Originally posted Dec. 19, 2008
The lights are twinkling, the cinnamon is wafting and your
children's cheeks are rosy with anticipation, so why do you feel so
darned blue? Could it be that the kids crushed your favorite
ornament, the dog just chewed through a box of candy canes and the
cat threw up a ball of tinsel? So now you feel blue
and guilty, because you nearly killed the cat. Way
But seriously, 'holiday blues' are caused by more than mere
mishaps on the home front. It makes sense to feel melancholic
during the holidays. Extended families tend to congregate,
but sometimes loved ones move on, places and faces change, and
people die. Nobody relishes the thought of letting go of the
people, places and traditions that are dear to them, myself
included. Sharing old photos and traditions with your
children while you make new memories together can help. Grief
and joy can indeed share space during the holidays. Gift your
children with that possibility.
Some family memories aren't Kodak moments, however, but
they always seem to surface at holiday time, too. When
families do get together, inevitably someone will fan the
flames of an old family feud. It's bound to happen, so make sure
you're game before you book your tickets. How many times have
you hoped that 'this year will be different,' only to return home
muttering about how you 'knew this would happen,' and
wished you'd spent the money on a trip to Disney instead?
Consider editing your expectations and your plans (a shorter
stay or tuck-in at the motel instead) this year.
Ultimately, you may have to grieve and let go of your hopes for
certain relationships. You can't change other people, but you
can change how you choose to respond to them. Don't
hold your breath, but over time this slight shift may positively
impact your rapport.
Holiday blues and the unresolved grief that often provokes it
are very real experiences, and can be particularly vexing for
parents of young children. Not only are we mired in memories
of holidays past, but we feel pressured to make the magic happen
for our kids. As a result, sometimes the more contemplative
aspects of the season get lost on our to-do lists. Is yours
cluttered with plans for purchases and commitments that could be
reconsidered? Maybe this year you'll opt out of the annual
portrait sitting and save time, postage and precious energy by
simply e-mailing your favorite candid photo of the kids along with
your season's greetings to loved ones instead. Sounds like a
plan to me. After I push send, I'll unplug and bliss-out for
an hour with a cup of hot tea and some holiday tunes (my favorites?
The Soul of Christmas, A Celtic Music Celebration with Thomas
Moore). The point is to make time for what you value
most during the holiday season. It's your holiday too.
I've learned that stepping outside of my self to help others
also lifts my spirits. Give your kids the gift of this
awareness by starting a 'tradition of sharing' this year.
Social service agencies always welcome help in their effort to make
a tough season brighter for their client families. Your kids
might even choose to part with some of their allowance money to
purchase a gift for a child near their own age. Or, invite
others without other plans to a special meal. My parents
often made space at our holiday table for others. I remember
feeling enriched and buoyed by their presence, their stories, and
the knowledge that we'd shared.
No matter how you celebrate the holidays, bear in mind that what
your family will actually remember for years to come will be the
absurd stuff that happens while you're stirring the gravy.
Several years ago my son Noah got car sick en-route to Christmas
dinner at my brother's house. I doubt anyone remembers if the
turkey was dry, but bet no one will ever forget our tale of the
three hungry hound dogs who suddenly appeared and made off with
Noah's vomit-laden shirt as we scrambled to change him at the
curb. Not exactly three wise-men bearing gifts, but those
hounds left us with a Flannery O'Connor-esque tale that I will
never tire of telling!
So when your dog chases the kids through the living room yet
again and the Christmas tree finally comes crashing to the floor
just as your fussy Aunt Sally arrives, turn the oven down low, pour
some egg-nog (remember to share) and rally the troops for another
round of tree-trimming.
But skip the tinsel this time.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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