Changing holiday traditions after the passing of a loved one

Dreading the holiday season? You’re not alone. Here’s how to change and create new traditions after the death of a friend or family member.
Changing holiday traditions after the passing of a loved one

The first holiday after the death of a loved one can be difficult. Festivities might not feel the same without them, and if they were the ones to uphold certain traditions (like having the whole family over for a meal every Christmas, or buying every family member an ornament that best represents them), then chances are this Christmas (or whichever holiday is coming up) will feel a little different.

Why do holidays and changes in traditions impact us so deeply?

Great question. We’re pretty quick to let days pass us by, rarely flinching at changes to our work calendar, happily welcoming new colleagues to regular Friday lunches with the team, and saying goodbye to our homes and cars when it’s time for an upgrade as though it’s water off a duck’s back.

But changes to traditions and new ways of celebrating important holidays hits different. And that’s because for so many of us, rituals and traditions provide us with routine, structure, familiarity and security – so when the foundation of those traditions are thrown into disarray and unfamiliarity, we can find ourselves dreading the occasions we once looked forward to.

How do I make sure that changes to holidays and traditions don’t impact my love for the holiday forever?

The good news is that your future is in your hands! While your loved one might no longer be around to celebrate with you, there are a range of amazing ways you can honour them during the holiday season while also creating your own traditions for yourself, your family and your friends, to become familiar with over time.

We’ve written a guide about creating new traditions after death here.

But, before you go ahead and create those new traditions, it’s important to focus on the holiday at hand, its significance, and how you can make it relevant to you again, especially if you find yourself no longer wanting to celebrate or acknowledge it.

Shift your focus and consider your ‘why’

When it comes to facing a holiday without a loved one for the first time, we suggest shifting your focus away from what’s gone and missing, to your values and reasons for celebrating the holiday in the first place.

While people come and go, our values remain strong (or at least, they should remain strong) through life’s ups and downs. We’d recommend sitting down with a pen and paper – away from distractions – and reflecting on your values and how those might tie into the way you’ve celebrated the upcoming holiday in the past.

Here’s a quick but meaningful activity we love when it comes to values reflection, especially in the lead up to a holiday:

  1. Grab a pen and paper (or – even better – a notebook!)
  2. List some values that are most important to you (we’ve jotted some down below as a starting point. Feel free to use these, or brainstorm some yourself based on what feels authentic to you). Keep your values generic and make them relevant to you every day, not specifically to the holiday at hand.
  3. Then, write down each of those values at the top of a sheet of paper (a new one in your notebook, or a larger piece of paper if you need it).
  4. Slowly make your way through each value, and find elements of the upcoming holiday that you can relate back to that value. For example, if one of your values is ‘Connection’, it’ll likely make sense for you to find ways to connect with your loved ones during the upcoming holiday.
  5. After you’ve written down a few examples for each value, sit back and read through everything you’ve written. This can be a great way to make the upcoming holiday feel tangible and relevant again, even though your loved one won’t be present for the celebrations.

Here’s a list of some common holiday values:

Remember: There’s no ‘right’ way to approach the holidays

We’re all different, and for some of us? Facing a holiday without the same people and traditions present can feel daunting and unappealing. But there are ways to combat those negative feelings – simply turn to your values and remind yourself why those traditions meant something to you in the first place. Chances are, you’ll find new ways to celebrate the festival and create new traditions that align with your values, without your loved one.

You can do it. We know you can.

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