBQ Beans are the best I've every had with chunks of Burnt Ends liberally spread throughout! Report
Thank you very much for the blog. I know it hits home with so many of us. I do find comfort in volunteering and helping others. Report
I felt downright stricken by your stamina and shattering new-tradition ideas. Reading your posting was kind of a revalation to me. Three years since father is gone and last year's Christmas Eve was the first time we were alone - just mom and me. We are Orthodox christians and Christmas Eve is the great family gathering for us... But last year my brother's family, the grand children, they all found excuses and didn't come to mother's place as tradition rules... Was it that father left us or might it be anything else? Now, we are prepared with mom for this year's Christmas Eve - we know we'll be so alone again... but your writing did take away the grief and pity away from my heart - it made me UNDERSTAND the importance of accepting the new points-of-view of younger generations and of substituting our own traditions... Having been good for us may them at least be remembered in historical annals... Report
I rarely get depressed around Christmas because I focus on Jesus' birth rather than the commercial holiday we have turned it into. For a few years, after being divorced and moving to another part of the country, I had no family around but went to church on Christmas Eve and had Christmas dinner with a family from my church. I am now remarried and have moved to the town where one of my sons lives but going to church is still the highlight of Christmas. Report
I do feel blue, my first husband died of cancer in 1998, and he was Mr. Christmas, he just loved everything about Christmas, and loved his family and friends so much. I miss him more at this time of year, than probably any other. When i decorate the tree, I miss him so.....I combat it, by thinking of the full happy life, I have now, my children and grandchildren, the good things I'm blessed with, and that helps me, get through. I do a lot of Christmas work in my first DH's memory. Report
My husband and I have been alone together a few times on Thanksgiving. We now have a steak and a salad with other healthy veggies for our "traditional" Thanksgiving Dinner! It is a sweet tradition for us. Thanks for your great blog! We all need to think about what you have shared. Report
Thank you. Report
Thanks so much you for your article. Every once in a while in a while I read something that really resonates!! It was a very thoughtful, honest and straight forward piece with very practical ideas and I think that is what impressed me. I have especially found that focusing on others works very well with me and pays me so much more than doing something just for myself. I find new traditions are very beneficial. This year for the second time I have gone with a seniors group on a bus tour to take in Christmas pageant presented by The Caronport Bible College. Attended the Rotary Carol festival where the beautiful music including the enthusiasm of the elementary school choirs that makes my spirit soar. I also donate to the Salvation Army, the Save the Burrowing Owl Society (They are such endearing birds and I can adopt one for a year.) and to a non-profit developing local cooperatives in third world countries What a world of opportunity we have in North America!!!
Again thanks so very much for your article. It made my day and has focused me on things that really do matter. Report
Thank you so much for sharing. It is often hard to open yourself up to others. I really liked the start your own traditions. This year is the first year my boyfriend and I are celebrating Christmas together. It is a big change from the past. It is hard for both of us because we choose to spend Christmas with each other instead of with family. He will see his children on Christmas morning but will not spend the day with them. My children are grown and live in a different state. We are starting our own traditions that reflect us. Christmas has been difficult for me since my mother died. We did everything together. We put the tree up, wrapped presents, baked cookies and planned some kind of Christmas party. She died a week before Thanksgiving so the loss was strong and tied to the holiday season.

This year we bought an artificial tree because my boyfriend is allergic to pine trees. This is a first for me and big break in tradition. I have always gone to pick and cut the tree with my children. It was so much fun to go pick new ornaments for the tree. It really is our tree.

I love your advice on not accepting an invitation if you know it will cause your stress. I am so glad you are strong enough to stand up for yourself. This is a very difficult for me since I always want to please others.

Keep up the good work and keep taking care of yourself. You will make it, not only through the holidays but through life.

joy Report
What a wonderful blog - thank you so much for sharing. I agree with you about helping others. When I've lost my own motivation during my journey on SP this year, I've gone into the blogs and found ones that were marked as people's FIRST blog entry, and I've read their blogs and commented, cheering them on and offering some of the best advice I'd learned so far. It's amazing how much better you feel when you are able to help someone else! Also, the comment about gum is so true! I learned that the last time I was at a holiday function with my family. My mom leaves all these goodies just laying around all day, and I'll eat non-stop if I don't put some gum in my mouth!!! Report
Thanks for sharing this blog. Hits close to home. Report
Thanks so much for this blog. I hadn't pondered before how some of the holiday traditions that my husband and I have cherished and held on to now only trigger sadness and regret. Although there are some I will never relinquish (Rudolph on TV and Christmas movies like "White Christmas" and "Christmas in Connecticut" because they make me feel good watching them!), I think it's a great idea to start or add new traditions with new music, food, events, friends if possible, and God. It's easy to forget how many people are spending the holidays alone or, as with us and many who responded here, as a couple. As we all lose loved ones, and sometimes not to death, it is best to truly cherish those who remain in our lives. Report
This is an great blog. Thanks for all the suggestions. Holidays have not been the same since my parents died 13 years ago. My sister, who still lives in our family home, always has us (any of the siblings that can make it) home for Christmas and she has over the years started new traditions. Report
Thank you for sharing your experience. For several reasons, many of us know the feeling of lonliness during the Christmas holiday. I discovered a long time ago when experiencing these feelings that we can feel lonly or do something about it.
We can all add to the existing traditions by inviting others to share the season with us and providing some "Christmas" Spirit by giving and sharing of our time. So many opportunities to help others = visit nurshing homes, invite people over to have a coffee taste w/o all the high caloric foods. Just talking, catching up, making gifts, scrappbooking together, serving food to the homeless, work at Feed the starving children. More opportunities than the time to do them. These activities helps others feeling lonly and it helps us to understand how we can help those people while changing the way we feel during the season. I love this season and the opportunitities it brings with it.. Report
Thank you for sharing.

Thanks for sharing!!! Report
thank you for sharing this with us Report
Thank you for sharing that took a lot of stength, many people find the Christmas season hard and your blog helped them understand they are not alone. Making new traditions is a very good idea, you may find down the road you will start adding some of the old ones back.
Blessings to you and your husband.
Thanks for sharing this blog. I lost my Mom on Christmas eve morning 8 yrs. ago and it seems like yesterday. There are definitely songs that I cry over every time I hear them as it reminds me of her so much. A great idea to change them around. I also had to put my 14 yr.old yellow lab down on Dec.28th and it is still sad for me to think of all the fun things she would do when I finally had the decorations in place!!

Thanks again for sharing your heart. Report
Thanks for sharing your story. Report
I read this blog and have decide to not attend a party next week and just stay home with my hubby!! This is only the 10th of December and I'm just beat!! So thanks for reminding me that I don't have to do everything everyone else wants!!!! Report
Today was the anniversary of my dad's death. -- You write with such caring & empathy. Thanks for opening up yourself to others.

I will say that the best way I've found to deal with sadness is to look around me for someone else that I can care for. (I've actually prayed for God to bring someone my way that I can help, and that prayer has been answered that very day.) It really helps with perspective. When my focus is on me, well that can be pretty miserable. When I take the time to look outside myself, I find that I feel better when all is said and done.

Thanks again for your heartfelt sharing. I'm sorry for your many losses in a short time. It seems that it takes time to really recover from those people removed from your life's tapestry--it creates "holes". Time can heal the wounded borders, but the holes are always there. ...Been there, but distance & time HAS helped. Report
My mother died when I was 17 and my father died when I was 25, but I never get sad at the Holidays since I realized that I had to grow up and become an adult. The saying "You Can Never Go Home Again" is certainly true for me, but I realize life is about NOW. I read Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of NOW" and live by his teachings. This is where happiness is and I enjoy this day. If a person has no one to share Christmas, then call a Homeless Shelter and go volunteer or call the Hospital and go visit sick people there as there are SO many people who need someone to share the day with. Even the Humane Society needs help with caring for the DOGS and CATS. There was a box for dog/cat food at the Grocery Store this week, so help get people to donate, etc. You can do a lot if u want. Report
Christmas has always been magical for me. When I was younger I used to always get hives Christmas Eve - never any other time of year, but I could count on it then -- I was just sooo super excited about the whole thing. Now my husband isn't into the spirit at all and it really puts a damper on the season for me. I try to keep the spirit for the kids, but it is difficult with Scrooge around. So, yes, this resonates...traditions are important. Report
thank you for writing this.
I am one of those who does not like the holidays.
We were not blessed with children,and we have had a lot of deaths in our family.
Since my mother in law passed away, my husband's family have chosen to not be in touch, though I keep trying, they do not respond. We live far away from my family, so it is just the 2of us fore holidays,and I am to the place, where I do not like Christmas, other than what it stands for.
It is just a very sad time for me.
I loved it! Thanks, we are now starting a travel away tradition. We get away from all the family drama and stress and relax. Report
What a wonderful post. Thank you for always sharing in such a personal and universal way. I hope to be successful changing my weight and health outlook one day, too. I always tend to get sick for holidays and my birthdays. I have a lot of health issues, but I know that my emotional state has a lot to do with it as well.


Sally Report
WOW so many parts I can relate to...loss of my Father on my birthday, loss of my mother before my children were born, loss of so many family members, children grown and far away or with their inlaws for the holidays, weight issues and need to eliminate or cut down on foods I love. ...these things I relate to, and yet the memories of traditions old comfort bubble lights, the smell of pine and candles, the carols, the freshly fallen snow, the smell of hot cider and fresh baked cookies these memories are a comfort of a time of happiness and and loved ones long passed but in our hearts and every year at Christmas it is good to remember with love those that are gone in body but alive in spirit. Thanks for sharing ...I hope you have a wonderful Christmas holiday whether you are alone or with loved one...memories can enrich your life. Report
Your blog speaks to many of us. I have been a widow for 39 years and after all this time, holidays are still a lonely time. I am so thankful for the time I spend with my son and daughter and their families on the holidays, but there is still a loss. Thank you for sharing. Report
Love the idea of new traditions. My neighbor was divorced and did all the work to give her kids and ex the traditional. Exhausted. Last year she went to a ski resort that had the spirit of large tree and service and holidays. New tradition for her and kids. Report
Thanks Beth I needed to hear that. I lost my mom in 2008 in June. Then the center or our Family Christmas my grandmother passed any on Dec, 21st the same year.
We all made extra efforts to be there for Grandma at the holidays. Now we are on our own. Which isn't bad, just miss everyone. They have all moved on with their family units.
We tried the first step of using a smaller tree with newer ornaments and it has helped alot so much better than last year.
Now I will try making some new changes for the rest of the season .

Thanks Beth again.. Love your writing!!
Hugs Martha n Tx
Thanks for sharing. I lost my husband unexpectedly 2 years ago and this will be our 3rd Christmas without him. We are trying to make new traditions but I still have an unbelievable hole in my heart. You're comment on the Christmas music really hit home. I realized all I was doing was crying when I listened to them so I too bought new ones. Report
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